Waste Not, Want Not

One of the things I love about Judaism is that it has answers before we even know we have questions. Today, you cannot go anywhere without seeing a sign reminding you to Reduce-Reuse-Recycle, but several thousand years ago, the Torah wrote a simple rule:

“When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy (lo tash-chit) its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city?” (Deuteronomy 20:19)

The Rabbis of the Talmud took those words “you must not destroy (lo tash-chit),” created a mitzvah/commandment, Bal Tashchit /Do Not Destroy Needlessly, and layered everything one might possibly think of as wasteful behavior onto it. Thus, have Jews been reducing, reusing and recycling for thousands of years.

What about the trees, you might ask, because yes, that verse, did mention trees. Trees have been part of God’s plan from the beginning of time. “…Vegetation: seed bearing plants, fruit trees of every kind…” (Genesis 1:11-13) were fashioned on the Third Day of Creation even before the sun, the moon and the stars. Trees get their own New Year on the Jewish calendar. The Birthday of the Trees or Tu B’Shevat, the fifteenth day of Shevat occurs in order that their fruit not be harvested before they are ready. This year, Tu B’Shevat begins at sundown January 19 and ends at sundown January 20, 2011. For many, Tu B’Shevat has become the Jewish Earth Day or Arbor Day, so you will see activities in and around your community encouraging you to learn how to  Reduce-Reuse-Recycle the Jewish way.

In preparation for this holiday, I have selected some books for younger children and their families to enjoy reading together:

This Tree Counts. By Alison Formento. Illustrated by Sarah Snow. © 2010, Albert Whitman & Company. Ages 4 – 8 years. Before planting more trees behind the school, Mr. Tate wants his class to “listen” to the story the old oak tree has to tell. A counting book about the importance of trees.

Miss Fox’s Class Goes Green. By Eileen Spinelli. Illustrated by Anne Kennedy. © 2009, Albert Whitman & Company. Ages 5 – 9 years. When Miss Fox rides her bike to school one morning, she inspires her class to think of ways to “Go Green.” As each student thinks of individual ways to change their behavior, they soon inspire the entire student body and their community to become more green.


Milo and the Magical Stones. Written and illustrated by Marcus Pfister. © 1997, North-South Books. Ages 5 – 9 years. Milo and his mice friends live comfortably on an island mountain in the middle of the sea. When Milo finds a beautiful, glowing stone, buried deep in the mountain that gives off light and warmth, everyone wants one. As the mice hurry off to grab their stones, the wisest mouse warns, “Don’t forget, the stones belong to the island. If you take something from the island, you must give something in return.” With two endings, one happy, one sad, you decide which direction to take. You can make comparisons to the choices we make everyday as we live on our personal islands on earth. This is a great discussion starter about the consequences of our environmental choices and actions.

Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa. Written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter. © 2008, Harcourt, Inc.. Ages 5-10 years. A young girl grows up in Kenya surrounded by forests. She studies very hard and wins a scholarship to go to school in America. When she returns to Kenya, she discovers that all the forests have been cut down. She decides to bring the trees back one at a time, starting with her own back yard.  Based on the life of Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize winner, it is a real story about the power of one person to make a difference.

The Lorax. Written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss. © 1971, Random House Books for Young Readers. Ages 5 – 10 years.  This will be the 40th anniversary year for the Lorax. It is still one of my all time favorite books about taking care of the earth, and if I were to pick an author to write a children’s book to save our planet, Dr. Seuss would be my choice. When Truffula Trees are discovered and their tufts turned into Thneeds, no amount of warning from the Lorax will dissuade the manufacturer from continuing the destruction of the Truffula Tree forest. When the last tree falls, the forest animals have disappeared and the environment damaged beyond repair, the Lorax’s message becomes clear. With his unmistakable Seussian rhyme and his characteristic Seussian illustrations, the inimitable Doctor describes what happens in a world where greed and selfishness take precedence over the needs of the planet, its plants and animals.

As you read these stories together, think of ideas to change your own family’s “environmental behavior.” Jewish organizations like Hazon and COEJL (The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life) have many wonderful ideas, but your local celebrations of Tu B’Shevat will not only have environmental demonstrations, you will have a lot of fun meeting new families in the process.

Whatever you do during this month, find ways to appreciate this beautiful world and everything in it, there really is no place else like it.

Happy Reading,

Kathy B.

©2011 Kathleen M. Bloomfield and forwordsbooks.com all rights reserved.
Books used in this review were provided by my local public library.
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2 Responses to “Waste Not, Want Not”

  1. [...] Waste Not, Want Not comes from ForwordsBooks.com. [...]

  2. [...] Read a Book about Trees ForWordsBooks, a blog that highlights quality children’s books, maintains a small list of recommended books for children on the subject of “green” behavior. Among these books are couple great ones about trees. [...]

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