“For is the tree of the field man, that it should be besieged of thee?”
– Deuteronomy 20:19, JPS 1917 Tanach
The Torah warns against the desecration of trees, when in the heat of battle, as if one would start chopping down trees that were in the line of battle, perhaps, out of an overzealous nature. Especially important to consider, is the value of fruit trees. Although, trees that do not bear fruit would be permitted for use as bulwarks in a siege. However, above and beyond these practical considerations, is the inherent comparison of a man with a tree, implying a likeness.
A tree, part of G-d’s creation is not permitted to be destroyed without a specific purpose in mind that is constructive, bringing benefit to others. G-d’s creation, in some respect, may be viewed as “resources” to be used wisely. If left standing, rather than being chopped down indiscriminately, a fruit tree will bear fruit, according to its design. Man, who is able to stand upright (yashar) in righteousness, according to G-d’s intentions for him, is also, figuratively speaking, able to bear fruit.
Moreover, just as a tree needs roots to draw sustenance, and be grounded with a foundation, permitting it to stand, so does man need roots in his heritage, values, and community. All human beings are designed like unto trees, inasmuch that we need a solid foundation in life to thrive. Without strong roots, the storms of life can not be weathered. Just as a tree’s branches reach outwards, we also need to reach out to others, and even more importantly to stretch out our hands in prayer, and reach out to the heavens.
Nothing in life is superfluous; therefore, just as trees are to be valued for their benefits, so are we to draw appreciation in life from all whom we encounter. There are many trees in a forest. We can walk from end of a forest to another, assuming that we do not get lost along the way, without even paying attention to the many varied kinds of trees in the forest. We can unfortunately do the same in life, from beginning to end, without appreciating the many people we pass by day by day, without a second thought given to their uniqueness. Or, we can acknowledge our own uniqueness in G-d’s eyes, and therefore appreciate the other, too.