Ki Tetze – Deductive Reasoning

Ki Tetze has an extraordinary number of Mitzvot in the Parsha, more than any other single Parsha in the Torah. Reading through it, one cannot help but see a reflection of Torah values expressed by the Mitzvot. We once mentioned Rabbi Dr. Twerski’s approach, that every negative commandment in the Torah addresses a human weakness. The Torah reinforces our resolve to overcome that weakness by force of a Mitzvah. (There is a lot to say about the psychological effects of that, which is actually counter-productive since it raises our contrariness to doing something imposed upon us, but that is for another time.) I Believe we can find similar lessons also in positive commandments, which reflect more than just the simple Mitzvah. They tell us about the spirit of the Torah and its general attitude toward humanistic values. We will just select a few of the more obvious Mitzvot since there are so many.

The very first Mitzvah, involving prisoners taken in war, deals with a conquering soldier who is ‘captured’ by the beauty of one of the maidens. Rather than forbidding him entirely from engaging in a relationship, which would likely lead to soldiers occasionally unable to resist temptation, the Torah prescribes a course of action wherein a relationship can develop. Without going into great detail, the conditions include taking the woman as a full wife, after allowing her a full month to grieve for her lost home and family. Afterwards, and only when he retains his commitment to affording her the care and respect due a spouse, he may marry her.

The outstanding value of this Mitzvah, in my eyes, is not the treatment due the captive, but the staggering expectations the Torah demands from a man having a relationship with a woman. Men can still take advantage of women today, and vice versa, but especially in primitive societies men had full dominance over women. The fact the Torah requires this degree of sensitivity and dignity toward even a captured prisoner of war reveals its view toward relationships in general.

The very next Mitzvah is that of a man with two wives, where he favors one over the other. He may not accord greater privileges to the children of one over the children of the other. While Rash’i relates this to the previous topic, a simple reading of the narrative shows the Torah’s discouragement from polygamy in general. While this is permitted by Torah law (not in practice for the last thousand years) the Torah is warning us of inevitable rivalry resulting from such relationships. One wife is bound to be ‘hated.’

The Torah has numerous Mitzvot relating to the property of others. If one comes across an animal or any other property belonging to another fellow he must not ignore it. The Torah commands him to retrieve it and return it to the owner. A similar commandment is given upon encountering an animal staggering under the weight of its burden. Even if the two men are at odds with one another he is commanded to assist the owner in unburdening the animal. How is that for humanistic values! One is never permitted to ignore the plight of another. We have a responsibility toward the property of others just as we are accountable for property we own and are stewards of.

The idea of Kilayim, forbidden mixtures, is little understood, but the principle is that some things don’t mix with others. Two species of animals may not be harnessed together. They have different gaits and levels of strength and it isn’t fair to the animals to have them jointly pull a plow or a cart. Wool and flax, mixing different types of seeds when planting, these are not at all obvious and we may never understand the reasons for these Mitzvot, but the concept of mixing things which should remain distinct and apart is palatable enough and teaches us boundaries – a very important concept for human relationships.

The Torah discusses a betrothed woman who was violated by another man. If this happened ‘in the field,’ meaning in a place where she may not have had the opportunity to seek help when resisting, the act is assumed a rape and she is not viewed as one who betrayed her faithfulness. The position espoused by the Torah here assumes innocence and judges favorably unless there is clear evidence to the contrary.

An Amonite or Moabite may not join the ranks of Israel, not even a tenth generation convert may become part of the community of Israel. Today this law has no application since there is no known lineage of anybody to the ancient nations of Amon and Moav. However, the Torah gives a fascinating reason for the exclusion. “…because of the fact that they did not greet you with bread and water on the road when you were leaving Egypt…” (23:5) Incredible! They did us no harm. They merely did not advance aid to the wandering refugees of the Egyptian slavery and therefore their descendants are permanently excluded from becoming a part of the community of Israel. Amalek, a nation that actively hampered our journey in the desert, attacking us from the rear and attempting to harm us, they can become a part of the community. In fact, the Talmud attests that descendants of Sancheirev, the general who led the destruction of the Temple, were great teachers of Torah in the city of Bnei Brak. They can convert and become full members of the community but not descendants of Moav?

It’s the apathy of Amon and Moav which is so destructive. Amalek, Babylonia, Greece, Rome, these nations may have been critically anti-semitic but at least they had feelings. The feelings can change for the better but apathy is not something the Torah condones. The heirs of this apathy have no place in the community of Israel. The idea the Torah is expressing here, again in matters of human relationships, is the importance of caring. We can be for or opposed but we must have a care.

“You shall not turn over to his master a slave who is rescued from his master to you.” (23:16) A persecuted individual who seeks refuge and assylum may not be turned away and certainly not be given over to his persecutors. This needs no further elaboration. What kind of policy does the Torah expect of a country asked to provide refuge for people fleeing oppression? Should the boat refugees trying to reach Australia continue to be diverted to island countries who don’t have the facilities to absorb them?

“You shall not cause your brother to take interest…” (23:20) It is forbidden to charge interest or pay interest to a fellow Jew for a loan. An odd Mitzvah by any standard. It is the way of business to require payment for loans. Otherwise banks would all go out of business and no loans could be had! The following verse puts this to rest: “You may cause a gentile to take interest but you may not cause your brother to take interest…” Of course interest is simply a manner of doing business. It is a perfectly legitimate means of earning a living and no one would expect a loan without a charge of interest. But a fellow Jew is not to be viewed as a customer. ‘Your brother’ is what the Torah calls your fellow Jew. If a family member required a loan to prop up his business one would be crass to charge interest. Every fellow Jew should be viewed as family and therefore interest should be out of the question when extending a loan.

Each and every Mitzvah expresses the profound understanding the Torah has of human nature and needs. These are just a few, but similar ideas can be found in all Mitzvot by anyone honestly looking for them.

#August2013 #KiTetze

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