My portion of Shoftim revolves around the theme of justice – it includes the famous phrase, “Tzedek Tzedek tirdof,” “Pursue Justice!” – and it talks about how we should work to make this a better world.
It’s a perfect portion for me – because I have a very strong sense of right and wrong….I’m right and you’re wrong 😊
Seriously, I’ve always been concerned about justice - I watch the news more than many other teens and I’ve been troubled by how kids are being treated at the border and about racism and discrimination everywhere.
But I have a special concern for environmental justice. We are living in a world where my generation has reason to worry about the impact of climate change on our own lives, not just on those generations who will come after us.
When I was in 5th grade I was researching how kids in India and other parts of Asia have to wear masks all the time because their air is so polluted. And I can recall some of the big storms we’ve had here, that have been made worse by climate change.
My clearest memory of Hurricane Sandy was that when we heard how bad it was going to be, my brother and I moved all our stuffed animals to the living room and built a fort around them to protect them. As I’ve grown up, I’ve come to realize that stacking blankets and pillows with stuffed animals won’t protect us for long. We’ve got to change our world and we can begin in small ways, by recycling.
It so happens that the basis for the Jewish approach to the environment is found in my portion. In chapter 20 of Deuteronomy, verse 19, it says, “Don’t cut down trees when besieging a city.” לֹא-תַשְׁחִית אֶת-עֵצָה
And then the verse asks, כִּי הָאָדָם עֵץ הַשָּׂדֶה, לָבֹא מִפָּנֶיךָ בַּמָּצוֹר
“Is a tree an enemy soldier that you need to make war on it and destroy it?”
From this verse the rabbis came up with the concept of “Bal Tashchit,” teaching us how important it is to recycle and not waste. For Jews, nothing should be wasted.
The Talmudic sage Rabbi Ishmael taught: if the Torah warns us not to destroy fruit trees, then we should be even more careful about not destroying the fruit itself. This applies to all food that is fit to be eaten, and not only the fruit of trees.
According to a 2011 study commissioned by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tons — gets lost or wasted.” In the United States, less than three percent of this waste is recovered and recycled. We need to do better.
Two years ago, my family did what the temple did a few years prior, we put solar panels on our roof. I know that already we’ve saved a lot of energy and put less carbon into the atmosphere. There are lots of other ways to make the world greener. A few months ago, Connecticut started enforcing strict laws keeping us from using plastic bags at the supermarket. I’m happy to say that my family has always done this. Ever since I can remember, we’ve brought recycled bags to the supermarket. We also use LED bulbs at home, which saves energy and makes things brighter too!
My mitzvah project is also related to the environment. I’m donating to an organization called “4 Ocean,” which makes bracelets like this one that I have on my wrist. Each bracelet is made with one pound of trash taken from the ocean. Of course, the trash is cleaned!
You can order your own from the website for $20, or you can buy one of these necklaces like the one I’m wearing, which I will make for you $5 and then donate the money to “4 Ocean.” Since 2017, 4 Ocean has removed over 6 million tons of trash from the ocean. 4ocean is a global movement actively removing trash from the ocean and coastlines while inspiring individuals to work together for a cleaner ocean, one pound at a time.
And that’s the only way to fight climate change and save the earth – one mitzvah at a time.
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