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Kindling

(reposted from Rabbi Nina Beth's blog dated November 9, 2012: http://blog.bjen.org/)

It is a ritual this time of year – I walk around the yard and pick up kindling that is strewn here and there. The ground is yielding a particularly rich harvest this year, what with the derecho and Sandy.

For most of the year, though, I ignore the fallen twigs, sticks and woody debris that lay scattered on my lawn. At best I would trip over them, or find them piled up at the edge of our woods, dumped there like so much waste by our lawn company. But this time of year, as the days get colder and the nights get longer, and my stove wants to be fired up, they become gold.

They are the bridge between the match and the blaze; the cold and the light.

And they teach me about how we measure "worth," and our prideful – or perhaps shameful – sense of waste.

As I seek out, and pick up these fallen limbs, one by one til my arms are full and my home secured with kindling for the next day, I wonder what else of value I miss in my daily wanderings.

What other gems have I overlooked because I have been too rushed, too focused elsewhere, too set on my narrow sense of what I needed now. Even more, what have I determined to be "waste," worthy of nothing more than to be swept aside, piled up and dumped somewhere out of sight.

I wonder about all the people I pass by throughout the days of my life, never giving them a second glance, never wondering about the gifts or wisdom or pain they may be harboring.

And I wonder about all the things we tend to throw away, or discount, that indeed may harbor the very answers we are seeking.

Can our stones and bricks and paints convert light into electricity? Can potatoes become energy packs? Can all the leaves we so noisily and annoyingly sweep up and discard be turned into compost for urban farms? Instead of selling chemical fertilizers, can our local hardware stores hire the homeless to collect restaurant and cafeteria food waste and churn it into a new black gold – healthy compost? Can the urban fruit the goes to waste in our yards and along highways be used to pay our homeless in return for their watering and tending to our street trees?

There is a precept in Judaism called bal tashkhit. It is alternately translated as "Do not waste" or "Do not destroy".

But I think for us it is best translated as: "there shall be no waste."

Nature knows no waste. Foods, plants, air, water, flesh, rocks and the very mountains themselves all cycle round.

We too need to build our human cycle of goods to match the natural cycle of goods.

And it must start with our awareness that we cannot afford to waste anything, whether it be twigs, time, money, goods or people.

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There are so many strands of discarded richness scattered around this world, strands that once gathered and saved may help ignite our own fires of imagination and help us build a better world. How good it would be to collect them.

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