Secondary Sources: Our Relationship to Nature – PS, MS

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Secondary Sources: Relationship to Nature


Deuteronomy 20:18-19

19 When you besiege a city for many days to wage war against it to capture it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them, for you may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down. Is the tree of the field a man, to go into the siege before you?

יטכִּי תָצוּר אֶל עִיר יָמִים רַבִּים לְהִלָּחֵם עָלֶיהָ לְתָפְשָׂהּ לֹא תַשְׁחִית אֶת עֵצָהּ לִנְדֹּחַ עָלָיו גַּרְזֶן כִּי מִמֶּנּוּ תֹאכֵל וְאֹתוֹ לֹא תִכְרֹת כִּי הָאָדָם עֵץ הַשָּׂדֶה לָבֹא מִפָּנֶיךָ בַּמָּצוֹר:

20 However, a tree you know is not a food tree, you may destroy and cut down, and you shall build bulwarks against the city that makes war with you, until its submission.

כרַק עֵץ אֲשֶׁר תֵּדַע כִּי לֹא עֵץ מַאֲכָל הוּא אֹתוֹ תַשְׁחִית וְכָרָתָּ וּבָנִיתָ מָצוֹר עַל הָעִיר אֲשֶׁר הִוא עֹשָׂה עִמְּךָ מִלְחָמָה עַד רִדְתָּהּ:


D’Var Torah

Harriet M. Levine, Woodlands Community Temple, White Plains, NY

While the verses themselves deal specifically with cutting down trees during war, the Sages extended their meaning to cover all forms of wasteful destruction. They taught that anyone who deliberately wastes our resources, either natural or man-made, violates the law.

For over 3,000 years Jews have been concerned about the environment. Although these instructions are specifically directed to the care of fruit trees during war, the lesson gleaned from them has far-reaching implications for life on this planet. Our ancestors understood that life depends upon preserving the land. Although they didn’t use words like “ecology,” “global warming,” or “environmental crisis,” they clearly understood and respected these concepts.

  • How, in this age of technology, can we ensure that we don’t do more damage to our natural resources-our drinking water, our rivers, the soil, or the air?
  • How do you care for your environment within the school/institutions you are part of? Could you reduce wastage of resources further? If so, how?


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