When you lay siege to a city for a long time, making war against it to capture it, you are not to destroy its trees by swinging an axe at them. For from them you may eat, so you shall not chop them down. For is the tree of the field human, that it should enter the siege before you?
~Deuteronomy 20:19 (TLV)
This passage from Deuteronomy is the basis for an entire concept of Hebrew study known as “bal-tashchit”, which means, “you shall not destroy.” In this study we are going to take a closer look at the concept of “bal-tashchit” as well as another Hebrew term: “sidrei bereshit”, which is the Hebrew term for the order of Creation.
In the essay-style study “Judaism And The Practice Of Stewardship” by Dr. David Ehrenfeld and Rabbi Philip J. Bentley, which is recorded in the book Torah Of The Earth: Vol. 1, it is said of our opening text (Deut. 20:19):
From this source is derived the notion of bal tashchit, an ancient and sweeping series of Jewish environmental regulations that embrace not only the limited case in question but have been rabbinically extended to a great range of transgressions including the cutting off of water supplies to tree, the overgrazing of countryside, the unjustified killing of animals or feeding them harmful foods, the hunting of animals for sport, species extinction and the destruction of cultivated plant varieties, pollution of air and water, over-consumption of anything, and the waste of mineral and other resources.
Now, bear with me here. I realize that the act of taking a Torah commandment and creating a whole bunch of additional “laws” based on it in Rabbinic Judaism and Talmudic tradition is the very thing that Yeshua constantly and consistently took exception with. However, I feel that in this case it may actually be warranted considering the overall theme of Creation-care throughout Scripture that traces back to the very first chapter of the very first book in the Bible.
In some of my previous articles, such as Laws Of Creation, The Divine Order Of Creation, Embracing Creation: Fulfilling Your Destiny In The Earth, and Created By Design to name a few, I talk about man’s God-given purpose on Earth, the care of Creation, from a primarily Christian perspective. In this message I will be placing a stronger emphasis on Jewish thought. Really though, there should not be a distinction between Christian thought and Jewish thought, as both faith-groups are derived from the same Scripture, serving the same God—Yahweh—and both containing a majority of truth mixed with some error. Ultimately, both Christianity and Judaism are spin-offs of the original Hebrew faith. As both religions continue to merge together errors will continue to be dispensed of and the true Hebrew faith established by the Hebrew God will be restored.
Let me make one quick comment on Ehrenfeld’s and Bentley’s statement. In their list of things considered to be a violation of bal tashchit they mention “hunting for sport”. This is not all hunting, but is directly referring to people who hunt for “trophies” and do not use the resource. I do not believe there is anything wrong with hunting and am an advocate of the practice when done responsibly and when the resources are used for food. I also do not believe there is anything wrong with taxidermy when done responsibly, such as when the head or antlers of a deer are mounted—parts of the animal that cannot be used as food. Also, in the case of fish, a quality fiberglass replica can be created. I have a fiberglass replica of a sailfish I caught in Mexico. I do have an issue with killing exotic animals, many of which are not kosher, and doing full body mounts of them, senselessly wasting the resource, which is what the above-cited reference is referring to as “hunting for sport”.
Before I get into the depths of this study, I want to take a look at two passages of Scripture that I have brought up many times before, but feel we must look at them once again as a refresher and a foundation for this topic. One comes out of Genesis, the other Revelation.
God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them
reflecting our nature
So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea,
the birds in the air, the cattle,
And, yes, Earth itself,
and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.”
God created human beings;
he created them godlike,
Reflecting God’s nature.
He created them male and female.
God blessed them:
“Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!
Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air,
for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”
~Genesis 1:26-28 (MSG)
And the twenty-four elders seated on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying,
“We thank you, Adonai Elohei-Tzva’ot,
who is and who was,
because You have taken Your great power
and begun to reign.
The nations were enraged,
but Your wrath has come
and the time for the dead to be judged—
to reward Your servants,
the prophets and kedoshim,
and those who fear Your name,
the small and the great,
and to destroy the destroyers of the earth.”
~Revelation 11:16-18 (TLV)
I use The Message Bible to quote Genesis here even though it is a paraphrase and not an actual translation because where most Bibles use the word “dominion” The Message Bible uses a unique and interesting word: “responsible”. As many environmentalist-minded Jews and Christians will point out, the commandment of Genesis 1 is to take care of God’s Creation. Anything done in opposition to that is perhaps the highest act of defiance against the God who created all life.
In the next passage we find an equally thought-provoking statement: “…and to destroy the destroyers of the earth.” The entire idea of “bal-tashchit” is to not wantonly destroy that which God Himself has created. The concept comes from the single commandment to not destroy a fruit-bearing tree that can be used as a source of food, but in Jewish thought it has grown to encompass the entirety of Creation care.
Some people are quick to take exception to Talmudic laws that have evolved as a result of Jewish thought, and the totality of “bal-tashchit” would certainly fall into this category. While it is true that not everything that has been derived from such Jewish thought is accurate, much like the overwhelming majority of Christian teaching there is truth and there is error within modern Rabbinic Jewish teaching.
For example, mixing of meat and dairy in a meal is forbidden under Jewish kashrut laws regarding what foods are “kosher” for consumption. This is based entirely on the Torah command to not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk, an instruction that was likely based on an ancient pagan ritual and was always mentioned in connection with the celebration of the Holy Feast Days. In this case, the plethora of Jewish laws built on this one Torah commandment seem to have nothing to do with the passage from which they are derived and do not have the support of the totality of Scripture the way bal tashchit does.
At the same time, man-made chemicals like artificial sweeteners have been deemed acceptable under kashrut laws, even though the very word “unclean” refers to anything that is toxic or poisonous and anything that poses a risk to human health, which would include all of these man-made chemicals being used in heavily processed things promoted as food today. If the Rabbis truly understood the reasons behind why the animals called unclean were called unclean—because they are harmful to human health and eating them contributes to the destruction of life on Earth—then they would most certainly include all man-made chemical food additives to the list of things not kosher. So, you can see that not everything that develops in Jewish thought is accurate, even though it generally seems to be the case that the motivation behind these things is correct.
In the case of “bal-tashchit”, while there are some things that appear to be a little off, it appears that there is a lot of right thinking that has come out of this mindset. Let’s consider what it says in Ibn Ezra’s Torah Commentary:
Man is a tree of the field I have already explained, in Sefer Hayyǝsod, that in every language there is a tendency to omit words in order to be concise. Nevertheless, one never omits the word “not”, because then one’s meaning is reversed. A great Spanish grammarian asserted that the sentence is missing an interrogative heh, as if Scripture were asking rhetorically, “is a tree of the field a man?” — but in my view this interpretation is not correct, because it makes no sense to explain a prohibition against destroying a fruit tree, on the grounds that a tree is not a man (and is thus incapable of running away). In my opinion there is no need for any of this. The meaning, rather, is as follows: You may eat of them, but do not cut them down, for man is a tree of the field (i.e., the life of man depends on the trees of the field). A similar construction appears in “for it is taking a life in pawn” [24: 6], which clearly means “it is taking the means of a man’s livelihood in pawn”. The phrase “but do not cut them down” is conceptually tied to the phrase “to come before you in the siege,” to wit: You may not destroy fruit-bearing trees, which are a source of life to mankind, but you may eat of their fruit; you are forbidden to destroy them so that the besieged city will surrender before you. The subsequent phrase cut to build up siegeworks is proof that this is the correct interpretation.
Here we see that the basis for the commandment is thought to be for the preservation of life by preserving the thing that provides life to continue. Humanity cannot continue to live if all of the food is destroyed. And yet the ways of modern society are moving further and further toward the very real possibility of food actually being destroyed. Sure, this is not likely to happen in our lifetime, but if things do not change there is a very real possibility that in just a couple of generations it will be quite difficult to find real food from the Earth. Humanity is not that far off of deciding if we want to continue to destroy nature and ultimately live on laboratory produced “food-products” in a world void of real plants and animals or if we will renounce so-called advancements in food technology and return to the land as our source of sustenance.
Another interesting point of view is provided in the Sefer HaChinukh, by Pinhas ben Joseph ha-Levi:
The root of this commandment is known – it is in order to teach our souls to love good and purpose and to cling to it. And through this, good clings to us and we will distance [ourselves] from all bad and destructive things. And this is the way of the pious and people of [proper] action – they love peace and are happy for the good of the creatures and bring them close to Torah, and they do not destroy even a grain of mustard in the world. And they are distressed by all loss and destruction that they see; and if they can prevent it, they will prevent any destruction with all of their strength. But not so are the wicked – the brothers of the destructive spirits. They rejoice in the destruction of the world, and they destroy themselves – [since] in the way that a person measures, so is he measured; which is to say that he clings to it forever, as the matter that is written (Proverbs 17:5), “the one who rejoices in calamity, will not be cleared (of evil).” And the one who desires the good and rejoices in it, ‘his soul will dwell in the good’ forever. This is known and famous.
Here we have a near perfect description of the person fulfilling Genesis 1:26-28 and the person facing the wrath of Revelation 11:16-18. On the one hand we have a person who has fallen in love with life and will do anything to preserve it for future generations. On the other hand we have the individual whose only concern is their own self interests, the person who cares not about God and His Creation and will do what they want with natural resources, having no regard for the resulting destruction. The former will be those who hear the words of the Master, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Messiah,” and the latter will tremble in fear upon hearing the dreaded, “Depart from Me, worker of lawlessness, transgressor of Torah, I never knew you.”
Returning To The Land
There is a growing awareness today of the need to return to sustainable farming techniques where foods are grown organically. While Christians, who always seem to be behind the curve, are predominantly slower to embrace this primarily Scriptural paradigm shift, there are those who have seemingly begun to have their eyes opened to the crying out of Eden.
Fred Bahnson is the Director of the Food, Health, and Ecological Well-Being Program and Assistant Professor of the Practice of Ecological Well-Being at Wake Forest University School of Divinity in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. After earning a Masters of Theological Studies at Duke Divinity School he began asking some questions inside himself: “What does it mean to follow God? How should I live my life?”
As he searched for the answers to these questions, he found that they were not in the pulpits of Churches, but rather in the design of Creation itself. He began a journey of discovery that led him to different faith communities—Roman Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal, and Jewish—where he explored farming, food, and faith the way God designed it to be. He even spent time at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, where he participated in the Adamah farming program during the Feast of Sukkot (aka Tabernacles, the “Season of our Joy”). He dedicates an entire chapter to this experience, rich with Jewish culture, in his book Soil And Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir Of Food And Faith. In the book Bahnson says:
To grow and share food with others in a garden is to enter a holy country. American spirituality is discovering itself anew as people of faith reconnect with the land. But while the buy local, eat organic movement is increasingly in the public eye, the faith-based food movement remains virtually unknown by the wider public. At times it intersects with its larger cousin, but mostly it charts a parallel course, comprised of many people who’ve neither heard of Michael Pollan nor set foot in a Whole Foods. Many of those I’ve come to meet in this loosely woven movement view soil as a sacrament: a physical manifestation of God’s presence, a channel of Divine grace. They know soil is a portal that joins us to the world to come even while rooting us more deeply in this one.
Through the practices of caring for the soil, those I encountered had discovered a way to become more fully alive.
In this excerpt what it seems Bahnson has discovered, along with many others, is that God truly provided everything we need and that mankind in all its seeming brilliance to develop new technologies really lacks the sense to just let the Earth provide for us the way God designed it to. He also points out how little is actually known of the movement to embrace Creation among certain faith-based groups today. This may be, perhaps, because Christians as a whole are more concerned with the “saving of their souls” than in fulfilling the purpose for which the Bible says we are created.
You weren’t put on this Earth to “get saved through faith in Jesus” and you didn’t get saved to go to Church and witness your faith to others. Those things are necessary, as we live in a fallen world, but contrary to what certainly every preacher has ever told you those are not the most important things in this life.
We, human beings, were placed on this Earth for one primary purpose: to maintain and steward the rest of Creation. Never forget that every other living creature, be it plant or animal life, according to the Genesis Creation record, was on this Earth before the creation of humanity. This means that human beings are both the most important part of Creation in that we are needed to maintain the balance and harmony of all other life and simultaneously the least important part of Creation in that we were created last. In the Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin it states:
Adam the first man was created on Shabbat eve at the close of the six days of Creation. And for what reason was this so? So that the heretics will not be able to say that the Holy One, Blessed be He, had a partner, i.e., Adam, in the acts of Creation. Alternatively, he was created on Shabbat eve so that if a person becomes haughty, God can say to him: The mosquito preceded you in the acts of Creation, as you were created last.
Something else to consider is what renowned Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner says regarding the Sabbath Day in his book Judaism When Christianity Began: A Survey Of Practice And Belief:
The Sabbath embodies Judaism’s model of sacred time – the restoration of that perfect moment of repose that God sanctified in creating Eden. God’s act of sanctification of the seventh day defines for Judaism the meaning of sacred time. Eden then stands for not only a location but especially an occasion, a condition that matches a moment. That is the account of matters in the Ten Commandments: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy … for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and sanctified it” (Exod. 20:8, 11). Keeping the Sabbath day holy means replicating the condition of Eden: repose in God’s image, after God’s likeness, on the seventh day of Creation.
Shabbat, the Sabbath Day, was given on the seventh day of Creation and was the final act of Creation. God established Shabbat, He created the Sabbath Day, where He reflected on His work and celebrated. On the seventh day He created “rest” from the work of creating and He created a celebration of all that He had created. The only way to truly observe the Sabbath Day is to fulfill our purpose in maintaining His Creation in accordance with Genesis 1:26-28 so that we too can reflect on His Creation that we take part in preserving and celebrate. Like God, we spend six days a week properly stewarding His Creation, and on the seventh day we celebrate His Creation. And this model continues week after week, constantly reminding us to thank Him for His provision and preparing us for eternal Shabbat.
One Man, One Forest
Often times people look at the state of the world, the decay and destruction of ecosystems, the entire ecological crisis, and are overwhelmed with the thought, “What can I do? I’m just one person.” But the reality is that you can make a difference if you truly want to. It’s quite simple, in fact. If you really love God you will seek out any and every way possible to contribute to positive environmental change and if you hate God you will do nothing… or, just continue to follow the continually God-defying ways of modern society thinking that what everyone else is doing is “normal”. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The ONLY standard for what is “normal” is what the Bible says. Anything else, no matter how many people are doing it, is simply not normal.
A lot of people think they love God, when in reality they only love themselves. People who are only concerned with personal salvation are self-loving hypocrites when you actually think about it. The same is true of most evangelism and outreach programs conducted by Christians today. Think about it for a moment. What is modern evangelism really? We go out and lead people into the same selfish personal salvation, which helps justify our own focus on our own personal salvation and fills us with the pride that we are doing good for the Messiah. One of the most emphasized points in teaching people to witness Christian faith is that we are earning a crown that we will receive when we get to heaven. The whole thing has become about earning personal rewards: a place in the Kingdom and a crown on our head.
Please understand, I am absolutely NOT opposed to evangelism and the message of salvation. My major in college was evangelism and I maintain that it is a critically important part of our mission on this Earth. Without getting saved nobody will have the Ruach Elohim (Spirit of God) dwelling in his or her heart and leading them to obedience of Scripture. What I am saying, however, is that we have our priorities all mixed up.
I have often heard rebukes given to those who seek to save endangered species while human children are murdered and abused. This sounds good on the surface, and I am in no way suggesting we ignore such atrocities to human children, but the plain fact of the matter is that the human race is far from being on the verge of extinction. This is an important point to consider. As I have noted in previous articles that I have shared, the loss of any species is a critical blow to the balance of all other life on this planet. What this means is that in the bigger picture of Creation-care the effort to bring back a species on the verge of extinction is actually more important to the Earth than stopping a million abortions on a planet that currently hosts over seven billion human beings. If we don’t stop the destruction of the planet and the loss of species we are ultimately aborting the entirety of humanity. We won’t be here if nothing else is. That’s much bigger than the current abortion crisis, as tragic as it is.
Again, I am absolutely not saying that we shouldn’t be fighting the horrible act of abortion or other tragedies that are taking away human life or causing people to be abused, like what happens in the sex trafficking trade. What I am saying is that the Genesis 1 priority is that we take care of our Creator’s Creation first. You see, it simply won’t matter if we stop every human atrocity against fellow humans if we don’t have a planet to live on. Throughout Scripture human life is always second to the preservation of Creation. Adam’s punishment for eating one piece of fruit was far more severe than Cain’s punishment for killing his brother Abel. Later, the entire human race was drowned save one family and a boat full of animals to preserve Creation.
One need only look to the story of one man living on the remote island of Majuli in the nation of India to see that it only takes one man to make a lasting difference. Jadav Payeng is known as the ‘Forest Man of India’ because since 1979 he has taken a daily journey to a barren wasteland that was once a flourishing jungle and planted a tree. After nearly 40 years this man has literally created an entire forest that is now the home to a herd of elephants as well as tigers, deer, rhinoceros, and other animals. One man, forty years, and a flourishing forest teeming with wildlife. His story is told in the short documentary Forest Man written and directed by William Douglas McMaster, where Payeng says:
All species on this planet are animals, including humans. The only difference is that humans wear clothes. There are no monsters in nature except for humans. Humans consume everything until there is nothing left. Nothing is safe from humans, not even tigers or elephants.
There is a Jewish holiday of sorts, similar in many ways to America’s Arbor Day, known as Tu B’Shvat (The Jewish New Year of Trees). Though not mentioned specifically in Scripture it is believed that the celebration traces back at least to the Temple period in Jerusalem and is celebrated when the first almond blossoms typically appear in Israel, the 15th day of the Hebrew month Shevat (late January to early February). The day is often celebrated with a “Tu B’Shvat Seder” that consists of dried fruit and nuts and, if possible, by planting a tree.
“The Redwood Torah” is a story by Rabbi Arthur Waskow and Rabbi Naomi Mara Hyman recorded in the book Trees, Earth, And Torah: A Tu B’Shvat Anthology. While the celebration of Tu B’Shvat is not one of the Holy Days of Yahweh given in Torah or even one of the two minor festivals we know Yeshua our Messiah celebrated (Purim and Hanukkah), it is drawn from the principle of bal tashchit and based on the same passage of Scripture: Deuteronomy 20:19. This story, I believe, really helps to show the significance of the day and why we should consider incorporating it in our worship of the Creator.
In January 1997, more than 200 Jews gathered in far northern California to create and eat together the sacred meal of fruits and nuts and wines that celebrates Tu B’Shvat – the New Year of the Trees. They had gathered in a grove of ancient redwood trees. The redwoods stood above them, silent in their majesty – 250 feet tall and more. They were, they are, the tallest living beings on dry land.
The celebrants intended to complete the seder by walking illegally onto the land of a corporation that was planning to log some of the last remaining stand of ancient redwoods that are in private hands. There they would plant redwood seedlings and risk arrest for trespass.
At this Redwoods seder, one of the editors of this volume, Naomi Mara Hyman, looked up at those great trees and said: “What would a Torah Scroll be like that had these eitzim [‘trees’] for its eitzim [the wooden poles that hold the spiraling Torah scroll]? How grand, how tall would such a Torah be!” Then, looking at the crowd who had come to celebrate the seder, she said: “Each of us would be just the right size to be one letter in such a Torah Scroll!”
And that is what we are, of course: each one of us is a letter in God’s great Torah Scroll of all life on the planet. Yet being a letter is not enough. Nowhere in the Torah does a single letter stand alone to bear some meaning. In English, the word “I” is but a single letter, standing alone; but in Hebrew, even the word for “I” has several letters. No one, not even “I,” can stand alone.
When one person, one corporation, like the corporation that claimed to own those redwoods, thinks it is a single letter that can stand alone, that single letter concentrates such energy that the letter turns to an engulfing flame, while all the words around it are reduced to paltry parchment – and to ashes. So the great Torah Scroll, the earth and the society in which we live, begins to burn. It is a community of lives – not an isolated life – that makes up words, verses, books of wisdom in the living Torah made of earth and air, wood and water.
The community of Jews that gathered in the ancient redwoods to live within that giant Torah Scroll came because they also live within the other ancient Torah, the weave of wisdom that Jewish tradition often calls the Tree of Life. If it were not for that Torah, there would be no Tu B’Shvat; no seder; no gathering of Jews to affirm that these trees were God’s and should not be wantonly destroyed.
Which of these Trees of Life encompasses the other? Does the Jewish Torah live as one thread of human culture in the human strand of all species that make up the weave of the earth? Or do we see the forest and a “forest” because it lives with us within the weave of words and melodies, dances and desires, that human beings – in this case, Jewish human beings – use to recreate the world?
Each. Both. At moments of our history, our spiritual journey we have focused on one tree as simply fruit of the Tree Divine whose roots are in the heavens. The Zionist kindergarten teachers of Tel Aviv saw a notion of the Mystic Tree as a mystification to be healed by rerooting Jewish life in green earth.
We need to affirm them both. We need to call forth a Tu B’Shvat that affirms both Trees, affirms that the abundance that each grows from cannot keep flowing without the abundance of the other. The Tree of Life in scrolls of Torah, the living Torah inscribed in redwood majesty – the Jewish people, and the human race, will wither if we do not renew them both.
Yeshua And Bal Tashchit
When the people were full, Yeshua said to His disciples, “Gather up the leftovers, so nothing is wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with broken pieces from the five barley loaves, which were left over by those who had finished eating.
~John 6:12-13 (TLV)
This passage is from John’s record of the feeding of the 5,000, which is recorded by all four of the Gospel writers. Mark’s Gospel also tells of a similar account where a group of 4,000 were fed and the disciples gathered up the leftovers, filling seven baskets (see Mark 8:1-8). This shows a clear adherence to the principle of bal tashchit, do not waste or destroy.
This is really not that surprising, seeing as Yeshua was a Jewish Rabbi and only opposed man-made laws that were placed as equal to or greater than the commandments of Torah. Considering that Yeshua is Ben Elohim—the Son of God—it certainly seems logical to think that He, above anyone else in the history of humanity, cared about the Creation of His Father.
Now, you may be thinking, “What about the fig tree? He commanded it dead.” That is true, but I remind you that the fig tree was not bearing fruit, so we cannot say that he was killing a fruit-bearing tree. Going back to Deuteronomy 20:19, the base text for the entirety of bal tashchit, the commandment was to not cut down a fruit-bearing tree.
Others might say, “What about when he cast demons in the pigs, and they drowned in the sea. That’s a lot of bacon that was wasted.” Well, again, Yeshua was a Jewish Rabbi. He never considered pigs to be a source of human food, and neither did the Apostles in the duration of the first century. Nothing in the Bible ever allows for pigs to be used by humans for food. Pigs are scavengers and the only creatures fit to eat the flesh of dead pigs would be other scavengers. There are plenty of scavengers in the sea, such as crabs and lobsters, that would eat the dead pigs, so they would not have been wasted. I have many other articles that go into the details of what the New Testament really says about the matter of unclean meats if this is your first time reading one of my articles and you have never been taught properly on this topic.
Do Not Destroy
The more we, the human race, distance ourselves from nature the more we will have a disregard for nature. People have survival built into their genetic makeup, and whatever your source of survival is, that is what you will fight to protect. When cities, governments, and corporations become the source of your sustenance, your allegiance will be to those entities and the people who run them. When Creation is your source, only then will your allegiance truly be to Yahweh, God, your Father and Creator.
Whoever your allegiance is to is whose laws you will follow. That’s the number one reason why Christians do not follow the Laws of God from Torah, because they do not actually have true allegiance to Him. Their allegiance is to this world, whether they realize it or not.
Of the many atrocities that mankind has perpetrated on this planet, perhaps one of the worst was the action of the United States military during the Vietnam War when a series of chemicals were dumped on the landscape of the nation of Vietnam to kill forests and farmlands. Author Dan Drollette Jr., a science journalist, traveled the countryside of Vietnam researching rare animals and witnessed the effects that these chemicals, of which the most well known is Agent Orange, had on the land. Of this, he says in his book Gold Rush In The Jungle: The Race To Discover And Defend The Rarest Animals Of Vietnam’s “Lost World”:
The US Air Force dropped about twelve million gallons of Agent Orange alone between 1961 and 1971, in an effort to deny cover and food to the enemy. In addition to this well-known herbicide, the Air Force also dropped lesser-known chemicals such as Agents Purple and Pink; all three contained the contaminant known to chemists as 2,3,7,8–Tetrachlorodibenzo–p–dioxin, popularly called “dioxin.” The compound was the bi-product of the manufacturing process, and it was thought harmless at the time, although it is increasingly understood to be toxic to humans. The World Health Organization (WHO) says: “Once dioxins have entered the body, they endure a long time because of their chemical stability and their ability to be absorbed by fat tissue, where they are then stored in the body … [dioxin’s] half-life in the body is estimated to be seven to eleven years. In the environment, dioxins tend to accumulate in the food chain. The higher in the animal food chain one goes, the higher the concentration of dioxins.” What the WHO said applies to all mammals at the top of the food chain, including humans, of course, but also all other creatures.
In addition to these dioxin-based compounds, the US military sprayed other compounds as well, including Agent Blue, a form of organic arsenic, targeted at destroying enemy crops such as rice. They also spread herbicides that did not contain dioxin, known as Agents White and Green, after the color of the barrels they came in. Altogether, the different substances make for about twenty million gallons of chemicals sprayed over portions of Vietnam.
The long-term effects of this rainbow of defoliants on the country’s wildlife are still largely a mystery, with most of the concern centered on those defoliants that contained dioxin. We have the most information about dioxin’s effects on humans. We know much less about its effects on domestic animals. We know next to nothing about their effects on Vietnam’s rare wildlife.
Scientists have found dioxin remains in freshwater animals decades after the war. The most likely common scenario is that the chemical collects at the bottom of the country’s many farm ponds; there are about fifteen million bomb craters in Vietnam, many of which filled with water and are used for agriculture. Most likely, when fish or ducks stir up the mud at the bottom of the ponds, they ingest the dioxin and it gets into their fatty tissues, where, due to a quirk of its chemical structure, it stays more or less locked in place without breaking down, in a manner similar to DDT. As you climb up the food chain, the level of dioxin is magnified greatly, for the simple reason that if one tadpole contains one unit of dioxin, and one small fish eats ten tadpoles, then that small fish will now have ten units of dioxin. A human eating ten of those contaminated fish would ingest one hundred units of dioxin, just from that one meal.
What you just read is but one account of so many that could be given of the resulting destruction of how man’s ignorance and arrogance combined to destroy the only home we have. The more people come to be dependent on technological advances the less dependent they will think they are on nature. That is, until they cross a line of no return, no longer able to support themselves with modern technology but at the same time having lost the knowledge of how to sustain their own life through natural resources.
Environmental hazards from events like the Vietnam War or the Persian Gulf War Era as a result of substances released into the atmosphere and environment effect not just the military personnel involved in such campaigns, but end up effecting millions of people through contaminated food supplies. I served in the Navy during a time period shortly after the actual First Gulf War, but the time of my service is still classified as part of the “Gulf War Era” and as such I am constantly being made aware of the effects and symptoms Military Veterans of that time are suffering from, conditions that the U.S. Military and the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs have reportedly found no explanation for. I had a friend who served on a U.S. Marine Corps base where the water was contaminated and many who served there during that time have been found to suffer from permanently disabling conditions. But these stories are not limited to military activities.
Experiments in food and farming by corporations like Monsanto have been shown to cause all sorts of health problems with the general population. Not too long ago I saw another commercial for a class action lawsuit that was going against the Monsanto organization for some condition linked to a product they developed and sold to the general public, I believe it was a chemical weed killer.
I don’t know what it’s going to take to convince people that these things pushed on us by governments, corporations, doctors, cities, scientists, and greed are not researched before they are put out there. WE are the test subjects for a lot of this stuff! But you don’t have to be, it is entirely possible to be free from this mess, and everything you need to know to be free is found in the Bible. All you have to do is live by it and you will be free.
You can eat fresh, organic foods. You can eat foods that are defined as “clean” in the Bible (fit for human consumption by the design of the One who created them). You can clean your home without the use of harsh and toxic chemicals. You can wash your clothes, your dishes and silverware, and your body with soaps and shampoos that are environmentally friendly. You can buy clothes that are naturally sourced, last a long time, and promote the health of your body like those made from 100% linen, cotton, and woolen fabrics. Not only can you do these things, but also if you truly love the God you claim you are serving you WILL do these things. Remember, in God’s eyes you are either a steward of His Creation or you are a destroyer of it, regardless of how often you “play Christian” and “go to Church”.
Do you think He really cares if you are volunteering as an usher or singing in the choir at Church when everything you do is a contribution to the destruction of His Earth? Do you think he is impressed if you pray and read your Bible daily when you are always eating things that He said not to eat? Do you really believe that He is OK with evangelism efforts that just bring more people into an organization that ultimately shows no actual regard for His planet? His Son, Yeshua, said that such evangelism—traveling over land and sea, go to every effort possible, to win even one person as a convert—results in that person become twice as much a son of hell (see Matthew 23:15). Think about that!
Providing Balance And Harmony In Creation
God created man with one primary purpose: to maintain the order of all life on the planet He created. Human beings are the only species of life on Earth with the power to keep the balance of life on this planet or to cause everything to fall into chaos and destruction. Kevin Fong, M.D. in his book Extreme Medicine: How Exploration Transformed Medicine In The Twentieth Century says it this way, “Nature seeks equipoise: It would like, as far as possible, for all things to be as equal as they can be.” Christopher J.H.Wright provides further insight in his book The Mission Of God: Unlocking The Bible’s Grand Narrative as he writes these words: The whole Bible renders to us the story of God’s mission through God’s people in their engagement with God’s world for the sake of the whole of God’s creation.
Our responsibility to our planet and our body, keeping that balance and equality of life, all fall under the principles of bal tashchit. The entire concept is to not destroy that which our God created for us; the commandment of Genesis 1 is to protect that which our God created for us. The late Rabbi Ephraim Weisenberger, a once member of the Tel Aviv rabbinic council, makes the following remarks in the written work Yad Ephraim, the first documented in Bal Tashchit: The Jewish Prohibition Against Needless Destruction and the second in Judaism And Environmental Ethics: A Reader:
Just as a person needs to take care of his body so that he does not destroy or damage it, so he needs to take care of his material possessions so that he does not destroy or damage them. All who break vessels, tear clothing, destroy buildings, stop up water sources or destroy or degrade [edible] food or drink, and similarly, all who damage any object others could benefit from, violate bal tashchit.
Even if he doesn’t allow himself to eat foods that are good for his health and strengthen his body, although they are expensive, he transgresses the prohibition. Any abuse of bodily health in general is a transgression of bal tashchit.
Some may feel that bal tashchit is just another example of Jews taking a single simple commandment from Torah and building an unnecessary plethora of laws around it. While that has certainly been the case within Rabbinic Judaism and the pattern of the Talmud in some areas, I believe in this case we may do good to consider that the commandment of Genesis 1:26-28 supersedes all debate on the issue. We are told by the Creator at the moment of our creation as human beings that we are to be stewards of all His Creation. This, more than anything else, seems to justify the concepts of bal tashchit—do not destroy His world—as being directly related to the highest of all Scriptural commandments: “Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”
A lot of Christians like to point to love God and love people as the two greatest commandments, and certainly they are, but we must realize that if you are not obeying the commandments of Torah than you are simply not loving God or loving people. Basically, if you are not properly caring for Creation by following the parameters of Torah you are showing a complete disregard for God’s Creation and you are contributing to problems that negatively affect all people and all other life on the planet. This is the exact opposite of loving God and loving people. In other words, if you are not living a Torah-observant life you hate God and you hate people.
You might say, “Oh, now you’ve gone to far to say I hate God and hate people. I love everyone and I certainly love God!” That may be true… in your mind. The Bible says that if you love God you keep His commandments. What most Christians are doing today is loving God and loving people in their mind with a worldly love based on emotions and a modern cultural understanding of love but hating God and people in their hearts by living in defiance to what Scripture commands.
Think about that second statement by Weisenberger, how if you don’t eat foods that are good for your health—natural, organic foods that meet the description of “clean” according to Torah—regardless of how much they may cost compared to other things promoted as “food”, you are basically transgressing the edict of bal tashchit by causing destruction to the body. Now think about when you provide destructive foods to another person. Whether it is a pork product or some chemical-laden piece of candy, whether it is something highly addictive, like the Oreo® cookies I mentioned in a previous message, or a nutritional shake that a doctor recommended despite there being organic alternatives on the market, if you give someone a so-called “food” item that results in the destruction of their body and may contribute to their premature death you are basically hating God and hating people. Wouldn’t it be a tragedy to stand before God to find out that when you listened to some God-denier instead of the God who created you it resulted in the destruction and death of His Creation?
I also believe God is doubly angered when this is done to young children who are not capable of making good food choices. How a person claiming to be a Christian can hate God and their own children so much that they feed them garbage that has lasting negative health effects on their tiny bodies is something I can’t even fathom. I made a vow to God years ago, after listening to a message at Church, that I would not knowingly feed my children anything that is harmful to human health. I go to great lengths to keep this vow, buying organic, natural foods regardless of what I might not be able to buy myself because of added costs. I hope and pray that all who read this message and others I have shared will make the same vow to God, the true Creator and Father of your children. Do you believe He is that?
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch makes the following comments in his work Horeb: A Philosophy Of Jewish Laws And Observances, which I believe really help solidify the importance of bal tashchit:
“Do not destroy anything” is the first and most general call of God, which comes to you, man, when you realize yourself as master of the earth. If you should now raise your hand to play a childish game, to indulge in senseless rage, wishing to destroy that which you should only use, wishing to exterminate that which you should only master, if you should regard the beings beneath you as objects without rights, not perceiving God Who created them, and therefore desire that they feel the might of your presumptuous mood, instead of using them only as the means of wise human activity – then God’s call proclaims to you, “Do not destroy anything!
Only if you use the things around you for wise human purposes, sanctified by the word of My teaching, only then do you have the right over them which I have given you as a human. However, if you destroy, if you ruin, at that moment you are not a human but an animal and have no right to the things around you. I lent them to you for wise use only; never forget that I lent them to you. As soon as you use them unwisely, be it the greatest or the smallest, you commit treachery against My world, you commit murder and robbery against My property, you sin against Me!” This is what God calls unto you, and with this call does God represent the greatest and the smallest against you and grants the smallest as also the greatest a right against your presumptuousness
To bring this message to an end, I want to consider one final source, words from the book Sacred Table: Creating A Jewish Food Ethic by Mary L. Zamore. The author provides a very concise history of the complete disregard for God’s Torah and our duty to promote the care of all life on Earth in just five short paragraphs:
The Industrial Revolution (late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries) brought many changes to civilization throughout the world. People moved to cities en masse from the countryside. Technologies were developed to increase the production of food and the manufacturing and distribution of goods. These changes transformed how people acquired things. They were no longer solely dependent on subsisting on their land and making their own goods. Factory farms and production centers were able to mass-produce almost everything, driving down their costs. Rapid industrialization and advancements in science and technology solved many problems and enhanced the quality of human life.
At the same time, however, there are unintended environmental consequences, endangering the health of both the planet and human beings. The earth’s resources are becoming depleted at an alarming rate, causing species extinction, soil erosion, and famine that displaces millions of people worldwide. Factories are polluting the air, land, and water. The wide use of pesticides is changing the makeup of the soil in a way that is detrimental to human health. All of this combined, plus supplying enough energy for transportation, heating and cooling, and other individual household needs and desires, is changing the climate of our planet.
The Reform Jewish community is beginning to respond to these environmental problems with a belief that we have a religious mandate to act as stewards of creation. Individuals and organizations have begun to use Jewish vocabulary to accompany their environmental work, giving it a spiritual and religious context. Our synagogues and camps have taken this message to heart and are greening our facilities, including the way we approach food service. This is an important step in reducing the amount of harm to our bodies and our land. We must examine the types of foods that we eat and pay attention to the distance they travel to get to our plates.
Using the laws of bal tashchit as a guide, we can reduce the impact that our food choices have on the earth. By eating food that is not treated with harsh chemicals as they are grown and foods that are grown closer to the places that we live, we fulfill the dictums of our tradition not to destroy the land or waste food. The laws of bal tashchit have been expanded throughout history to meet the changing needs of Jewish communities. With each development, the prohibitions against destroying resources and wasting food have been made meaningful and relevant for the societal complexes of their time period. From protecting fruit trees in times of war, to saving water and land from pollution; from prohibiting the unnecessary destruction of clothing, utensils, and food to encouraging greater consumer consciousness and simple living, the prohibitions that fall under the rubric of bal tashchit have been influential in protecting the planet and bringing people closer to God.
We need to continue to learn from the wisdom of our ancestors in developing a bal tashchit food ethic for today. For thousands of years the Jewish community has done our part to ensure that the world will be left intact for future generations. We should strive to adhere to God’s warning to Adam. The world is full of many beautiful and useful resources. We must, however, remember to use them wisely, to guard and protect them, to ensure that the planet will continue to flourish for many years to come.
Bal tashchit is the ultimate role of humanity. If you are truly a born-again Believer in Yahweh—the Creator God, if you are really a follower of Yeshua as your Master and Messiah, if you actually have received the Ruach HaKodesh—the Holy Spirit—to dwell in your heart and mind, then the concepts of bal tashchit—the mindset of Creation care—will be your top priority in this lifetime. Evangelism will become about winning people to a return to the command of Genesis 1:26-28 and an embracing of the ways of bal tashchit. Churches and Synagogues would meet with the primary focus of teaching people to care for and become stewards of Creation. Fellowships would develop not to sit around and gossip about Church people over a pot-luck table filled with things God called an abomination if people were focused on bal tashchit. Instead, Believers would gather to promote the healing of our planet and develop ways to promote the flourishing of Creation.
Do you love God? Are you committed to becoming a steward of Creation? It’s not that difficult really, all you have to do is truly make God and His Word the top priority in your life. Read your Bible, study its pages, and remember that everything in your Bible is built on restoring Genesis chapters 1 and 2. Every commandment in the Bible is about taking care of the Earth. When you realize that, and when you read the Bible from that perspective, you will no longer see commandments as burdensome and you will no longer debate about whether or not you really need to obey something, but rather you will see the commandments of a holy God as life-giving and freeing. You will want to obey everything you can find commanded in the Bible simply because you will know that doing so is the only way to promote life, while at the same time understanding that rejection of so much as one instruction causes death. Never forget that death entered this world through an act of eating one thing that God said not to eat. Remember that the next time someone sets an unclean abomination in front of you, be it pork, shellfish, or some other thing not meant for human consumption.
It is my hope and prayer that the entire Body of Messiah, Jews and Christians alike, will begin to truly fall in love with their Creator and His Creation—all life on this planet, not just humans—to the point where obedience to His Torah is the driving force of their lives. If you have read this message and you want to truly commit to loving God and loving people after the manner of Scripture, through obedience to Torah and care for all of Creation, I want to hear from you in the comments below. Share this message with as many people as you can. Let’s really get serious and create a bal tashchit for our generation and the generations to come.
~Blessings and Shalom~
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