Do Not Destroy
Do Not Destroy

The mitzvah of ba’al tashchit–the commandment not to destroy or waste items from the natural world--is one of the most commonly mentioned mitzvot in contemporary Jewish social action circles.  The source text for this mitzvah comes from the Book of Deuteronomy 20:19:  “When you besiege a city for a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them.  You may eat from them, but you must not cut them down.  Are trees of the field human, to withdraw before you into the besieged city?  Only trees that you know do not yield food may be destroyed; you may cut them down for constructing siegeworks against the city that is waging war on you, until it has been reduced.”

The rabbis assert that we are not allowed to needlessly destroy the natural environment in a time of war, when resources are scarce and the primary focus is on ending the battle as quickly as possible.  Therefore, we should be even more aware of ba’al tashchit when we are not at war and can make informed choices.  For example, if we have to build a home (or, more realistic for most people, redecorating a home), we have the time to make an informed choice about which materials we choose to use, how we can reuse and recycle what trash we produce, etc.  

Hence, we have the mitzvah of ba’al tashchit developed from a war-time prohibition against needless waste to a prohibition that covers every aspect of our lives.  In almost everything we do, we can have an effect on the natural world.  This mitzvah asks us to consider ways in which we can refrain from being wasteful. Today, Jews involve themselves with ecology by recycling, conserving energy, and helping to preserve the environment.

From Our Texts:

“The purpose of the mitzvah of ba’al tashchit is to teach us to love that which is good and worthwhile and to cling to it, so that good becomes a part of us and so that we will avoid all that is evil and destructive.  This is the way of the righteous and those who improve society, who love peace and rejoice in the good in people and bring them close to the Torah, that nothing, not even a grain of mustard, should be lost to the world, that they should regret any loss or destruction that they see, and if possible they will prevent any destruction that they can.”  -Sefer Ha-chinuch, Mitzvah 529

“When G-d created Adam, He took him around the trees of the Garden of Eden, and He said to him, ‘Look at My works! How beautiful and praiseworthy they are.  Everything that I have created, I created for you.  Take care not to damage and destroy My world, for if you damage it, there is no one to repair it after you.’”  -Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13

“One generation goes and another generation comes; but the Earth remains forever.”  -Ecclesiastes 1:4

Questions for Reflection:

1. Is enjoying something that requires resources necessarily wasting?

2. Do you think we should only partake in the simplest things, or should we be allowed to indulge in things that require more resources? Explain.

3. What are some non-wasteful ways to meet our needs and wants?  

4.  How can you implement the value of ba’al tashchit in your classroom?

Keep our world and the people, places, and things in it safe; reuse and recycle when you can.