Taking Care of our Private Property
The Earth, its beauty and bounty, is one of God's most precious gifts to us. In this week's Torah portion, God asks us to let the land that we own 'rest' one year out of every seven, with no plowing, planting etc. Although this guideline only applies in Israel, one lesson we can all learn from it is that ultimately the entire Earth belongs to God and He gave it to us to use and enjoy -- but with wisdom and responsibility.
In our story, a couple of kids try to figure out the right way to use God's gift of the Earth.
The sweet, smoky smell of roasting marshmallows matched the relaxed mood as Debby and her favorite cousin, Jan, sat around the small campfire at their family lakefront beach house celebrating Debby's birthday in style.
"Hey, it's starting to get a little chilly," Debby said, pulling her sweater tighter around her shoulders. "Good thing you gave me this gorgeous hand-woven sweater for a birthday present, Jan."
"My pleasure," the girl smiled. "Nothing but the best for my cousin. You're right, it is getting cooler out here and those clouds mean rain's on the way. What do you say we move the party indoors?"
Debby easily agreed, as both girls knew how quickly storms could blow over the lake.
"Okay, I put the fire safely out," Debby said. "Could you just take care of the trash and we're on our way."
"Sure," Jan said, but Debby's smile turned into a look of alarm as she saw her cousin take the stack of soda cans, food wrappers and paper plates and instead of putting it into a trash bag to bring inside as she'd expected, flung it like a Frisbee into the woods behind them.
"Hey, why'd you do that?!" Debby called out.
"Why did you just chuck the trash out like that? That's polluting."
"Oh, come on Debs -- are you afraid the police are gonna fine us for littering, or something?" the girl teased. "Lighten up, lady - I can understand why not to dump trash in a public park or some thing, but this is private property -- it belongs to our family, remember?. Come on, let's go inside."
"Jan, I'm serious -- polluting is not cool, even in private property. God gave us this beautiful planet -- including this beautiful property -- and He wants us to enjoy it, but also to treat it right."
"Hah! You just proved my point, yourself," Jan sneered, "Since God gave it to us, we can treat it however we want. Case closed." Jan started walking toward the beach house, expecting her cousin to follow in defeat.
"Just a second, Jan," Debby called out "First I'm going to scoop up all that stuff you dumped and put it in the trash where it belongs."
"I think you're being a little stubborn about this, Debby. Beside, we don't have anything to scoop it up with, and you don't want to get that guck all over your hands, do you?"
"No problem," Debby smiled strangely as she unbuttoned her sweater, "I'll just scoop it up with this and my hands will stay clean as a whistle."
"What!" Jan cried out. "You're going to use that brand new expensive sweater I just gave you to scoop up trash?"
"Why not?" asked Debby, her strange smile growing wider. "It's my private sweater, isn't it?"
"Yeah, I know ... but, still..."
"And you gave it to me -- just like God gave us the Earth, so I can use it however I want, no?"
"Okay, okay -- you win!" Jan started laughing, "I get it. Just like I don't want you to trash my gift, God doesn't want us to trash His gift either."
"Right!" Debby smiled as she put her sweater back on. Together with Jan she started picking the trash out of the woods. "And please remember that from now on, so we can keep out hands clean."
Q. How did Jan feel at first about dumping the trash in the woods?
A. She felt it was okay since it was their property.
Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. That the Earth was God's gift to us and we should take care of it.
Q. What life-lesson do you think the kids learned that day?
A.Jan had understood that polluting was wrong, but only if it was on public property. Debby helped her to realize that the whole world - public or private property - is a gift from God that one we should respect and treat right.
Q. What do you think it means to call the Earth God's 'gift' to us?
A. True, everything in the world belongs to God. He made it and He keeps it in existence. However, God is amazingly kind and wants us to enjoy our lives, so He gave us the right to use His world. However, He wants us to take good care of it even as we use it, being careful not to waste or destroy things unnecessarily.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Do you think as human beings, we have any more rights and/or responsibilities toward using the planet than any other species? Why or why not?
A. A human being is more than just another species of life on this planet. Our sages and mystics teach that humanity is both the world's caretakers and most important creation. There are deep spiritual reasons behind this, but practically speaking, this fact gives us at once certain rights to use the world's resources for our benefit and enjoyment, and simultaneously a unique responsibility to look out for the welfare of the world and all of its creatures.
Q. Do you think that if we treat the Earth properly there will always be enough resources on the planet to support as many people as may be born?
A. God made the world as an environment to support as much life as would come into it. He also asks us to live ethical lives. Part of an ethical life is not to greedily over-consume the world's resources and also to make an effort to help the less fortunate to have what they need to survive. If we live as we should, we need never fear overpopulation.