Anywhere But Here by Tzvi Zuckier

(2006/5766) Towards the end of Parshat Shoftim (20:19), the
Torah instructs Bnei Yisrael, “Ki Tatzur El Ir Yamim Rabim
LeHilachem Aleha Letofsah, Et Eitzah Lindo’ach Aleha
Garzen, Ki Mimenu Tocheil,” “When you besiege a city for
many days to wage war against it, do not destroy its trees by
swinging an axe, because from it you will eat.”  The Seforno
explains that normally, if a soldier finds that he has absolutely
no chance of overcoming an enemy, he will try to be as
destructive as possible – to deal as much damage as he can
before he is killed or forced to retreat.  When he expects to
be victorious, however, he would never cause damage to
future spoils.  This is the message that the Pasuk is
conveying to future combatants in Bnei Yisrael: when they
fight, they must trust in Hashem, confident that He will guide
them to capturing the land for which they are fighting.  They
may not try to injure enemies’ trees or reduce other types of
their rivals’ booty, “because from it [they] will eat” – doing so
would be destroying wealth that will end up under their
This concept seems to contradict a Pasuk
elsewhere in Tanach in which Elisha HaNavi instructs Bnei
Yisrael about an upcoming war against Moav.  Elisha
commands (Melachim II 3:19), “VeHikitem Kol Ir Mivtzar
VeChol Ir Mivchor, VeChol Eitz Tov Tapilu, VeChol Maaynei
Mayim Tistomu, VeChol HaChelkah HaTovah Tach’ivu
BaAvanim,” “You shall strike every fortified city and every
important city, you shall chop down every good tree, you
shall plug every spring of water, and you shall clutter every
piece of good land with stones.”  Contrary to Sefer Devarim,
this seems to say that when the Bnei Yisrael go to war, they
should indeed ruin various parts of enemies’ property! In fact,
it teaches the exact opposite of the Mitzvah in Devarim –
whereas the latter forbids toppling trees, this Pasuk in
Melachim mandates it! How can these seemingly
contradictory Pesukim be resolved?
The Avnei Azel answers that Parshat Shoftim
discusses a battle in Eretz Yisrael, in which spoils must not
be harmed, whereas the battle in Melachim II takes place in
Moav, where the prohibition of reducing enemy wealth and
riches does not apply.  He proves this from the
aforementioned explanation of the Seforno, who clearly
assumes that Bnei Yisrael are destined to conquer the land
referred to in Shoftim.  It is only because of this destiny that
the Jews may not diminish any of their foes’ wealth – there is
no doubt that they will end up receiving it.  However, the
Pesukim in Melachim II specifically indicate that Elisha’s
words concern Moav, which is not part of Eretz Yisrael. 
Therefore, Hashem’s promise to give the land to Bnei Yisrael

does not apply, and although it is always good to have faith in
Hashem, a soldier who cuts up trees or other enemy assets during
such a war does not show the same lack of faith.
The Avnei Azel’s answer shows how powerful Hashem’s
promise to give the Jews the Land of Israel is.  Even though we
must always trust that Hashem will guarantee our success, the
Mitzvah to leave enemy booty unharmed as a demonstration of
complete faith in Hashem applies only where there is also that
definite promise of Eretz Yisrael.  May we see that promise fulfilled
again BiMheirah VeYameinu.
-- Adapted from a Dvar Torah in Maayanah Shel Torah

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