This Week’s Torah Portion: Shof’tim (Deuteronomy 16:18–21:9)
How many trees are there in the Redwood forest? On the surface, the answer to this question seems unimaginably large. And yet, beneath the surface of the question there lies a deeper response:
Above the surface, the old growth trees of the Redwood National Park cover nearly 39,000 acres of centuries old majestic forest. But, beneath the surface the roots of the trees grow deep and wide intertwining with one another, spreading out their tendrils, reaching out to one another just as they reach deep within the earth. Together they form one vast organism, one living thing, whose life is dependent upon the sum of its parts.
In this week’s portion Shoftim we read:
When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the axe against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human beings to withdraw before you into the besieged city? (Deuteronomy 20:19)
The great Spanish commentator Ibn Ezra read the last part of this verse not as a question, but as a statement. “The trees of the field are human beings.” And to destroy one human being is to destroy an entire world. These are the roots of our Jewish value to heal and protect the earth.
We are all one. We are all a part of one life and one living being. When we destroy any part of our world, we destroy ourselves.
Laws regarding both sacred and secular legislation are addressed. The Israelites are told that in every dealing they should pursue justice in order to merit the land that God is giving them. (16:18–18:8)
The people are warned to avoid sorcery and witchcraft, the abhorrent practices of their idolatrous neighbors. (18:9–22)
God tells them that should an Israelite unintentionally kill another, he may take sanctuary in any of three designated cities of refuge. (19:1–13)
Laws to be followed during times of peace and times of war are set forth. (19:14–21:9)