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Dvar for Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)

Parshat Shoftim details various rules of war, including the unique commandment to preserve fruit trees when besieging a city (20:19). Moshe adds what some interpret as a rhetorical question “is the tree of the field a man?” This mandate alludes to the fact that trees are powerless to move out of the way, implying that we should be mindful of their limitations and not destroy useful resources simply because they’re in our way.

Ibn Ezra (11th-century commentator and grammarian) explains that Moshe was making a statement, and not asking a question. Moshe was stating that “man is a [fruit-bearing] tree of the field.” In other words, an opportunity for personal or collective gain does not justify cutting down productive innocent collateral damage. Moshe is teaching us that it is improper to slight another person for one’s own benefit or gain because we are all fruit-bearing members of humanity.