July 17, 2024
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July 17, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

After weeks of two-day weekend yontifs, many families are facing the cold reality of freezers filled with the remnants of meals gone by. This residue cannot simply be discarded because doing so would violate Jewish law including the Bal Tashchit rule. Even though eating the same meal over and over again is about as enjoyable as watching t.v. reruns, Jews must nevertheless journey through the Land of Leftovers. Why must leftovers be consumed? From where does the Bal Tashchit rule come? Are there exceptions that can be used to avoid eating your mother’s meatloaf for the fifth day in a row?

The term “bal tashchit” means “do not destroy” and is a prohibition against waste of useful items, especially food. This restriction derives from the Torah, which discusses the rules of engagement when a city has been captured. In such an instance, the Torah states that “you must not destroy [the city’s] trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down… Only trees that you know do not yield food may be destroyed…”” (See, Devarim 20:19-20). This means that apples trees should remain untouched but other types of trees are not off-limits including oak trees, pine trees and spruce trees as well as shoe trees, lending trees and family trees.

The primary point is that Torah frowns upon senseless, wanton destruction. (Yes, when devouring Chinese food, you may fully engage in “wonton” destruction.) The Talmud reiterates the Bal Tashchit principle: “One who wastes resources is comparable to one who destroys items of value.” (Shabbat 140(b)). The Talmud expresses conservationist concerns, implying that the world has a finite supply of resources, one that can be sustained through natural cycles only if it is not recklessly and needlessly overtaxed. So, if on Purim you receive an apricot hamantaschen but you prefer a poppyseed filling, eat the apricot. If on Chanukah you receive chocolate-covered sufganiyot but you prefer vanilla-covering, eat the chocolate. If on Pesach you receive regular matzah but you prefer shmurah matzah, then… eat the shmurah because Pesach is hard enough as it is and, for shmurah matzah aficionados, regular matzah is to shmurah what plain broth is to matzah ball soup.

In Sefer Hachinuch, at 529:2, you will find an explanation as to why Bal Tashcit adherence is important. It explains that increased respect for all of the good that the world has to offer fosters peace, love and happiness. Sefer Hachinuch adds that true Bal Tashchit adherents “will not destroy even a mustard seed in the world and they are distressed at every ruination and spoilage they see…” Apparently, at the time and location that Sefer Hachinuch was written (13th Century Spain), a mustard seed was considered the smallest edible item. Today, however, many experts agree that the smallest known seed in the world comes from tropical orchids and weighs 10 billionths of an ounce. (To put this in Marvel comic-book terms, if this tiny seed was any smaller, it would be in the Quantum Realm.)

Speaking of seeds, most experts agree that the world’s largest seed is the “Coco-de-Mer,” also known as “the double coconut,” which is the seed of the Lodoicea maldvica plant, a large palm that can grow approximately 80 feet tall. This palm plant is only found on two islands -—Praslin and Curieuse in the Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of East Africa. The plant’s seed can weigh almost 70 pounds, so if destroying a mustard seed is like committing larceny, then destroying a “Coco-de-Mer” is like committing grand larceny.

The Talmud does create exceptions to Bal Tashchit. For example, “if the lumber was greater in monetary value than [the tree’s] fruits, it is permitted to chop it down, and this does not violate the prohibition against destroying a tree.” See, Bava Kamma 91(b). (As an aside, if a cord of wood can be used to make a guitar, then the cord has “chord” value.) It is fair to say that a tree’s lumber is not always more valuable than its fruit. This is particularly true when it comes to pineapples from the Lost Garden of Heligan, a botanical garden in Cornwall, England. Rumor has it that their pineapples, a very rare fruit in that region, can fetch prices of up to $15,000. To put this into perspective, you can buy a new car, such as a Ford Fiesta or Chevy Spark, for under $15,000. Imagine how much it would cost in a Cornwall pub to order a piña colada.

Final thought: Waste not, want not. Then again, want not, waste not.

By Jon Kranz

 

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