IS THE TREE OF THE FIELD HUMAN? Exploring the holy paradox at the heart of Bal Tashchit
On Tu b’Shvat, we celebrate the New Year for the Trees, but we also extend our focus to our relationship and responsibility to protecting the environment as a whole. Why? In Jewish thought, texts about trees offer wisdom to help us understand our broader relationship and responsibility to the created world.
One clear example is the mitzvah of Bal Tashchit, the prohibition on needless waste. While the key text giving the mitzvah begins with discussing fruit trees in wartime, the mitzvah is extended by the sages to include prohibitions against needlessly destroying just about anything, including burning up oil or kerosene too quickly, tearing clothes, wasting water, as well as many other acts of waste or needless destruction. Two specific modern day examples of this mitzvah are the waste of edible food and the waste of energy.
Let’s look closer at this tree text to see what more we can learn from its wisdom.