Keeping ourselves and our environment clean is an important value. In this week's Torah portion, God tells the people to keep their encampments clean as a way to keep Him close by and help them succeed. Things go better and feel better once we 'clean up our act.'


In our story, a kid gets a first-hand lesson in environmental protection.


"Joey, go upstairs and change. You can't go on your trip wearing that shirt. It's all dirty!"

"Okay mom," Joey said halfheartedly. He didn't know why his mother always made such a big deal about being neat and clean. So what if his shirt had a little stain on it? After all, more than half the shirt wasn't stained. Well, at least she didn't make him take a shower before he left, like she said she would.

As Joey waded across the pile of junk in his room to get to his shirt drawer, he stopped to say hello to Frank, his pet goldfish.

"How's it goin' in there, buddy?" he smiled as he tapped on the glass of the small fish tank. He really loved watching the cute little fish swim around. His parents told him he had to clean the tank every week to keep the fish healthy, but as far as Joey could see - though it was a little hard to see through all the algae and dirt that had built up inside -ole Frank looked happy enough in there, despite the fact that he hadn't cleaned the tank since he got it.

"Boy, Frank you're lucky to be there underwater where you never have to take showers or have to listen to all of this 'clean-up' stuff," he said as he reluctantly changed and quickly ran downstairs. His day camp was going on a hiking trip to the nature reserve and he didn't want to miss the bus.

They got there and the place was really beautiful, even though Joey didn't like the way the guide kept warning them about not leaving any trash on the trail.

After the picnic lunch, it was time to move on. Joey gathered up his trash and was about to stuff it into his knapsack like the guide told them to do, when he thought, 'Why should I carry this junk around with me?' After taking a look around to make sure no one was watching, he gave the stuff a quick flick behind a tree stump.

"Hey! You're not allowed to do that!"

It was the guide. Joey was caught in the act. "Who do you think God made responsible to keep our environment clean? All of us!"

Joey felt embarrassed and annoyed. "Come on. Is one soda can and a couple of candy wrappers really going to destroy this huge forest?"

"Young man, hundreds of people pass by here every week. If they all dumped their trash like you just did, this nature reserve would soon become polluted and the animal life would begin to perish."

'Gimme a break,' Joey thought to himself. 'Another neat freak. It's not enough I get this at home?' But not wanting to make a scene, the boy begrudgingly picked up the trash he had thrown out and stuffed it into the front pocket of his bag.

The rest of the trip went smoothly enough. Joey got off the bus and went up to his room to say hi to Frank, his fish, who was about the only one who didn't tell him what to do.

But when he looked into the tank, something was really wrong. Instead of swimming around as usual, Frank was just floating on the top of the dirty water - dead!

Joey felt terrible his pet had died - but even worse, he realized that the fish died because he didn't do anything to keep the tank clean.

As Joey sadly started to clean out the tank, he told himself he would make sure his next fish always had a clean place to be, and he'd start to keep himself and his own environment clean, too.


Ages 3-5

Q. How did Joey feel at first about keeping clean?
A. He didn't feel like it mattered.

Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. After he saw how bad not being in a clean tank was for his fish, he understood it really did make a difference.

Ages 6-9

Q. What lesson do you think Joey learned from what happened?
A. He hadn't considered cleanliness to be important, neither his own nor that of the environment. However, when he experienced first-hand how important a clean tank was for his pet's well-being, he realized that it was something to be taken seriously.

Q. Why do you think cleanliness is important?
A. Besides practical health reasons, when we keep ourselves and our environment clean, we show that we respect ourselves and appreciate the gifts God has given us.

Ages 10 and Up

Q. Our sages teach that the more learned and spiritual a person is, the more particular he must be that his clothing is neat and unstained. Why do you think this is so?
A. One reason is that such a person represents spirituality and closeness to God in the eyes of those who see him. If his appearance is neat, it will attract others and inspire them to develop spiritually as well, and if not, it could put them off.

Q. What, if any, do you think is the relationship between the cleanliness and orderliness of one's physical environment and his inner well being?
A. The physical world both reflects and influences the spiritual. By maintaining a clean and orderly outer environment, a person can think more expansively and accomplish things much more effectively than if he doesn't.