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Transcending the Throw Away World

By: Rav Yonny Sack

Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook Zt”l was once walking with a student and discussing words of Torah, when the student inadvertently plucked a leaf from a tree. Rav Kook shuddered and gently reprimanded his student “Believe me, in my entire life, I have never needlessly plucked anything that could blossom or grow. Every leaf and branch conveys some meaning and sings its unique song. It is insensitive to cut short any such life”.

In this week’s parasha, Shoftim, the Torah instructs that the soldiers of war, while engaged in the siege of a city, must not cut down fruit bearing trees. Needlessly cutting down fruit bearing trees is forbidden in all times, not just during a war. Similarly, this is the source from which we learn that wasting of anything useful is forbidden, whether it be the environment, food, money, clothing or an ‘out of fashion’ laptop .  This law is called Bal Tashchit, or the law of not destroying.

I was once discussing with some students the issues of technology today and wondering whether they would like the thought of living in an age before the iphone, the internet, Instagram or even the washing machine. At first thought the answer was ‘no thanks’ but after some contemplation we all realized that the life we live saturated in technology does have its downers, and while in the end we may not opt for a 15th century life with no easily accessible running water or sewage system, we do have to be awake to the ills of today’s techno flooded life so that we can embrace the good and transcend the bad. One of these ills is the training we receive from our fast food, fast response, touch screen worlds – a training in ‘throw-away’ mentality.

When one used to have to knit their own clothes, or go to the tailor and have them painstakingly fitted, materials chosen, cut and hand sewed, they would not let go so easily of such a garment. People kept things for years, as long as they could be repaired and used. A mere ketchup stain would not relegate a shirt to the ‘can’t wear this any more’ pile.  You would put the effort in to make it right again. Today, we have the slightest thing wrong with an appliance, garment or phone and we feel no issue with parting with it and buying something nice and new. If we are really good we take it to a gmach and allow someone else to go to the effort of fixing it for their use, and if that is too much effort, it simply gets thrown away. The throw-away mentality goes hand in hand with our ever growing impatience. The latter feeds the former. We have become so disdainful of effort and so impatient that when something does not perform immediately as desired we render it useless. How many times have you touched the screen of your phone or pressed a key on your computer, not received the immediate desired response and said something like “Come on!  So slow!! This is such a piece of rubbish” (It took 2 whole seconds to download information from the other side of the world!!).

This same lack of patience and ‘discard’ mentality filters into all aspects of our lives, especially our relationship with our self and others. So many people enter into relationships expecting immediate ‘Hollywood’ perfection and when it isn’t working as expected straight away then they presume there must be something wrong. Some people drop out of jobs, friendships and relationships when the effort needed to grow just won’t beat the enticing effortless easy escape of ‘next!’. When it comes to personal growth and self-knowledge, we just can’t seem to wait out the organic process of growth, as we want to see immediate results and quick five step methods to solving deep emotional issues.  But this is not how we were made. Hashem created us on the principle of “Lefum Tzara Agra” (Pirkei Avot) which means - in accordance with the pain is the gain. Nothing good comes easy. Nothing real comes without effort. In order to get the most out of anything – whether an appliance, a tree or a person - we need to have the staying power to stick out the difficult times, to exert the effort and patiently wait out the necessary organic growth from seed to sapling to cedar.

As the month of Elul, flowing with the power of change is upon us, we should be slowly looking at ourselves, contemplating what needs fixing. In doing so, we can’t afford to apply the throw away mentality to our own growth by giving up on a better vision of self because it is too hard, or impatiently succumbing to superficial ‘fixes’ which don’t last and don’t penetrate because they take too much time and effort. As the pasuk says “Because a man is (likened to) the tree of the field” - potent with growth potential, not to be tragically wasted.

Have a wonderful Shabbos!!


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