> Weekly Torah Portion > Parents & Kids > Family Parsha

Don't Waste Things

Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9 )

by Nesanel Yoel Safran

God gives us so many good things. He wants us to enjoy the good of the world, but He doesn't want us to waste it. In this week's Torah portion we learn that when an army goes to war and needs to cut down trees for the wood, they should be careful only to cut down trees that don't bear fruit. It would be an unnecessary waste of resources. We learn from here how mindful we should be of our personal environment and careful not to waste the things with which God has blessed us.


In our story a boy recognizes the value of not wasting and does something good for the people around him.


It all started when Andy was playing in the parking lot behind his family's condo. He noticed a kid he knew from the building walking his bicycle in the direction of the big blue dumpster at the corner of the lot. Andy did a double take as he watched the boy calmly lift the bike up over the mouth of the dumpster.

"Hey, what are you doing?!" Andy cried out.

The boy looked his way. "I'm just trashing this old bike," he said. "My dad just got me a new 15-speeder for my birthday."

The bike didn't look so old to Andy, and it certainly didn't look like trash. "Is there anything wrong with the bike?" he asked.

The boy, feeling a bit on the defensive answered, "Well ... er ... one of the tires is flat, and the seat is loose. I just don't need it anymore," he added.

Andy shook his head. "What a waste of a good bike," he thought. Since he didn't need a new bicycle he was about to go back to his game when a thought struck him. He remembered seeing in the paper that a local group was conducting a 'toy drive' and asking people to donate used toys and games to needy children. "Hey do you mind if I take the bike?" he asked.

The boy shrugged. "Be my guest," he said. "As far as I'm concerned it's trash."

Andy wheeled the green three-speed bicycle to the side of his house. He ran in to get a couple of tools that his dad always let him borrow. A few turns of a wrench later, and the bike was as good as new!

Meanwhile Andy's friend Rob had been curiously watching him at work. When Andy told him his plans for the newly-repaired bike, Rob got very excited. "What if I tell you where there are about 100 bikes we can fix up and give to needy kids?" he said brightly.

Andy looked up as his friend explained. "My dad owns, 'Herman's Second-Hand City.' It's a big salvage company. He has all kinds of used and broken-down stuff there. Just yesterday my dad pointed to this huge pile of broken bikes he has and mentioned that he doesn't know what to do with them since nobody wants to buy them. I'm sure if we tell him that we want to fix them and give them to those kids he would be happy to let us."

Andy loved the idea and when his friend called him back to tell him that his dad agreed, they planned to meet early the next morning. With tools in hand, the two friends approached the big tangled pile of bicycles and started to pull them apart. Surprisingly a lot of them were okay and just needed some air in the tires. Many others they were able to fix up with a few simple 'transplants.' A tire from here, a handle-bar from there.

When Mr. Herman saw how into it the boys were, he brought them a few cans of spray paint that really made the repaired bikes shine like new. By the end of the day, the boys had redeemed nearly 20 bikes from the trash!

Mr. Herman called up the toy-drive group which was delighted to send out a truck to pick the up the bikes. The local newspaper even sent a reporter to write up a story about it.

The next day Andy felt really good when he saw the picture of him and Rob in front of the bikes under the headline: YOUNG HEROES TURN BROKEN BICYCLES INTO RE-CYCLES." He realized how much good he had prevented from going to waste.


Ages 3-5

Q. How did Andy feel when he saw the boy about to throw away the bike?
A. He felt like it wasn't right to waste something that was still good and could be used to make other people happy.

Q. Is it okay to waste things like paper towels or pens just because we have plenty more of them?
A. No, its better not to waste things even if we have a lot.

Ages 6-9

Q. If people are going to cut down a tree anyway, what difference does it make whether it's a fruit tree or not?
A. A fruit tree and a non-fruit tree both produce wood that is about equally good for most purposes. But a fruit tree also produces food. Therefore it would be inefficient and wasteful to cut it down for its wood and deprive the world from benefiting from its fruit when there is a reasonable alternative.

Q. Can you think of some other ways that someone could make more efficient use of his personal environment?
A. Like Andy, we can think of recycling old clothing and toys instead of throwing them out. Also, we can take smaller portions of food at a time, and then more if we want, rather than taking too much at once and then throwing it out when we can't eat it all. We can turn off lights when we leave a room, etc. The main thing is to try to be aware of the good things God has given us, and, as a way of showing appreciation, not waste them.

Ages 10 and Up

Q. In your opinion how much can one take from the environment before it is considered wasteful?
A. Each of us is also part of the "environment" and therefore it is certainly legitimate to take from it what we need. The question is how do we define the word "need." This is different for every person. People have different temperaments. One person can be content living very simply, yet someone else may need much more just to function normally. One's upbringing, what one is used to, will also affect a person's needs. Its worthwhile for each of us to try to gain self-knowledge and figure out how much we actually need and then try to take only that much from our environment.

Q. Does a person's intention when he uses something have any influence on the thing itself? Is it a factor in determining whether such use can be considered legitimate?
A. One of the great secrets of life is the knowledge that our use of the physical world has a profound spiritual effect on both the user and the object being used. For example, when we eat: If our intention is to use the energy that we get from the food to do acts of kindness, not only is our taking of the food legitimate, but it elevates the spiritual essence of the animal or plant that we are eating. In contrast, if we are trying to replenish our energy in order to do acts that are physically or spiritually destructive, we have a negative affect on the food we eat and we are, at least on a spiritual level, wasting it.




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