Deuteronomy 20:19

(19) 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 ax against them. Because you will eat of them, and you should not cut them down. Because, are trees of the field a man that it should enter the siege before you?

דברים כ׳:י״ט

(יט) כִּֽי־תָצ֣וּר אֶל־עִיר֩ יָמִ֨ים רַבִּ֜ים לְֽהִלָּחֵ֧ם עָלֶ֣יהָ לְתָפְשָׂ֗הּ לֹֽא־תַשְׁחִ֤ית אֶת־עֵצָהּ֙ לִנְדֹּ֤חַ עָלָיו֙ גַּרְזֶ֔ן כִּ֚י מִמֶּ֣נּוּ תֹאכֵ֔ל וְאֹת֖וֹ לֹ֣א תִכְרֹ֑ת כִּ֤י הָֽאָדָם֙ עֵ֣ץ הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה לָבֹ֥א מִפָּנֶ֖יךָ בַּמָּצֽוֹר׃


1) How do we understand the reasons why it is prohibited for the Bnei Yisroel to destroy the trees of their enemy?

2) Why does the Torah give two reasons for not chopping down the tree? Why is one not sufficient?

3) How should we understand the Torah’s comparison of a tree to a “man”? What message is the Torah trying to convey?

4) Why would a person think that a tree was a man?

  • Your first answer implies that there is one reason given. Your second reason implies that there are two. Are you only referring to one of the two in your first question? Consider editing to clarify. || Your third question seems to assume that the Torah is stating that man is a tree, rather than asking rhetorically whether man is a tree. But your fourth question implies that the Torah is not saying that man is a tree, but rather telling us that actually man is not a tree, as we may have mistakenly thought. Consider editing this to clarify exactly what your question is.
    – mevaqesh
    Sep 11, 2016 at 4:03
  • 2
    The question seems "too broad" and should perhaps be broken up into multiple questions. (Although given that the whole question is difficult to decipher, as per my previous comment, it is hard to say anything definitive about it.)
    – mevaqesh
    Sep 11, 2016 at 4:04
  • Regarding your second question: Usually the Torah does not give reasons for mitsvot at all. Sometimes for whatever reason the Torah chooses to give a reason. What is difficult with the Torah choosing to add another reason?
    – mevaqesh
    Sep 11, 2016 at 4:13
  • Note that Targum Onqelos and Pseudo Jonathan render it as "for a tree is not like a man", this explanation is cited by Ibn Ezra as well.
    – mevaqesh
    Sep 11, 2016 at 4:15
  • I am voting to close this as unclear as per my comments.
    – mevaqesh
    Sep 11, 2016 at 18:43

3 Answers 3


The simple meaning of the verse is that since the tree is not man ("is the tree of the field a man?"), it is not your enemy, and therefore you may not destroy it. This is how Rashi understands the verse.

In a homiletical vein, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik comments as follows ("Majesty and Humility," pp. 31-32):

The dust of which man was fashioned was not taken from all parts of the universe, according to the Midrash, but from a single spot on a mountain where an altar was many, many years later constructed... each man is created from and attached to a single spot, the origin, from which he cannot escape. The home for which man yearns attracts him like a powerful magnet; -it brings him back, no matter how far he has traveled. "Home is the sailor, home from the sea, and the hunter home from the hill": these beautiful lines by Robert Louis Stevenson contain more than a nostalgic note.

Occasionally, when I am at the airport, I happen to observe the loading of a double coffin, containing the body of a Jew who has lived, worked, raised children, prospered or failed, in the United States. It is being shipped for burial in the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The mystery of the origin apparently casts a spell even upon people who have few religious commitments. The modern secular Jew wants to rest in eternal peace, in proximity to the site where the patriarchs found their rest.

כי האדם עץ השדה - The man is indeed like the tree in the field. In this context, the verse should be interpreted as an affirmative statement, not a rhetorical question. Man is indeed a rooted being, attached and committed to a homestead - no matter how far he may have traveled.

R. Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg offers a nearly identical interpretation in his Lifrakim (Parshat Shoftim).


The Sforno addresses all of these questions.

(Sources provided by Sefaria.org)

Answers for 1) and 2)

לא תשחית את עצה לנדוח עליו גרזן לא תשחית את העץ כדי לנדוח עליו גרזן משחית בלבד שלא לצורך אלא להזיק לבני העיר:

לא תשחית את עצה לנדוח עליו גרזן, do not destroy its trees merely in order to practice wielding an axe. Destruction must not be wanton; it is justified only if it serves to harm the enemy residing within the city.

כי ממנו תאכל כי אמנם כריתת העצים דרך השחתה בלבד יעשהו הצבא להזיק כאשר לא יהיה בטוח לנצח ולשבת בארץ אבל אתה הבטוח לכבוש את הארץ ולשבת בה אין לך להשחית עץ מאכל:

כי ממנו תאכל, wanton destruction of such trees is justified only when it is not certain that without such action the war will come to a successful conclusion. The wars of conquest of the Land of Israel, however, the success of which has been guaranteed by G’d, does not fall into this category; it will be won without the need to destroy such trees. Destroying fruit bearing trees in the Land of Israel harms the country.

כי ממנו תאכל שתכבוש הארץ בלי ספק ותאכל ממנו כשלא תשחיתהו:

כי ממנו תאכל, because as soon as you have conquered the land you yourselves will want to eat the fruit of such trees.

Answers for 3) and 4)

כי האדם עץ השדה כי האמנם עץ השדה האדם ראוי לבא מפניך בגללו העיר במצור למסור את עצמם בידך מכח מצור וכיון שאינו כן בזה גם שראוי להזיק ליושבי העיר בכלי מלחמה כמו בסוללות וזולתם להביא העיר במצור. הנה בהיות שלא תשיג זה בהשחתת האילנות אין ראוי להשחיתם כמו שראוי שתשחית האדם יושבי העיר:

כי האדם עץ השדה, for is a tree of the field equivalent to a human being, capable of defending itself and therefore posing a danger to you? Neither is it able to surrender on account of the siege; seeing that this is so, even though part of its timber could serve as a rampart for helping you to mount an attack against the city itself, since this will not be achieved (directly) by cutting down these trees it is not proper for you to destroy such trees, as opposed to your being permitted to kill human beings in that city opposing you and endangering you.

(Note: I decided to leave this note in that was actually on Sefaria because it helps assist the answer. Thank you Ed, whoever you are)

לבא מפניך במצור כדי שתבא בשביל זה העיר מפניך במצור באופן שימסרו את עצמם בידך:

לבא מפניך במצור, so that you would besiege the city on their account so they would surrender to you? [the underlying idea, if I understand the author and the text correctly, is that the purpose of laying siege to a city instead of assaulting it and destroying it, is to preserve it intact after its inhabitants have been forced to surrender. Cutting down fruit bearing trees would be the opposite of your objectives in such a war. Ed.]

Hope this helps.


Rav Hirsch points out that this is both a positive commandment and a negative commandment. Thus, someone who violsates this transgresses both.

you may not cut down the trees about the city just to destroy them, or rather you may not destroy them just to cut them down (scorched earth policy I.L.) so that your whole purpose is destruction.

Rav Hirsch continues

ממנו תאכל is a positive command, an עשה; ואותו לא תחרית: זו מצוה לא תעשה (Sifri), bu purposeless destroying a food-yielding tree both a positive command and a prohibition are transgressed.

Rav Hirsch explains the analogy as

for the tree of the field is the human being, the products of the soil are the condition for human existence (Sifri). אבן עזרא pertinently points out the similar idea in כי נפש הוא חובל (Ch. XXIV, 6) where the millstone is called נפש (th life I.L.) because it is indispensable for the existence of the נפש. So the sense of our sentence would be ... for fruit tree form the existence of human beings and are included in the siege ... And as little as destruction may ber the object and intention of your siege, so little may you destroy the trees of the city.

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