אָמַר רַב זוּטְרָא: הַאי מַאן דִּמְכַסֵּי שְׁרָגָא דְּמִשְׁחָא וּמְגַלֵּי נַפְטָא קָעָבַר מִשּׁוּם ״בַּל תַּשְׁחִית״
Rav Zutra said: He who covers an oil lamp or who uncovers a kerosene lamp for no purpose violates the prohibition: Do not destroy (Bal tashchit) since by doing so the fuel burns more quickly (Talmud Bavli Shabbat 67b:14).
Bal tashchit, according to halacha, is understood to include senseless damage or waste. In the Talmud, we see references of this principle to wasting lamp oil, tearing clothing, chopping up of furniture for firewood or killing animals. In the pre-modern world of our sages, everything required an extraordinary effort to cover our basic needs of food, clothes, light, heat and water. They depended on animal and human power to run the world.
The inefficient use of oil, destruction of furniture and clothes, the misuse of tools or killing animals would seriously impact the life of a household and even cause it to starve or die. With the advance of science and technology during the industrial revolutions, first as mechanization and steam power, second as mass production and electricity and third as automation, electronic and IT systems, we didn’t depend anymore on human and animal power and we forgot the connection of Bal tashchit and our needs. We can now leave lamps on all day, and waste water or food without thinking about the impact we have on the world.
For that reason, the sixth grade scientists learned where the energy to power our homes and school comes from and how we are wasting energy from the power plants that are burning fossil fuels in order to provide constant electricity. Unlike the oil of Rav Zutra, the fuel seems to never end.
Most electricity generation in the United States today takes place in thermal power plants, which burn either fossil fuels like coal and natural gas, biofuels or nuclear fuel in order to heat water and produce steam. The steam spins a turbine to produce electricity, which is then fed into the utility grid. Burning these fuels results in the production of carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary heat-trapping “greenhouse gas” responsible for global warming.
We were delighted that our sixth grade scientists participated in the Eversource Challenge, a contest run by the energy provider. Their grade-specific assignment challenged them to write a letter to their parents or guardians, asking them to change their energy habits and become more energy efficient. Students were asked to discuss topics such as energy conservation (for example, turning off the lights) and using energy-efficient technologies like LED bulbs. This opportunity gave students the chance to process all they had learned and to put it into their own words, tailored to the specific energy needs of their home environments.
For example, Alanna ended her letter with the following: “To conclude, I want you to remember that doing these acts to reduce our daily energy consumption leads to brightening my future in this world. I believe that our family can make a difference if we consider how we consume energy; starting with small measures that build up to make the world a better place.”
Our own Nadav was one of the three winners of the regional challenge! His letter included helpful details such as unplugging an electronic device as soon as it has reached full charge, as well as a year-long cost breakdown of LED bulbs versus traditional options. As Nadav concluded, “These may seem like small things, but if we make more good habits like these, it will all add up to bigger changes. If we also encourage other people to do so, we can make a difference in our communities and the world.”
As we reflect this week on Earth Day and our responsibility for the well-being of our planet and environment, our sixth graders hope that we can incorporate some of these seemingly small changes into our daily lives and improve the future together.
Avraham Sosa is a middle school science teacher.
The School Sparks blog appears periodically by various writers among the JCDS educational team. Learn more about JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School.
This post has been contributed by a third party. The opinions, facts and any media content are presented solely by the author, and JewishBoston assumes no responsibility for them. Want to add your voice to the conversation? Publish your own post here. MORE