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Two Minutes of Torah: Shoftim - All Is Not Fair in Love and War

Reading or hearing about wars taking place around the world is often very uncomfortable.  War is a subject that we don’t like to talk about. It makes us feel uncomfortable for the death and destruction that usually accompany it. And often these feelings are exacerbated as the perpetrators on both sides seem to conduct themselves in such a way as though there were no laws governing the way one wages war. 

In our book of Deuteronomy (Devarim) which we are currently reading, there are lots of references to the wars that we will have to wage as the Israelites when we conquer the Promised Land. And it can be uncomfortable to read about what we’re going to have to do. But then, in the midst of this week’s Torah portion we read “when in your war against the city, you have to besiege it along time in order to capture it. You must not destroy its trees, wielding the acts against them. You may eat off them, but you must not cut them down.

In the course of a war, thinking about the environment and the way that we treat it, might seem like the last thing that people are going to consider. And yet the Torah comes in here with the reminder that we must always be mindful of our environment and those things around us. And so, recognizing that these trees provide food, we cannot destroy them. It even says “only trees that you know do not yield food may be destroyed. You can cut them down for constructing siege works against the city that is waging war on you, until it has been reduced.”

In this way, the Torah is not stopping us from waging war, recognizing that unfortunately war appears to be a necessary evil, but it is trying to set limits and guidelines for the way we wage our wars. And if we are to show this kind of respect for the trees around us when waging war, surely we must show even more respect to the people living within those cities and the people who eat from those fruit trees.

I like to think that in this moment the Torah is reminding us to be considerate of the environment and be considerate of those inhabiting that environment when you’re waging war – so as to try and do it in the most moral way possible. War is a dirty business, but maybe with these kind of injunctions and instructions, we can make it that little bit more humane and that little bit more ethical. I’m still uncomfortable about all the war and destruction described in this book of Torah, but these moments give me hope of something better – something that I can hold on to – offering me a moral lesson and instruction.

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