Parashat Re'eh

Time to Clean Up

As we work to clean up the places we live, we pray for Jerusalem to return to her splendor.

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"In the land of Israel, the more holy the place, the greater the noi (adornment). And it appears that despite the noi of other mitzvot (commandments), which is an addition to the mitzvah, when it comes to the mitzvah of building the Temple in Jerusalem, noi is an intrinsic part of the mitzvah…we can conclude that the greater the dwelling of the Shechinah (Divine Presence) in a place, the greater the noi and yofi (beauty) that is required. Therefore, there is a requirement for noi and tiferet (splendor) of Eretz Yisrael; more so the requirement for noi of the Levitical cities; much more the requirement for noi of Jerusalem; and greater than all, the noi and yofi of the Beit HaMikdash and its tiferet."

As Shaviv writes, the land of Israel, due to its holiness, must be kept in a state of beauty and adornment. The holy city of Jerusalem (which is alluded to no less than 16 times in this week's Torah portion as "the place that God will choose") has a higher status vis-à-vis beauty and adornment than other parts of the land of Israel. This is reflected in the Talmud in the following passage (Bava Kama 82b): 

"(In Jerusalem) don't make a garbage dump, and don't make lime furnaces… because of the smoke (Rashi explains that the smoke would blacken the walls, which would disgrace the city), and don't make gardens and orchards because of the foul odors (Rashi explains noxious weeds would grow there and be thrown out, and further, gardens are usually manured, and this would cause a bad smell)."

As the Talmud indicates, maintaining the physical appearance and environmental quality of Jerusalem, at the bare minimum, requires the prevention of accumulated garbage, smoke, and foul odors. It would appear that any environmental nuisance, such as air pollution or garbage on the sidewalks, would be a violation of Jerusalem's sanctity.

The Jewish Sages, even in more recent times, were sensitive to this. For example, the Alter of Slobodka, one of the spiritual giants of a previous generation, would pick up garbage from the streets of Jerusalem, even though this would normally seem to be far below his dignity. With this in mind, it is hard to imagine how we can tolerate the level of pollution so common today in Jerusalem.

What We Can Do

Indeed, the holy land of Israel, and all the more so, the holy city of Jerusalem are designated as a special dwelling place for the Shechinah, the Divine Presence, and the Shechinah dwells in places of beauty and harmony. This is reflected in the amazing blessing that one says upon seeing something of exceptional beauty (Talmud Bavli Berakhot 58b):

"One who sees beautiful creations and good trees says the blessing: 'That's how it is for Him in His world.'" 

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Rabbi Akiva Wolff is director of the environmental responsibility unit of the Center for Business Ethics in Jerusalem. He also teaches environmental management at the Jerusalem College of Technology--Machon Lev.