Don't Waste, Appreciate
Everything we have - including all of the world's resources like water and oil - are gifts from God that we should appreciate and not waste, even if we have more than we need. We learn in this week's Torah portion how even though our forefather Jacob was a wealthy man, when he was moving his tents and realized he had left behind a small almost worthless pitcher, he took the trouble of going back to get it rather than letting it go to waste. We learn from here to appreciate and not waste all the good that we have.
In our story a kid gets a first-hand taste why we shouldn't waste.
"IN GOOD TASTE"
"Hey, are you just going to throw all that out?" asked Jenny, noticing the kid next to her about to dump her barely touched school lunch into the garbage.
"Why not? What else am I supposed to do with it?" the kid shrugged, as she spilled out her tray and walked off.
Jenny sighed. She probably would have said the same thing as that kid last year. She never used to think twice about wasting things or taking more than she needed and then just dump it. But something happened the past summer at camp that made her see things a little differently.
She had been sitting with her friends in the camp dining hall back then...
"Hey guys, check this out! It's the leaning tower of - pizza!" Jenny said, pointing proudly at her latest food-mess creation. At this camp they would just put out trays of food and let the kids eat as much as they wanted. The food wasn't that great, so nobody really ate that much of it, but Jenny liked to take some extra and use her creativity to design messy 'food sculptures' to give her friends a laugh.
The kids were still cracking up when Mrs. Lang, the clean-up lady, walked by. "What a shame, wasting so much good, edible food like that," she scolded. The kids tried to ignore her but she continued. "If you don't want something, just don't take it. Why waste it like that so nobody else can have it?"
By now the kids were quiet, except for the occasional giggle that would burst out from their lips. After another minute, the woman walked off, not saying a word, and shaking her head.
"I don't know what's her big problem." said Laura. "The camp gives us plenty of food. What does it matter what we do with it?"
"Yeah," Jenny added. "They just throw it out anyway. Why not have some fun with it first?"
After a few more quips the kids moved on to the next topic - the cool boat trip some of them would be taking the next day. They were going to be leaving at the crack of dawn to watch the beautiful sunrise over the nearby lake.
The next morning when Jenny popped out of bed, it was still dark outside. She quietly got dressed and walked down the path to where they were supposed to meet. As she was going past the camp parking lot, she suddenly heard a noise. She ducked behind a tree and didn't make a sound. Maybe it was a wild animal or something!
She heard another noise, and peeked out to see a person carrying a really big box. Apparently Jenny wasn't hiding as well as she thought because the woman looked right at her and said, "Would you mind helping me with this for a minute, dear?"
Jenny recognized the voice right away - it was Mrs. Lang!
Relieved that it wasn't a burglar or a bear, Jenny went over to her and helped her lift the big box, which turned out to packed full with leftover camp food, into the trunk of her car.
"Maybe you're wondering what I'm planning to do with all this?" she asked.
Jenny nodded curiously.
"I try to keep it secret, but since you saw me and helped me, I'll let you in on it. Down the road there's a special camp for orphans and poor kids from broken homes. I have two nephews in that camp. Of course none of the kids can pay any tuition, so the camp is pretty broke. Mr. Roth, the owner of our camp, kindly lets me bring them any leftover food from our meals. I do it early so those kids don't know about it and feel embarrassed eating other people's leftovers. This isn't a lot of food for so many kids, but usually there's enough for them to get by, that is," she looked Jenny in the eye, "that is as long as our campers, who are fortunate enough to get more food than they need, don't just play around with it and waste it all."
Without saying another word, the woman closed her trunk and drove off.
That next day, no matter how much her friends would tease or coax, Jenny just couldn't bring her self to make her usual food-mess sculpture. After all, how could she just goof around with the food, knowing she was probably taking it out of some orphan's mouth?
Ever since that day Jenny had been really careful not to waste food or other things either. Somehow she felt like they were God's presents to her and not something to waste. Maybe someday she would think of a way to help make sure everybody had enough food and everything else they needed, but at least until then, she could make sure to appreciate and not waste the things God had given her.
Q. How did Jenny feel at first about wasting food?
A. She felt as long as she had a lot, it was okay to waste it.
Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She felt a lot of appreciation for what she had and felt it would be wrong to waste it.
Q. What lesson do you think Jenny learned from what happened to her?
A. She had never given much thought to the idea that she was fortunate to have things that others didn't. Because of this, she wasn't at all careful about wasting. Once she saw how other kids were depending on food she was just playing around with, she became much more grateful and careful.
Q. If Jenny's camp was actually throwing out the food, would there have been anything wrong with the kids wasting it then? Why or why not?
A. True, the food would be going to waste anyhow, but purposefully or carelessly wasting it still wouldn't be right. One of the main reasons we are in this world is to develop ourselves into caring and appreciative people. Being grateful for and careful with the things God has given us brings us closer to this goal. Wasting, even when it would seem not to make a difference, brings us further away.
Spiritual exercise: Try to find and apply one way to not waste resources today.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Does the value of not wasting the world's resources mean that we should try to avoid using any of them as much as possible? Why or why not?
A. There is nothing wrong with using the world's resources to live normal and happy lives. God, in fact, wants us to partake of and enjoy the world that He made, and according to the mystics when we use the world's resources with moderation and good intentions, we are actually 'helping' the things we use in a spiritual way. However, while it's fine to use what we need, we should be careful not to use more than we need. Wasting, either purposefully or through carelessness, isn't using God's gift of the world, but abusing it.
Q. How does the way we relate to our property reflect upon the way we relate to God?
A. If someone receives a gift from someone else, and if he takes good care of it, it is a sign of respect and appreciation for the giver. If he carelessly wastes or ruins it, it is a sign of disrespect. (Sort of like choosing to frame the needlepoint tapestry Aunt Millie made for you and put it on the wall above your bed versus using it to line the birdcage.) When we realize that everything we have and every resource of the world is actually a gift from God, it becomes clear that the way we use them demonstrates our respect and appreciation for Him or the opposite.
Spiritual exercise: Try to find one way to not waste resources today.