Shoftim means “judges.” Justice, justice shall you pursue—this is the theme of this week’s Torah portion.
Contained in Shoftim is the prohibition against needless waste and destruction. This is demonstrated in the law which cautions the Israelites not to destroy fruit trees while laying siege on a city (Deut. 20:19–20). It is from this verse that the commandment of bal tashchit (do not destroy or waste) is derived.
Bal tashchit is a central, ethical principle in Jewish law. While it is perfectly fine to use God’s creation and make use of its natural resources, it is forbidden to unnecessarily destroy anything that benefits humanity. This law is not limited to fruit trees only. Needlessly breaking utensils, tearing garments, killing an animal for convenience or for no good reason, demolishing a building, wasting food, and stopping up a well are prohibited under the law of bal tashchit. It is also prohibited to waste water, energy, clothing, and money.
Look at the colors all around you. The world God created is beautiful. By learning not to wantonly destroy, we are learning to respect and value all creation. It teaches us self-control so that we can be people who build rather than people who destroy.