Man is like a tree of the field.”
An army surrounds an enemy city. It searches for materials with which to beseech the city. The torah instructs them “Do not cut down the fruit trees for man is like a tree of the field.” (Sefer Devarim)
It’s not clear why man being like a tree of the field is a reason for not cutting down fruit trees.
Ibn Ezra explains that the Torah really means to say that man is sustained from the tree of the field. In other words, the Torah tells the army: as you surround this city, don’t destroy its resources for when you defeat the enemy you will be sustained by those very same resources!
Perhaps in some way we can understand the phrase literally. In Loshon haKodesh, man and humans are referred to as אדם which means dirt or earth. This is a curious choice of a word. Isn’t it a big insult to be described as dirt? Also, asks Maharal "Why aren’t other creatures called אדם - they also come from dirt?"
He answers that אדמה represents potential. Right now there is dirt, but within that dirt lies the potential for seeds, plants, flowers and trees. This is why man more than anything else is called אדם- man is the ultimate potential.
His calling is to realize that potential, to turn dirt into blossoming fruit trees! This is the meaning of “Man is like a tree of the field”, when his potential is being realized.
Just like a fruit tree possesses branches and trees, so too man must develop branches and fruit. This refers to his offspring but also to his actions and deeds- how much he touches the lives of others and enhances them.
-Afikei Torah Staff