Eco-Rabbi: Parshat Maasei – What Kind of Mark Are You Leaving?

camping pollution litter environment When I was growing up whenever we would go to a park or on a camping trip, my parents would instill in me the importance of leaving the area where we had just been cleaner than how we had found it.

This is probably one of the most influential ideas from my parents that has traveled with me throughout my life. This idea is applicable wherever one is, and is not only applicable to actual physical places, but people and ideas as well.

Last week, in Parashat Matot, we discussed decision making and the environment. In Parashat Masaei the Torah describes the journey, the travel route, of the Israelites through the desert – from Egypt to Israel. The question arises: why does the Torah have to list every single place where the Israelites camped?

A similar question is asked about our forefather Jacob, at the beginning of the Torah segment Vayetzeh (Genesis 28:10). The Torah explains that Jacob left Be’er Sheva and went to Haran. Rashi, the medieval commentator, asks why does the Torah have to state that Jacob left Be’er Sheva, we already know that he was there, isn’t this statement extraneous?

He answers that when a righteous person comes to a place that person leaves a mark on that place and when that person leaves, his leaving is felt as well. Jacob was leaving the city of Be’er Sheva and this was significant. Similarly, each place where the Israelites camped was significant and should be mentioned.

I believe that we should always be aware of our surroundings and how we affect them. Every place we go, we each leave a mark. The question is what kind of mark do we leave? Are we messing our way through our lives? Or, as my parents suggested, are we leaving every place a little bit cleaner, a little bit better, because we were there.

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