Ethics

For the week ending 9 June 2012 / 18 Sivan 5772

The Bitter Litter

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Question: While waiting for a bus I looked down at a small pile of litter and saw something I believed was of value. After picking it up I saw it was worthless and my instinct was to throw it right back. Something in my conscience, however, made me hesitate. What is the right thing to do?

Answer: Your conscience was telling you to consider a couple of factors before deciding to return that litter to its pile.

First of all, you were standing in a public place and it is very likely that there were people there who didnt see you pick up that object and will interpret your act of returning it as wanton littering. Seeing someone litter with impunity encourages others to do the same, especially if you are a person respected in your community.

Any littering in a public area is condemnable because it can create an obstacle for a pedestrian and because it abuses the esthetics of the environment. Even if you are not civic-minded enough to remove that entire pile of litter, why not at least place the piece you have already removed in the nearest disposal bin?

This is especially important for Jews living in Eretz Yisrael. The Talmud relates that Rabbi Chanina used to clear away the rubble from the streets in the Holy Land so that no one should ever have complaints about the condition of its roads.

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