Lashon Hara and Lag b’Omer

Like everyone else, I am not having the week I planned to have. The kids are home from school, the adults are trying to adjust to new work schedules, and every day seems to bring new changes to our usual way of life. But even with everything there is to think about right now— Can I get enough eggs if grocery stores are limiting purchases? Is it safe to have my cleaning ladies come?—I found myself thinking about Lag b’Omer. This past Monday and Tuesday, I was supposed to be spending time with one of my closest friends, who was coming in from Israel for a business conference. But, because of the quarantines, she wouldn’t be coming. Her family made aliyah about a year and a half ago, so this will be the second year our families won’t be celebrating Lag b’Omer together with a bonfire and potluck barbecue.

I decided to spend the 30 minutes I had before a phone shiur began to make a batch of Lag b’Omer firestarters, using dryer lint I had been saving in a bag and wax paper. (Most of that was the packaging for the beeswax wrappers I used to for part of my mishloach manot.) The firestarters are simple to make: Just take a roll of wax paper and roll out about a foot. Slice it off from the roll and cut it in half lengthwise. Then, cut each half into thirds widthwise, leaving you with six seven-inch-by-three-inch rectangles. Gather a wad of dryer lint, about the size of an egg, and place on a rectangle paper, roll the bundle up, and twist each of the sides, creating what looks like an oversized piece of saltwater taffy. These will light quickly (the flammability of dryer lint is why it’s recommended to clean your dryer vent hose regularly) and burn longer than a match, giving time for your bonfire kindling to ignite.

Firestarters. (Photograph by Amy Smith.)

In addition to reusing the wax-paper wrapping, this project gave a second use to the bread bag I used to save the dryer lint; the finished firestarters went back in the same bag. This isn’t the kind of global change as not using paper towels or slashing your use of foil pans, but small changes, gathered together, can make a big difference. Before I started working toward a low-waste life, I would have mindlessly tossed the wax paper in the garbage or used a new ziplock bag to store the firestarters. That mindless tossing of packaging is why about 25 percent of what winds up in an American landfill each year (that’s after recycling!) is packaging: boxes, bags, etc. With this little project, I kept both the wax paper I had on hand and the dryer lint out of the garbage can, and because I reused a bag I already had, I didn’t have to pull a new one out, saving me both money and a bag. And, in the long run, making lots of little choices trains my brain to look at the possibilities each item holds, just as each mitzvah we do helps us to do the next mitzvah.

Even though we are, at the moment, mostly confined to our homes, each day holds endless possibilities to heed the words of Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita about the transmission of coronavirus: “Everyone must be mechazek to refrain from lashon hara and rechilus . . . They must further strengthen themselves in the middah of humility and be maavir al midosav.” In the Talmud, Rava says the statement “there is a fire in Ploni’s house” is lashon hara. How is that lashon hara? Rashi says such a statement implies that this person must be wealthy because food is always being cooked in his home, implying that they could be giving more tzedakah. The Maharsha suggests the statement implies Ploni is a glutton who keeps a fire all day so that there is always more food to eat.

We are all adapting, and as we go forward, it will be easy to criticize our fellow Jews, saying that this rav closed his shul to early, while the other closed his too late, or that our neighbors are being too lax or too strict about social distancing. May HaShem give us each the strength not to be the spark that ignites the flame of lashon hara.

Until next week,
Amy

Click to see the ongoing impact of my low-waste changes (updated each week).

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