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Bal tashchit: Do not destroy (or waste)

כדור הארץ

Translation by Yeshoshua Siskin

Green awareness. Sustainability. Protecting the environment. The Jewish perspective on these subjects can be found in this week's Torah portion. Here we learn that even when laying siege to a city, it's forbidden to cut down interfering fruit trees: "You shall not destroy (a city's) trees by wielding an ax against them, because you may eat from them, and you shall not cut them down."

Our sages learn from this passage the general principle of bal tashchit (do not destroy). Not only is it forbidden to destroy fruit trees but anything else from which we can benefit. And not only during a war, but at any time and in any place. This demands that we utilize every object in the world with sensitivity and be careful not to destroy anything.

I once heard a story from Rabbi Yaakov Edelstein about someone who lived with extreme sensitivity in this regard. This person was Rabbi Avraham Yeshayahu Karlitz, known as the Chazon Ish, who was Rabbi Edelstein's own rabbi. Once the Chazon Ish asked Rabbi Edelstein to write a few lines on a pad of paper. He was just about to begin writing on the top of the page when the Chazon Ish requested that he write on the bottom since he could cut off the lower portion of the page and still have half a page for future use.

"I learned from him how critical it is to maximize every resource, to live with sensitivity and awareness towards the physical world," Rav Edelstein related. "I sometimes see someone at a celebratory event drink from several disposable cups when one would do. Bal tashchit is an all-encompassing demand and every person must think about how they can apply it in everyday life."


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