1. Biblical Text:
"When, in your war against a city, you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are the trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city? Only trees that you know do not yield food may be destroyed." (Deuteronomy 20:19-20)
"G-d placed the human in the garden of Eden to serve and keep it." (Genesis 2:15)
2. Talmudic Sources:
"Whoever breaks vessels, or tears Garments, or destroys a building, or clogs a well, or does away with food in a destructive manner violates the negative mitzvah of bal tashchit." (Kiddushin 32a)
Talmudic rulings on "bal tashchit" also prohibit the killing of animals for convenience (Hullin 7b), wasting fuel (Shabbat 67b), and a minority opinion classifies the eating of extravagant foods when one can eat simpler ones as a violation of this precept (Shabbat 140b).
While the sage, Choni, was walking along a road, he saw a man planting a carob tree. Choni asked him: How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?
Seventy years, replied the man. Choni then asked: Are you so healthy a man that you expect to live that length of time and eat its fruit? The man answered: I found a fruitful world because my ancestors planted it for me. Likewise I am planting for my children." (Babylonian Talmud, Taanit 23a).
G-d led Adam around the Garden of Eden and said, "Look at My works. See how beautiful they are, how excellent! See to it that you do not spoil or destroy My world - for if you do, there will be no-one to repair it after you." (Ecclesiastes Rabbah, 7:13).
"And have dominion over the fish of the ocean, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on the earth." (Genesis 1:28). "Rabbi Hanina said: Humanity will rule over them if they deserve to; if they do not deserve to, then they will go under [and be ruled by the evil they have created]." (Genesis Rabbah, 8:12).
3. Rabbinical sources:
It is forbidden to cut down fruit-bearing trees outside a besieged city, nor may a water channel be deflected from them so that they wither. Whoever cuts down a fruit-bearing tree is flogged. This penalty is imposed not only for cutting it down during a siege; whenever a fruit-yielding tree is cut down with destructive intent, flogging is incurred. It may be cut down, however, if it causes damage to other trees or to a field belonging to another man or if its value for other purposes is greater. The Law forbids only wanton destruction… Not only one who cuts down trees, but also one who smashes household goods, tears clothes, demolishes a building, stops up a spring, or destroys articles of food with destructive intent transgresses the command "you must not destroy". Such a person is not flogged, but is administered a disciplinary beating imposed by the Rabbis. (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings and Wars 6:8, 10).
"Do not believe that all things exist for the sake of humanity. On the contrary, one must believe that…everything exists for its own sake and not for anything or anyone else." (Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed III:14).
One should be trained not to be destructive. When you bury a person, do not waste garments by burying them in the grave. It is better to give them to the poor than to cast them to worms and moths. Anyone who buries the dead in an expensive garment violates the negative mitzvah of bal tashchit. (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Mourning 14:24).
The purpose of this mitzvah [bal tashchit] is to teach us to love that which is good and worthwhile and to cling to it, so that good becomes a part of us and we will avoid all that is evil and destructive. This is the way of the righteous and those who improve society, who love peace and rejoice in the good in people and bring them close to Torah: that nothing, not even a grain of mustard, should be lost to the world, that they should regret any loss or destruction that they see, and if possible they will prevent any destruction that they can. Not so are the wicked, who are like demons, who rejoice in destruction of the world, and they are destroying themselves. (Sefer Hachinuch, #529).
Yea, "Do not destroy anything" is the first and most general call of G-d…If you should now raise your hand to play a childish game, to indulge in senseless rage, wishing to destroy that which you should only use, wishing to exterminate that which you should only exploit, if you should regard the beings beneath you as objects without rights, not perceiving G-d who created them, and therefore desire that they feel the might of your presumptuous mood, instead of using them only as the means of wise human activity - then G-d's call proclaims to you, "Do not destroy anything! Be a mentsh! Only if you use the things around you for wise human purposes, sanctified by the word of My teaching, only then are you a mentsh and have the right over them, which I have given you as a human.. (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb, #56).
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