Every Person is a Tree

The Biblical law protecting fruit trees during war provides an opportunity for Jewish exegetes to reflect on ecology and the wanton destruction of life.

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"When is man like a tree of the field?
Like the tree he stretches upwards.
Like man he burns in fire.
And I do not know
where I have been nor where I will be-
like a tree of the field.

"When is man like a tree of the field?
Like the tree he thirsts for water.
Like man he remains thirsty.
And I do not know
where I have been nor where I will be-
like a tree of the field.

"I've loved. And I've hated;
I've tasted both this and that.
They buried me in a portion of earth;
And it's bitter to me, bitter to taste,
Like a tree of the field;
Like a tree of the field."

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Jeffrey Spitzer is Chair of the Department of Talmud and Rabbinics at Gann Academy, The New Jewish High School, Waltham, Mass., and a member of the Institute's Tichon Fellows Program.