"Yaakov was left alone...and wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the dawn"- Breishit 32-25

Rashi: He forgot small jars and returned for them (Hullin. 91)

Yaakov sent his family over the ford of Yabok, but he himself went back to fetch a few small earthenware vessels- easily replaced by a person of such means. Waste not, want not.

We all care about being responsible considerate people and we are all aware of the Torah prohibition of "ba'al tashchis"- don't destroy. Many of our natural resources are finite- but it has become easy and convenient in western society to treat these resources as "chad pa-ami". We use steel cans and plastic goods once, and then toss them, adding to our landfill problem, both in terms of land use, water pollution and other aspects of environmental degradation.

With a bit of planning and creativity we can develop new routines in our home which are less wasteful, more conscious of our greater environment. Even if we reduce 10% or 20% we have a real improvement at very little inconvenience, and if enough of us participate we can really make a difference.

The three Rs are REDUCE, REUSE, and RECYCLE.

Here are a few suggestions for the first two- I'm sure you can think of many more.


Instead of buying so many canned veggies and fruit, we can make more use of the wonderful supply of fresh greens we have available in our markets. We can find corn on the cob, peas in the pod, fresh string beans, and fresh fruit in season makes fruit salads superior to syrupy canned fruit. We need to learn about checking them, but cans are NOT free of bugs, and in some ways harder to check. We just don't need to treat steel as a one time only item. You wouldn't toss your metal cutlery after each meal, would you?

Cans you do use can be decorated with shelving paper etc and used for stationary equipment or other goods. They don't crack with age like plastic, or break like glass.

(If you do use them for food later you may need to toivel them)

REUSE (plastic bags etc.)

Clean plastic bags can be reused for sandwich bags for the kids. Soiled bags can be used to bag soiled diapers etc. (In a country of limited water resources it may make more sense to use disposable diapers than cloth- we save the water and electricity involved in the extra laundry that would be generated) Large bags with handles can be used to line garbage cans instead of buying more plastic bags for that purpose.

We don't have to take fresh bags every time we go to the grocers. Instead we can take a couple of large plastic bags with us, and use them when we check out. Plastic laundry powder containers can be used to contain lego and other children's toys which need sorting.

There are many possibilities. Old can-cal bottles can be used for arts and crafts projects to keep the kids occupied, or for starting plants... Of course we can't keep everything, but we can make a difference. We can demonstrate how ingenious we can be!


In Israel our options for recycling are limited. Organic waste can be saved for composting and the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel is happy to give instructions. We just have to sell our building committee on the idea! Many neighbourhoods still have Amnir containers for paper waste which will be resurrected as toilet rolls and other such paper goods.

In the U.S. and Europe you probably have more options- in some places separation of waste is a municipal law. Ashrecha! If you have the infrastructure, please make good use of it. Glass, plastic and metal goods can all be recycled- we just have to pop them into the appropriate containers and they will be shipped off to be reincarnated for another use.

We can add a fourth R to these three Rs. Reverence. We are the stewards of this planet- a precious and exquisitely beautiful creation of Hashem. It is our home, and we are the housekeepers. Our care of this fragile globe of life is our responsibility. We can't depend on miracles.

Copyright © 1999 Gila Atwood

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