Ethics

For the week ending 26 March 2011 / 19 Adar II 5771

The Litterbug Boomerang

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Question: I recently hired a contractor to build an extension of my house. Some neighbors warned me that this fellow has a reputation of littering the street with the rubble resulting from such construction. Is this something that I should be concerned about?

Answer: The Talmud tells a story about a fellow who was throwing rocks from his private field into the public thoroughfare. A righteous passerby reprimanded him with a puzzling challenge. "Reckless one, why do you throw rocks from an area which does not belong to you into an area which does?" (Mesechta Bava Kama 50b)

Failing to comprehend the logic of this reprimand, the rock-thrower laughed it off and continued his activity. Time went by and he came upon hard times, which compelled him to sell that field. As he walked by it one day on the public thoroughfare he tripped over one of the rocks he had thrown there. Only then did he realize the wisdom of the reproof he had earlier received. The field he thought was his forever was no longer his, while the street he littered belonged to him and everyone else!

Littering a public area is a sin and a crime because of safety, ecological and aesthetic reasons. When you or your agent casts rubble into the street even for a while, you are guilty not only of causing certain harm to others, but are also possibly causing damage to yourself. This is why righteous people disposed of their unwanted thorns and broken glass in a manner which could not possibly affect others in the most remote ways (ibid. 30a).

Littering is a terrible thing regardless of whether it is using the street as a dump for discarded bricks or as a repository for candy wrappers or cigarette butts. It also makes little difference if it is litter thrown from a car or bus or if it is the garbage carelessly spilled near a public bin. If you can’t convince your contractor to provide for immediate removal of the litter he creates, get yourself another builder.

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