In this commandment from the Torah we are told that it is prohibited to cut down trees when we conquer a city, because, unlike enemies in war, trees are always innocent. They do not fight back and we have no reason to damage them. In fact, the opposite is true: trees always help us!
In this proverb, the Torah is compared to a tree.
The Torah makes it clear that the earth and trees are important. (questions adapted from JNF)
1. Why do you think trees are not supposed to be cut down, even during a war?
2. What can trees provide us?
3. The text from Deuteronomy is the origin source text that sets the Jewish value of caring for nature. What else do you know about the Jewish value of caring for nature? (Also called "Ba'al Tashcheet")
4. Why do you think it's important not to destroy the environment?
5. Why do you think the Torah is referred to as "a tree of life?"
6. In what ways are trees and nature similar to Torah? How are they different?
The texts below come from the Midrash, and help us see things from a different perspective.
Rabbi Yohanan Ben Zakai used to say: "If you have a sapling in your hand and they tell you 'The Messiah is coming!' first plant the sapling and then go to greet him." [translation by Hazon]
When these two texts were written, most of the world's Jews didn't live in the land of Israel. In many cases, Jews didn't even own land. (Questions adapted from JNF)
7. Do you agree with Shimon Bar Yochai's list and statement above? What would you add to it (or take away)?
8. Why do you think Rabbi Levi Ben Hiyya needed to add to/clarify Rabbi Shimon's statement?
Rabbi Yohanan Ben Zakai was one of the greatest teachers during this time and is credited with "saving" Judaism by sneaking out of Jerusalem before it was destroyed and setting up a new center for Judaism and learning in the town of Yavneh.
9. It's a really big deal to tell the messiah to wait. Why do you think it's so important to do so if you're planting a tree?
10. Do you agree with his statement? Would you tell someone important to wait if you were planting a tree?
This story about Honi the Circlemaker comes from the Talmud.
Honi was an interesting person in his day, and many of the stories about him feel very confrontational.
11. Why was Honi so confused about the man planting a tree?
12. What kinds of resources did your ancestors leave for you? What kinds of resources do you want to leave for your descendants?
13. Why is it important to live with an eye toward the future?