Valuable Lesson

From: Ryan

Dear Rabbi,

How important is it to clean up after oneself, particularly when someone else is paid to clean up after others, like in a restaurant or park?

Dear Ryan,

The Torah places great emphasis on both spiritual and material cleanliness. Material cleanliness includes preserving the environment and ensuring it remains as clean and pristine as when it was created.

This is a personal, individual responsibly of a person to G‑d and to his fellow man. Therefore, it is very important that a person refrain from making a mess, or at least take responsibility for cleaning up whatever mess he’s made.

So even if one can rely on someone else to clean up after him, doing so is shirking his own responsibility, imposing his burden on others, and causing harm or even damage until the other person comes to clean up. This is irresponsible, indulgent and inconsiderate.

Even in the case of a restaurant which one has patronized and which has a vested interest in keeping clean for other clients, one must nevertheless try to keep clean and not burden the clean-up staff with unnecessary mess. All the more so regarding parks, which one uses for free and which provide the community-service of cleaning. In either case, it would be wrong to take advantage of the cleaners by making and leaving a mess, relying on them “to do their job”.

I was once in a park with a large group of extended family. Since there was a lot of food, lots of folks, and lots of kids, we ended up making a mess. Once we were ready to leave, it was late at night and everybody was tired from the outing. So despite having been inculcated with my father’s long-standing injunction to “leave a place cleaner than you found it”, we were tempted to leave the park as many other visitors had – full of litter. But in the end, my father’s voice within me prevailed and we left “our” part of the park not only cleaner than we found it, but cleaner than any other part of the park.

The next morning, one of my married daughters noticed that she was missing her precious diamond wedding ring which she last recalled having put in her pocket for safe-keeping while sitting in a small chair we found and left in the grass of the park. Of course we were distraught, and my first thoughts were that since the cleaning crew had certainly scoured the park first thing in the morning, in all probability a cleaner found the ring and it was likely as good as gone.

I pessimistically returned to the park around noon in a seemingly futile search for the ring, where my suspicions were confirmed when I saw the park had been thoroughly and completely cleaned. Yet when I approached “our” section of the grass, I was surprised to see that the little chair that she had used was exactly as we left it the night before. It suddenly occurred to me that there was a chance that when the cleaning crew arrived in the morning and saw garbage strewn everywhere but in “our” part, they were naturally deflected from approaching the clean enclave we left in order to work on the rest of the park.

With a new sparkle of hope, I excitedly approached the small chair where the ring had probably fallen, under which I immediately spied the scintillating luster of the diamond!

In my opinion, the merit of heeding my father’s voice within, caring about the environment, and being considerate to others literally guarded the ring so it could be returned to the right hand!

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