Battling the Siege-Maor VaShemesh
“When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees people, that you should besiege them? However, you may cut down trees that you know are not fruit trees and use them to build siege works until the city at war with you falls (Deuteronomy 20:19-20).”
The Talmud has already explained: ‘It you shall destroy and cut down.’ How is this to be explained? If the scholar is a worthy person learn [eat] from him and do not shun[cut] him, but if he is not, destroy him and cut him down (Ta’anit 7a). I would like to expand on this idea:
“When you lay siege to a city for a long time,” can be understood based on our Sages, who explained: Rabbi Ammi bar Abba also said: What is the meaning of, “There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siege works against it. Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man. So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.” But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded. The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good (Ecclesiates 9:14-18).”
‘A little city’ refers to the body; and ‘a few men within’ to the limbs; ‘and there came a great king against it and besieged [it]’ to the Evil Urge; ‘and built great bulwarks against it’, to sin; ‘Now there was found in it a poor wise man,’ to the Good Urge; ‘and he by his wisdom delivered the city,’ to repentance and good deeds; ‘yet no man remembered that same poor man,’ for when the Evil Urge gains dominion, none remember the Good Urge (Nedarim 32b).
Just as, “There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siege works against it,” so too, our verse, “When you lay siege to a city for a long time,” refers to the struggle between the Good and Evil Inclinations; when you lay siege to your body, your physical desires to subdue them with your wisdom and awareness, through fasting and limiting your physical pleasures, “Do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them,” trees, as in when Moshe instructed the spies, “Are there trees in it or not (Numbers 13:20),” which Rashi explains, refers to righteous people.
This verse, “Do not destroy its trees,” teaches us that we should not cut the righteous off from our lives because, “you can eat their fruit,” and learn from them how to properly serve God, since their wisdom is compared to food, as in, “Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed (Proverbs 9:5),” referring to wisdom. The righteous man brings sustenance to the world (Zohar I 82b), so, “Do not cut them down,” and cut them off from your life. “However, you may cut down trees that you know are not fruit trees,” teachers who do not bring life. (Maor Vashemesh: Shofetim)
The Maor Vashemesh is reminding us that there are more sieges than those around a city; there is the siege of the Evil Inclination surrounding our Spiritual development, and there is the siege we can place with our Good Inclination around desires that distract us from our relationship with God.
He urges us to take full advantage of the Trees of Life, teachers and righteous men who can connect us to God.
Prepare for the Tenth of Tevet by connecting with teachers and righteous people who can connect you with God, and His service.