“When thou shalt besiege a city for a long time" and require to cut the trees down to build siege works. "For thou mayest eat of them" – you will require these trees for food, after you have take the city and they are yours. "But thou shalt not cut it down" – that fruit –bearing tree which does not strengthen and fortify the inhabitants of the city – for instance, those trees far away from the actual city. "For…” every time "ki" follows a negative ("lo") it means "but", "only." But you may only cut down that tree on account of which man can come before you in the siege; in other words, those trees which the enemy can find shelter in to escape you, those trees near the city - “only the tree of the field which assists man to come before thee in the siege.” Rashbam
What difficulty did Rashbam find in the phrase "but thou shalt not cut it down?"
Rashbam’s difficulty is where to apply the phrase "but thou shalt not cut it down." Should it apply to the first part of the verse or the second part? In the first part, the Torah informs us of the prohibition of damaging fruit-bearing tress – “thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by wielding an axe against them.” Since damaging the trees is prohibited then certainly cutting them down is out of the question! Thus the phrase about not cutting down a tree must perforce apply as part of the second half of the verse in which the exception to the prohibition is listed. The text is stating “don’t cut it down” except in the case of ….
What is the difference between Rashi and Rashbam’s interpretation of the phrase “ha-adam etz ha-sadeh?”
According to Rashi, the phrase “ha-adam etz ha-sadeh” is the reason why fruit- bearing trees may not be cut down. According to Rashbam these same words are
reason for when fruit-bearing trees may be cut down.
Prepared by: Rabbi Mordechai Spiegelman
veteran yeshiva educator (USA)
now residing in Jerusalem