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city cleanliness


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Elul 23, 5775
Dear Rabbonim, I approach you with a situation, where I feel a halachic injustice is being done, and it causes sadness to people. I live in a city that is blessed with many Torah observant people of all persuasions, Barush Hashem within walking distance of my house, there are over 10 shuls to choose from. However the municipal authorities are failing completely in their job to keep the city clean. The local authoritiy is also being run by Torah obervant people, so I would like to know what the Torah says about the aveira that the local authority is doing, by neglecting to keep the city clean. I have noticed as well that many people also throw stuff indiscrimately in the public domain, and I have heard it said, that some hld that one can do this, and declare everything nefker.However it is not pleasant to walk the streets, with overflowing public garbage bins not emptied, gardens and parks neglected, passageways with overgrown greenery, sports areas neglected with huge rocks on them. I could go on. Is this the way a Torah obervant city should show itself? I am saddened every time I walk the streets on Shabbat to go to my Shul. I pay taxes, and for what? Any opinions?
The Netziv (intro. to Torah) writes that sefer Breishit (with almost no mitzvot) precedes the other “mitzvah” sfarim to teach us that “derech eretz kadma l’Torah”, before one goes up to the “2nd floor”, unique for Jews, he must first make sure that he’s a “mentch”, and has already finessed the “1st floor”, the basic manners of which gentiles also are obligated! In addition, just tonight I learned with my weekly class in Ein Aya, Shabbat 2, 65-67, that Rav Kook bemoans the fact that in exile, over 2,000 years, the Jewish people were preoccupied with basic survival, and forgot the importance of aesthetics and cleanliness. We were sent to exile from our physical land of Israel in order to concentrate on our spirituality, and not be distracted by physical issues. But that isn’t normal life, and now that we are returning to our natural habitat, the Hoy Land, where the physical rocks, fruit, and language is not only ours, but they are even holy, we must consciously return to order and cleanliness, and derech eretz as part of the Torat Chaim (Living Torah) (see a similar idea in the Chatam Sofer on Sukkah 36), and having natural self-respect for ourselves, others (kal vachomer when your neighbors are Jewish!) and our holy surroundings. In addition, chazal warn us (Psachim 112a), “Don’t live in a city who’s leaders are Torah scholars”, and Rashi, Rashbam and the Meiri explain, for they are busy learning and thus, may be neglecting (and maybe even deriding!) the daily physical needs, such as cleanliness, for which they are responsible. One of the major changes of the mussar movement of R. Yisrael Salanter and the Alter of Slabodka, is that of “Gadlut HaAdam”, man should appreciate his greatness, and his G-dly potential, where self-dignity adds not only to the respect for Torah, but for the self-respect Torah scholars should have for themselves and for what they represent. See also the Sefer Hachinuch, mitz. 342, who lists the beauty of a city as a virtue.
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