כִּֽי־תָצ֣וּר אֶל־עִיר֩ יָמִ֨ים רַבִּ֜ים לְֽהִלָּחֵ֧ם עָלֶ֣יהָ לְתָפְשָׂ֗הּ לֹֽא־תַשְׁחִ֤ית אֶת־עֵצָהּ֙ לִנְדֹּ֤חַ עָלָיו֙ גַּרְזֶ֔ן כִּ֚י מִמֶּ֣נּוּ תֹאכֵ֔ל וְאֹת֖וֹ לֹ֣א תִכְרֹ֑ת כִּ֤י הָֽאָדָם֙ עֵ֣ץ הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה לָבֹ֥א מִפָּנֶ֖יךָ בַּמָּצֽוֹר׃
When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city?
Chizkuni, Deuteronomy 20:19
כי ממנו תאכל לאחר שתכבשנה
“For you will be able to eat their fruit once you have conquered the town.”
Ibn Ezra on Deuteronomy 20:19
Man is a tree of the field I have already explained, in Sefer Hayyǝsod , that in every language there is a tendency to omit words in order to be concise. Nevertheless, one never omits the word “not”, because then one’s meaning is reversed. A great Spanish grammarian asserted that the sentence is missing an interrogative heh , as if Scripture were asking rhetorically, “is a tree of the field a man?” — but in my view this interpretation is not correct, because it makes no sense to explain a prohibition against destroying a fruit tree, on the grounds that a tree is not a man (and is thus incapable of running away). In my opinion there is no need for any of this. The meaning, rather, is as follows: You may eat of them, but do not cut them down, for man is a tree of the field (i.e., the life of man depends on the trees of the field).…The phrase but do not cut them down is conceptually tied to the phrase to come before you in the siege, to wit: You may not destroy fruit-bearing trees, which are a source of life to mankind, but you may eat of their fruit; you are forbidden to destroy them so that the besieged city will surrender before you.
Tur HaAroch, Deuteronomy 20:19
…The reason for this entire legislation, and specifically for its being mentioned at this point, is, that in war soldiers are in the habit of wreaking havoc all over, without regard to the ecological damage they cause by doing so. The Torah, therefore, goes on record that even in war, one must be concerned with what will be needed after the war has ended. The Jewish soldier, fighting a just war, must have confidence in God’s help so that he does not have to resort to wholesale destruction.
Rashi on Deuteronomy 20:19
FOR IS THE TREE OF THE FIELD A MAN [THAT IT SHOULD BE BESIEGED BY YOU]? — כי has here the meaning of “possibly”, “perhaps” — is the tree of the field perhaps a man who is able to withdraw within the besieged city from before you, that it should be chastised by the suffering of famine and thirst like the inhabitants of the city? Why should you destroy it?
Martin Buber, I-Thou
I contemplate a tree.
I can accept it as a picture: a rigid pillar in a flood of light, or splashes of green traversed by the gentleness of the blue silver ground.
I can feel it as movement: the flowing veins around the sturdy, striving core, the sucking of the roots, the breathing of the leaves, the infinite commerce with earth and air–and the growing itself in its darkness.
I can assign it to a species and observe it as an instance, with an eye to its construction and its way of life.
I can dissolve it into a number, into a pure relation between numbers, and eternalize it.
Throughout all of this the tree remains my object and has its place and its time span, its kind and condition.
But it can also happen, if will and grace are joined, that as I contemplate the tree I am drawn into a relation, and the tree ceases to be an It. The power of exclusiveness has seized me…
The tree is no impression, no play of my imagination, no aspect of a mood; it confronts me bodily and has to deal with me as I must deal with it–only differently.
One should not try to dilute the meaning of the relation: relation is reciprocity.
Does the tree then have consciousness, similar to our own? I have no experience of that. But thinking that you have brought this off in your own case, must you again divide the indivisible? What I encounter is neither the soul of a tree nor a dryad, but the tree itself.