Yesterday, while on vacation with the family, I took a fascinating tour of George’s Furniture woodwork shop in Marietta, Pennsylvania. One of the many things that impressed and inspired me was how the craftsmen manage to use absolutely every part of the wood. The larger pieces of wood are naturally used to construct the handcrafted furniture and other custom wood projects. The leftover scraps are sliced and glued together to form stunning solid wood boards striped with walnut, cherry, oak, and maple, used as the thin bottom of drawers and such. Finally, after every usable piece of wood has indeed been put to use, the remaining chips and sawdust are vacuumed up through hoses that meet at the ceiling, to be used as fuel for the wood drying kilns and the shop’s heaters in the winter.
When the Torah teaches us not to be wasteful, it uses the example of trees (Deuteronomy 20:19). During a war we’re instructed not to wantonly destroy everything in our path, but to discriminate between what needs to be taken down, and what can be left standing. Fruit trees generally serve a productive purpose, and care must be taken to preserve their benefits. From this, the commandment to avoid wasting or destroying anything of use is derived. We might say that trees, in particular, teach us to be resourceful and take advantage of all the “features” hidden within G-d’s gifts to mankind. The delicious fruits, the shade of the leaves, the beauty of the tree, the wood, and even the sawdust are all part of His gift and are designed for our appreciation and use.
The passage above also compares mankind to the tree. Besides a human’s physical similarities to the tree with his erect stance, arms branching out and feet rooted upon the ground, man also produces endless varieties of fruits through his speech and activity. It’s important to recognize the gifts within our own skin and the massive potential we have to affect our surroundings. We can produce generations of fruits with the seeds of goodness we plant in our children, all those who learn from us, and all who benefit from our contributions. Even in our last days, when it may appear that we’ve been reduced to mere “sawdust and chips,” there may be those who still benefit from the wisdom of our experiences or the warmth of our company.
Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
Program Director, Project Genesis – Torah.org