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!

(יט) כִּי 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.

(19) When you attack a city for a long time, making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by using an axe against them [cutting them down]; for you will eat from them, but you shall not cut them down - for is the tree of the field human, that it should be attacked by you?

In this proverb, the Torah is compared to a tree.

דְּרָכֶ֥יהָ דַרְכֵי־נֹ֑עַם וְֽכָל־נְתִ֖יבוֹתֶ֣יהָ שָׁלֽוֹם׃ עֵץ־חַיִּ֣ים הִ֭יא לַמַּחֲזִיקִ֣ים בָּ֑הּ וְֽתֹמְכֶ֥יהָ מְאֻשָּֽׁר׃

Its [the Torah's] ways are pleasant ways, And all its paths, peaceful. It is a tree of life to those who hold on to it, and whoever holds on to it is happy.

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.

אָמַר רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן יוֹחָאי, שְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים שְׁקוּלִין זֶה כָּזֶה, וְאֵלּוּ הֵן: אֶרֶץ, וְאָדָם, וּמָטָר. אָמַר רַבִּי לֵוִי בַּר חִיָּא וּשְׁלָשְׁתָּן מִשָּׁלשׁ אוֹתִיּוֹת, לְלַמֶּדְךָ שֶׁאִם אֵין אֶרֶץ אֵין מָטָר, וְאִם אֵין מָטָר אֵין אֶרֶץ, וְאִם אֵין שְׁנֵיהֶם אֵין אָדָם.

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said: "three things are of equal importance, and these are them: earth, humankind, and rain." Rabbi Levi bar Hiyya said, "and the three of them come from three letters to teach you that if there's no land, there's no rain; if there's no rain, there's no land; and without both of these things, there's no humankind."

אִם הָיְתָה נְטִיעָה בְּתוֹךְ יָדָךְ וְיֹאמְרוּ לָּךְ "הֲרֵי לָךְ הַמָּשִׁיחַ", בּוֹא וּנְטַע אֶת הַנְטִיעָה וְאַחַר כָּךְ צֵא וְהַקְבִּילוֹ.

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.

יומא חד הוה אזל באורחא חזייה לההוא גברא דהוה נטע חרובא אמר ליה האי עד כמה שנין טעין אמר ליה עד שבעין שנין אמר ליה פשיטא לך דחיית שבעין שנין אמר ליה האי [גברא] עלמא בחרובא אשכחתיה כי היכי דשתלי לי אבהתי שתלי נמי לבראי

One day, Honi the Circle Drawer was journeying on the road and he saw a man planting a carob tree. He asked him, "How long does it take for this tree to bear fruit?" The man replied: "Seventy years." Honi then asked him: "Are you certain that you will live another seventy years?" The man replied: "I found full grown carob trees in the world; as my ancestors planted these for me, so too will I plant these for my children."

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?