I’m not quite a hoarder, but I am a saver. You never know when an outfit might come back in style, or when you might need baby gear for a visiting friend. In addition, I always try to conserve resources and do what is best for the environment, the world, and even my bank account. I feel an obligation to create minimal waste because I know that what we destroy or use up now might not be available for our children and grandchildren to use in the future.
This attitude about religion and the environment stems from as far back as the Torah and this week’s parshah. This week we read Parshat Shoftim, in the middle of the book of D’varim, which outlines our legal system, the responsibilities of judges and prophets, punishments for witnesses, and more. The Torah recognizes that the legal system and those in charge of it must be hip to the times.
In what are essentially laws about laws, we come to laws about fruit trees in chapter 20. The Torah tells us that when we engage in a war against a city and it takes a long time to capture it, we must not destroy the trees. When there are trees left over after a war, we can eat from them, but must preserve them.
Why do we bother saving vegetation in this way? It’s partly symbolic. The Torah is filled with the eternal hope that life renews itself and that while war might be happening right now, there will be a future without it. The Torah demands that we maintain a vision of a bright future even in the darkness of the present. We are the custodians of the earth, but not the outright owners, and as such, we owe it to the future inhabitants to maintain and care for what we have today.
This applies to Judaism as well. As an inheritor of a tradition that existed well before I came into being and one that I hope to pass on for more generations, I know it is my sacred duty to protect and conserve it so that it is still recognizable many years from now.