Have you ever heard of Bal Tashchit? Ever wondered if our ancestors took their sustainability for granted? Before the age of plastics, electricity, and sanitation services, the majority of the world had no choice but to use reusable containers, try their hand at composting, and eat locally.
Looking back, I wouldn't trade modern medicine and indoor plumbing for more disease-ridden times, but there is definitely something we can learn by looking back at our ancestor's lifestyle.
Though there wasn't plastic to avoid or mass deforestation issues like their are today, G-d still set standards of care for us to maintain in the world thousands of years ago. This commandment of Bal Tashchit is found in D'varim/Deuteronomy 20:19-20
כִּֽי־תָצ֣וּר אֶל־עִיר֩ יָמִ֨ים רַבִּ֜ים לְֽהִלָּחֵ֧ם עָלֶ֣יהָ לְתָפְשָׂ֗הּ לֹֽא־תַשְׁחִ֤ית אֶת־עֵצָהּ֙ לִנְדֹּ֤חַ עָלָיו֙ גַּרְזֶ֔ן כִּ֚י מִמֶּ֣נּוּ תֹאכֵ֔ל וְאֹת֖וֹ לֹ֣א תִכְרֹ֑ת כִּ֤י הָֽאָדָם֙ עֵ֣ץ הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה לָבֹ֥א מִפָּנֶ֖יךָ בַּמָּצֽוֹר׃
When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city?
רַ֞ק עֵ֣ץ אֲשֶׁר־תֵּדַ֗ע כִּֽי־לֹא־עֵ֤ץ מַאֲכָל֙ ה֔וּא אֹת֥וֹ תַשְׁחִ֖ית וְכָרָ֑תָּ וּבָנִ֣יתָ מָצ֗וֹר עַל־הָעִיר֙ אֲשֶׁר־הִ֨וא עֹשָׂ֧ה עִמְּךָ֛ מִלְחָמָ֖ה עַ֥ד רִדְתָּֽהּ׃ (פ)
Only trees that you know do not yield food may be destroyed; you may cut them down for constructing siege-works against the city that is waging war on you, until it has been reduced.
The commandment to observe here is in the context of wartime when the Jews were laying siege to cities, they were forbidden to cut down fruit trees in order to lay siege-works or encampments. The sages understood that this commandment encompasses a principle that is extremely valuable in a larger, global context. If such a commandment exists for the people in extreme times of war how much more this principle should be observed in our daily lives today.
Needless destruction of something that can be of use to yourself or someone else is the larger principle here that is applicable to each of us in our daily lives. Needless destruction of resources including food, water, money, earth, clothing, and so many more necessities of life is not only careless and selfish it is simply forbidden. We are required to think before we act so that we will not cause damage with our actions and choices to ourselves, others, or the blessed resources around us.
If you were looking for a good reason to "go green" and start making some small changes in your life to help the environment and preserve our resources, here is your good reason! The principle of Bal Tashchit takes the decision out of our hands and elevates it to a commandment that we should observe creating a healthy sense of responsibility for our actions and to the incredible resources we take for granted.
At Poppy Hayoun Designs, you can purchase any of my designs on an organic cotton t-shirt or a bamboo paper print that ships entirely plastic free! My current collection of the Mazalot / Hebrew Zodiac is currently available for purchase on my website or from my Etsy shop!
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Thanks for reading,
Interested in learning more about Bal Tashchit? You can learn more at these resourceful sites: