Don't Waste a Thing!
The United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change published a devastating report this week; read it above. We are strange creatures, human beings, thoroughly capable of magnificent acts of selflessness, devoting our energies to helping and saving the lives of fellow human beings we know nothing about; Chiune Sugihara, for example, saved thousands of Jews in the Holocaust, with the stroke of a pen. Just the same, we are capable of destruction and oppression, by way of silence, complacence, and acts that seem harmless.
My daughter is three years old. The children in our school are six, seven, eight, twelve. Our teenagers; our young teachers. We read the climate report together, and asked how old we’d all be in 2040. The actions that are collectively catapulting our planet toward real apocalypse, have at their core a choice that puts the selfish present before selflessness in service of the generations of the future? We need to ask -- What is the wisdom that can repair our culture of using, enjoying, and protecting the Earth’s resources? And how can we promote a culture of sustainability?
The gem of Jewish ecological wisdom compares human beings to the trees of a field. There is a commandment in Deuteronomy, that in times of war, one cannot destroy the fruit trees that surround a besieged city, for trees are not people that they might flee destruction, and the resources of the planet we were born to, are never to be wasted. The commandment then is, do not waste a thing, ever.
All of the suggested means for healing the planet fall underneath this category: take public transit whenever possible, car-share, drive an electric of hybrid vehicle, fly less, use energy efficient bulbs, un-plug computers and TVs when not in use, eat less or no meat, don’t waste food, use renewable energy, weatherize your home, save water. The list goes on. The reason that not wasting is the most important principle is because we’ve become terribly unconscious about how we use the Earth’s resources. Try this week to keep a mindfulness about any waste you see in your midst, created by your action, and try to minimize it. Then go and teach these ways to others.
For the first three years of a tree’s life one is not supposed to pluck its fruit. In like manner, it is customary for some to refrain from cutting a child’s hair until she is three years old. We are trees of the field, only we have legs for mobility and the wisdom that can accompany a brain, but these evolutionary gifts carry the responsibility that we act as stewards of the Earth. If we are merely here to use and abuse what has been offered to us gratuitously, what a sad story we are. But we need not resign to apocalyptic visions, even those written by scientists. We are capable of wonder, ingenuity, magic, and repair. So go plant a tree -- in the mind of mystics, every tree is the Tree of Life.
Rabbi Zach Fredman