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and to keep it
middot frugality daily living and to keep it

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and to keep it

Written by  rebbetzin malkah

art-recycleAnd the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and to keep it. --Genesis 2:15

Living in Seattle, I take very seriously the concept of not only preserving resources, but making sure that every bit can be recycled or composted. Normally our recycling and composting outnumbers our trash by probably ten to one.  Taking out the trash in our house would be an easy job; instead, my teen sons get the hefty job of taking out the recycling.

My family also has a raging seltzer addiction.  When we started looking at how many cans we could go through in a week (it was truly that bad for a few weeks). I realized we needed a more sound solution that wasn't going to continue to abound in cans.  By purchasing a seltzer machine, we completely eliminated the can packaging.  The only consumption was the water and the CO2 canisters, which were recycled and filled again.  For pennies a day, we were not only having seltzer, but conserving resources by lowering our demand for packaging.  Frugality was found in all camps. 

Out here, it is much easier to live this philosophy out because our communities support it.  So many commodities are more readily available that help in the conservation of water in and around our homes.  However, in other parts of the country and the world, recycling facilities or services and ongoing discussions about resource management do not exist.  Water conservation and green building codes are also not commonplace or are scoffed at.  Many communities do not even have an awareness of how this kind of living makes a difference.  Excuses like "it is more expensive to recycle" or "it doesn't add up to much" are commonly thrown around.  This is not only distressing to me, it is just plain irresponsible.

We read from Genesis that Adam was given the task of not only cultivating but keeping Gan Eden. He had to care for it in a way that would sustain it and benefit it.  Most certainly it would have been easier then than now since we have packaging to contend with, waste on a global scale, billions of people -  but is that any excuse?

back to the garden

A few years ago we held our usual Tu B'Shevat seder in our synagogue.  It is a most glorious time of celebration of fruits, trees, tastes, sensory stimulation and awareness of nature.  For this seder, I decided that we would forgo any use of plastic tablecloths to make cleanup easy. It just didn't make any sense to be have a celebration such as this and fill the environment with more trash.  After a dash to the store, I managed to find some elegant runners that would dress up the tables and be used for years to come.  In addition, we decided to make sure we were composting everything that was compostable.  After we were done, it was amazing how little trash we accumulated after the seder - some plastic wrap, straws and some wrappers/packaging from food.  This was a beginning for our shul in the realm of composting.  We had always recycled, but we had never taken this step.  We also went from disposable silverware and made the investment on all levels (meat, dairy) in real silverware. Rabbi Mendel tells us in Cheshbon HaNefesh, "Be careful with your money.  Do not even spend a penny needlessly."  We were going from disposable ware to reusable ware - this was not only a savings of many pennies, but conservation of material as well. Not only that, we have glass coffee cups and glasses of all types that we use.  The reduction of waste was astonishing. If there ever is an occasion to use plastic, we are sure to wash everything out and recycle it.  Needless to say, we have so many people who are impacted by our level of concern for the earth and our frugality after they are done with a meal.  But we don't pat ourselves on the back.  It is all going where it needs and should go - back to the garden.  And we are doing precisely what Rabbi Mendel declares we should: watching those pennies in earnest.

taking something back that doesn't use a bag

Someone who was greatly affected by our passion for the environment was a young man who was stationed in the naval base nearby.  He was a congregant for many years who came as often as he could when he wasn't out to sea. Before he left on a needed return to Texas for a while, he shared something remarkable with us:  he was taking recyling back to Texas!  The impression of caring for the Earth and frugality with resources ran very deep for him - so much so that he felt it was his job to make sure it spread like wildfire back in his hometown.  This idea of tending Earth, the garden, had become part of him and there was no turning back.  He was taking on the task of Adam and being a caretaker and keeping.

To him, others who have come through our doors, and our congregants who make the effort to be better keepers, I commend you.  Being frugal with the resources of our planet is not political - it is theological.

Keep on keeping on.....


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