Picture this scene: It’s 1944, and a band of SS soldiers have overtaken a small village on a hill in occupied France. U.S. General George Patton has them surrounded and is about to order a frontal assault led by 27 very impressive Sherman tanks.
All of a sudden, the chaplain runs up, screaming: “STOP! STOP!” He informs the esteemed general that he has to take a different route — because the field he is about to destroy is filled with apple trees.
In this week’s parsha (Torah portion), we learn the mitzvah (commandment) that when you approach a city in war, you should do not destroy the fruit trees (Deuteronomy 20:19-20). It’s important to appreciate how bizarre this law is. According to Jewish law, war is considered a time of tremendous danger. In this time of duress, many a mitzvah is abandoned: You can fire a gun on Shabbat, for instance, and eat non-kosher food if that is the only sustenance to which you have access. Yet here the Torah says, don’t forget the fruit trees.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for protecting nature; but there is a war going on, and I’m into protecting human life too.
Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch points out that the word for bread in Hebrew, lechem, is the embedded in the word for war, milchama. Why? Because life, which is what bread symbolizes, is a battle. In each case, you have an adversary, be it the struggle to earn a living or the Third Reich. You have your strategies and you have your surprises. It’s all the same.
So why the fruit trees? Because the most valuable weapon in your defense is smart thinking. When you stop thinking, you become the most vulnerable, and nothing stops the thinking like when bullets start flying.
Therefore, before you go into battle, the Torah tells you: Think. Is this a fruit tree or not? Most of the year, when the fruit is not on the tree, it’s very hard to tell — you are going to have to really think about this.
So, too, in your home. Bills are due, the kids are sick, your spouse is tired, and you’ve had a long day. Then your dinner is burnt... but before you react, think!
By Rabbi Stephen Baars
Originally from London, Rabbi Stephen Baars resides in Rockville, Maryland, and serves as executive director of Aish Seminars. An educator and marriage counselor for the past 25 years, Rabbi Baars and his wife, Ruth, are blessed with seven children. Learn more about Rabbi Baars at www.getbliss.com and www.core9.live.