Nurturing Amidst the Battle – Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:19

The Torah includes many instances of familial struggle, tribal conflict, and outright war. These texts may be troubling or instructive in and of themselves.   They can also be read with other layers of meaning.

Let us apply a couple of interpretive lenses to a selection from this week’s Torah portion: “When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy (bal tash-hit) its fruit trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down” (Deut. 20:19).

The term bal tash-hit is used in some Jewish environmental circles to highlight the values of conserving resources and not being wanton or wasteful with God’s Creation for the mitzvah of bal tash-hit demands a degree of care and attention to the preservation or non-destruction of fruit trees even in times of war. This interpretive approach to the text addresses issues of trees and fields and battlefield behavior, leading to issues of responsibility toward our natural environment beyond wartime.

The same text can be read in a more metaphorical way, yielding insights and teachings about the battles and internal struggles we sometimes face in our lives. Some traditional Torah commentaries find, within the battle imagery, wisdom addressing the interplay between the different parts of ourselves; and the sometimes-conflicted drives, energies, forces, and yearnings we each carry within us.   With this interpretive lens we may see the land, the besieged city, the attacking army, and the fruit trees as parts of our world—or as parts of us right now, internal to our psyche and spirit. We are invited to ask ourselves: what parts of my life feel embattled? And in those areas, what might fruit trees represent in the context of my life-struggles? As with the environmental reading, we can learn from the Torah’s level of concern for trees that may bear fruit after battle.

The experience of illness or pain or loss may call forth feelings of struggle, mustering of internal resources, preparing for a kind of siege. Many people speak of battling against disease, buckling down through invasive treatments, fighting to recover, or wrestling with “the system” or with one’s family, employers, finances, etc. The metaphor of battle is violent and ridden with conflict*. It assumes there will be casualties and acknowledges that parts of the landscape of our lives are likely to get trampled. In fact many medical treatments, such as surgery, antibiotic medications, chemotherapy, and radiation, involve some physical harm or diminishment on the road to a more complete healing.

In struggling with illness or loss, we can identify what parts of ourselves may yet (we hope) bear fruit again   in   future   seasons, and protect that. These may include our resolve,   special loving relationships, our love of learning or our propensity for spiritual growth, our appreciation for the beauty and blessings around us, our sense of humor or optimism, our capacity to love, or our basic humanity. Whatever those precious, life-affirming parts of ourselves we identify, they deserve to be protected and nurtured throughout our ordeals. They often hold out hope for the future and sustenance for the present as well.

May Source of Life that nurtures blossom into fruit and that stirs our hearts toward teshuvah strengthen us at this time—for life and for love, for uprightness and for forgiveness, for healing and for blessing.

Rabbi Natan Fenner, BCC

STM Cycle of Prayer

We pray today for the Roman Catholic Church, their communities and students in our midst, and for James Eblen and Victoria Ries, Outreach Team co-chairs; Corey Passons, Graduate Assistant; Mary Stanton-Nurse and Pamela Stephen-Jordan, students.

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