God gave us a beautiful planet to live on, and He wants us to take good care of it. In this week's Torah portion we learn about how even an army in the middle of a war should not be unnecessarily destructive and cut down fruit trees without a good reason. The Torah is teaching us to be aware of and respectful to our natural environment and careful not to needlessly harm or waste the precious resources God has given us.
In our story a couple of kids go on an environmental rescue mission.
"SAVING THE BIG APPLE"
For a city kid like me, one of the nicest things about being away at Camp Wallabee is the quiet. Instead of the usual symphony of car alarms, busses, and sirens, the noisiest thing around here are the crickets chirping at night and an occasional mosquito buzzing in your ear. So you can understand why I was so surprised to hear what sounded like a construction site one morning as I was eating breakfast.
Me and my best friend, Jerry, ran over to investigate, and we couldn't believe what we saw. Sure enough, there was a big bulldozer parked across the road, and Mr. Allen, the camp director, standing with a man wearing a hard hat and carrying a chainsaw right in front of 'Big Apple.' Now Big Apple, besides being the nickname of my home town, is what all we kids called the tall, sprawling apple tree by the camp entrance. It had been there longer than any of us, even the counselors, could remember, and it was part of the Camp Wallabee tradition. And now if I was seeing right, it looked like it was about to turn into firewood!
Jerry and I looked at each other, and started to run. We headed off the director and the tree executioner at the pass. "Hey, Mr. Allen, what's going on?!" I yelled out in panic.
He must have seen how upset we were because he didn't get mad or anything, but smiled and said, "Don't worry guys, we're just improving Camp Wallabee. We're going to make a great camp even better by building you kids some great new playground equipment and even put up a great new snack bar."
Maybe I didn't understand him or he didn't understand me. What did all this have to do with killing 'Big Apple?' "But why is that man about to chop down this beautiful tree for no reason?"
He frowned for a moment and then smiled. "It's not for no reason," he explained. "We have to put the new equipment and snack bar somewhere, don't we? Now could you boys please move away from the work area. It could be dangerous, you know."
Well there was some reason, but was it really worth chopping down this magnificent tree for some dumb snack bar?
Jerry and I begged and pleaded to Mr. Allen not to cut down the tree, but he wouldn't budge, and although he's a nice guy and tries to keep us 'happy campers,' I could see that even he was starting to lose his patience.
The big, mean-looking worker, who had lost his patience long ago, started up his chainsaw and it looked like Big Apple was about to turn into Big Applesauce, like it or not, when I got an idea. "Mr. Allen, what if we kids took a vote, and decided we'd rather keep the tree alive than all that new stuff… Would you be willing to change your mind?"
Mr. Allen scratched his chin and thought, and I prayed the answer would be 'yes'. Finally he agreed, and gave the workers some other jobs to do. He said he needed the answer within an hour, or the tree was coming down, and that was that.
I was sure all the kids would agree, but when I ran back to the dining hall where everyone was still eating and told them the story, I saw it wasn't going to be as easy as I thought.
"A snack bar sounds pretty good to me!" said Big Ed, munching on a donut.
"And what's wrong with having some new equipment?" added another kid.
A big debate (maybe you could call it an argument) started up between the 'tree people' and the 'playground people', and as the minutes ticked away things were looking pretty bad.
Suddenly Jerry winked at me, jumped up and said, "Why do we need a new playground, when God already gave us one?"
Everyone quieted down to hear what he had to say.
"Think about it," he said, "What's a better playground than a tree? You can climb on it, it gives you a lot of shade to sit under, and with just a couple of ropes we can hang some swings! We even get free background music from the singing of all the birds that make the tree their home."
The kids nodded their heads, and it looked like we were gonna win, when Big Ed, still chewing, piped up. "Yeah, but what about the snack bar?"
We were stumped. Nobody said anything for a minute, and then I got an idea. "What's a better snack bar than an apple tree? God gives us tons of fresh, delicious apples all summer long, for free, and," I said, turning to big Ed, "they're even a little bit healthier than donuts."
Ed let out a big laugh and threw his hands up in the air. I knew we had won him over to our side. After a quick vote, we ran back to Mr. Allen just in time to save the tree!
By the next day, things were quite again as usual at Camp Wallabee. And as Jerry and I sat munching on a couple of the 'snack bar's' apples, it felt good knowing we had helped protect part of God's environment, and helped people to understand why it was worth protecting.
Q. How did the kids feel about cutting down the tree when Dave and Jerry first asked them?
A. They felt like they wanted all the nice new things the camp director promised.
Q. How did they feel in the end?
A. They saw and appreciated all the good things God already gave them by giving them the tree, and they wanted to keep it.
Q. Why is it important to take care of the environment?
A. The world, its wide variety of animal and plant life, its varied environment is all a creation and a gift of God. When we treat it with respect and care we show ourselves and others that we appreciate and acknowledge this gift, and that leads us to live a more fulfilling and spiritual life.
Q. What are some ways we can fulfill the Torah's instruction of being careful not to misuse the God-given environment in our daily lives?
A. We don't have to go out into the woods to be environmentally conscious. When we are careful not to waste food, break things or throw out perfectly good usable items just because we feel like it, we are fulfilling this mitzvah. Even by simply remembering to turn off lights, appliances, or the water faucet when not needed, we help do our part to respect and take care of God's world.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Is our responsibility not to waste a given resource related to its scarcity or abundance?
A. In the ultimate sense, no. Our respect for the environment is not merely a practical issue of trying to preserve what is scarce. Rather, God wants us to recognize the world as His creation and precious gift, and our unique role as its enlightened caretakers.
Q. How can a person know whether he is properly or improperly partaking of the world's resources?
A. The rule of thumb is: use it, but don't abuse it. We should relate to it as a valuable gift from God that He wants us to use and enjoy, but not to waste or wantonly destroy.