Do not destroy!

Photo Courtesy Sharona Halickman

In Parshat Shoftim (Dvarim 20:19-20) we learn about the prohibition of “Bal Tashchit” not to destroy things for no reason:

If you besiege a city many days to wage war against it to capture it, do not harm any of its trees by chopping it with an ax, because you eat from it you are not to cut it down; For, is the tree of the field a person to join the besieged to escape you? Only a tree that you know that it is not a fruit tree may you harm or cut down; and you will build battlements against the city that is waging war against you until it is conquered.

King David teaches in Tehillim 24:1:

The Lord owns the earth and all it contains, the world and all who live in it.

Even property that we own ultimately belongs to God.

In the Talmud, Shabbat 105b Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar said in the name of Chilfa Bar Agra who in turn said in the name of Yochanan ben Nuri:

If one tears his garments in his anger, breaks his utensils in his anger, or scatters his money in his anger, he should be in your eyes as one who is performing idolatry. For this is the craft of the evil inclination: Today it tells him, “do this” until it tells him “perform idolatry” and he goes and performs it.

The Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim (6:10) states:

This prohibition does not only apply to trees. Whoever breaks utensils, tears garments, demolishes a building, stops up a well and willfully destroys food violates the prohibition of “you shall not destroy…”

Since everything in the world is technically God’s property, we have to be careful not to waste and certainly not destroy anything. Even if someone can afford to misuse or damage their possessions, it is still forbidden.

About ten years ago it became known that the clothing company, Abercrombie and Fitch preferred to have their clothing burned at the end of the season rather than give it to non-profit organizations to be donated to the poor.

This is in contrast with most brands which would gladly donate unused products to charity and help people in need as well as the planet.

Over the years, there have been successful fundraisers in New York such as “Seventh on Sale” and “Fashion Rescue” where top designers such as Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Donna Karen donated merchandise and shoppers were able to get amazing bargains while the profits went to charity as well as AIDS research. It was a win on both sides, the merchandise didn’t go to waste and needed funds were raised.

In Israel there is a similar sale in Tel Aviv each year called “Mitlabshot al Zeh.” All of the products are donated by over 700 Israeli designers. Funds raised help Tel Aviv’s Sexual Assault Crisis Center.

These designers understand the importance of helping others as well as the fact that the planet belongs to all of us. Instead of doing something destructive like dumping the clothing, they can do something constructive, give people the opportunity to shop at bargain basement prices and contribute to charity at the same time.

Instead of throwing something useful away, we should consider where it can be used to make a difference.

About the Author
Sharona holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds.
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