Going Out to War
כי תצא למלחמה על איביך ונתנו ה’ אלקיך בידך ושבית שביו. וראית בשביה אשת יפת תאר וחשקת בה ולקחת לך לאשה
“When you will go out to war against your enemies, and the L-rd your G-d will deliver him into your hand, and you will capture his captivity. And you will see among its captivity a woman who is beautiful of form, and you will desire her, and you may take her to yourself for a wife” (Devarim 21:10-11).
The Medrash says that the battle referred to here is a milchemes hayetzer, a battle against the Evil Inclination. Why does the Torah allude to this battle by stating that one goes out? It would seem the opposite is true—when one is outside his safe environment and is confronted by the temptation to sin, he should escape inside, similar to the statement in the Talmud (Sukkah 52b) that when one sees the “repulsive one,” i.e. the Evil Inclination, he should drag him into the study hall. What, then, is the meaning of the Medrash that states that one should “go out” to battle his Evil Inclination?
It says in Isaiah (55:12), “Ki vesmicha teitzeiu,” you will “go out” with joy. The Gerrer Rebbe interprets this verse homiletically to mean that one can exit his state of depression and worries by being in a joyful state. Let us delve into this deceptively simple statement.
What is the biggest obstacle preventing a person from accomplishing his goals in this world? While some suggest it is lack of discipline and focus, there is a larger component at play. The real barrier between us and our potential accomplishments is a lack of joy.
The story is told of the chassid whose neighbor asked him about the necessity of his travels to the Rebbe. “Is it not enough,” asked the neighbor, “to pore over the chassidic and mussar (character and spiritual development) literature in your own home?” The chassid responded, “When I sit in my house with a book and begin to study, the Evil Inclination eventually gets up and begins to dance on my table, and then kicks my book open to the chapter that discusses the inherent weakness of man and how one must exert himself to overcome the Evil Inclination. Upon reading this chapter, I become forlorn and overcome with uncertainty about my ability to best the Evil Inclination. When I travel to the Rebbe, however, the Rebbe knows exactly what I am lacking and what I need to do to repair my faults. He strengthens me and gives me the tikkun, the rectification, that my soul needs.”
Similarly, in doing battle with our Evil Inclination, we need to “go out” from, or leave behind, the somber approach. While one can certainly spend time philosophizing about what is preventing him from serving G-d properly, he is nevertheless still mired in the mud of his misdeeds and character faults. When one leaves his state of depression, his joy enables him to truly serve G-d.
We are nearing the High Holy Days, when we will stand before G-d in judgment for the past year’s deeds. Although we must approach the upcoming period with awe, there must also be a sense of joy. We are confident that G-d will be kind to us in his judgment and bless us with a good year.
Lending a Hand
לא תראה את שור אחיך או את שיו נדחים והתעלמת מהם השב תשיבם לאחיך… לא תוכל להתעלם… לא תראה את חמור אחיך או שורו נפלים בדרך והתעלמת מהם הקם תקים עמו
“You shall not see the ox of your brother or his sheep or goat cast off, and hide yourself from them; you shall surely return them (literally, return shall you return them) to your brother… You are not able to hide yourself…. You shall not see the donkey of your brother or his ox falling on the road and hide yourself from them; you shall surely stand them up, with him.” (Devarim 22:1,3-4)
This week’s portion, Ki Teitzei, discusses the obligation to extend oneself to return a lost article to a fellow Jew or to lend a hand when witnessing a fellow Jew struggling to lift his animal and its burden.
One question to consider is why the phrase, “you shall not hide yourself,” is actually repeated three times in connection with these commandments and what message the Torah is attempting to convey by doing so. Rabbi Avraham Shaag (1801-1876, Hungary and Israel) notes that the repetition of this phrase teaches us that even if a person is born with negative character traits, he can uproot them by consistently acting in a way that is contrary to his natural tendencies. For example, a selfish person can conquer this trait by going out of his way to help others.
The Talmud (Bava Metzia 31a) expands on this idea by noting that the phrase, “return shall you return,” means there is an obligation to return a lost object, even if the owner has previously lost it, and you have previously returned it, and he kept losing it after it was returned – even a hundred times. According to Rabbi Shaag, there is an additional message here: that an act of kindness repeated enough times will eventually become second nature, to the point at which “you will be unable to hide yourself” from this trait.
In a similar vein, the Talmud (Baba Metzia 32a) explains that the apparently superfluous words “with him” in verse 4 means that the obligation to help lift the animal applies only when the owner assists in the effort as well. If he decides to sit on the side and say, “You have a commandment to help my animal. Go ahead, I’ll watch,” then at that point there is no obligation to help.
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (1838 -1933, known as the Chofetz Chaim) suggests that this concept applies to all spiritual endeavors. Refining one’s character, growing in wisdom, and becoming more generous, for example, do not just happen automatically. A person is obligated to take concrete steps toward self-improvement. Sitting by and saying, “G-d, help me,” without actually doing anything to move in that direction is not a recipe for success.
Rabbi Kagan used the following parable to illustrate this point:
A poor man whose financial troubles weighed on him day and night met a wealthy man known for his generosity and poured out his sorrows to him. Touched by the plight of the poor man, the wealthy man told him: “Come to my office tomorrow at noon, and I’ll provide you with enough money to relieve you of your burdens.” However, the next day came and went, and the poor man never appeared.
A day later, the wealthy man again met the same pauper on the street, and again the pauper begged him for help. The wealthy man told him, “I waited for you to come to my office yesterday, but you did not show up. Come to my office at noon tomorrow and I will help you.” Again, the poor man failed to show up.
The next day, the wealthy man met the pauper in the street yet another time. And yet again the poor man cried out bitterly for help. This time, however, the wealthy man said, “I’m sorry, but I will not be able to help you. If you do not even come to my office, I have to assume that you prefer to continue begging.”
These two lessons are really flip side of the same coin: G-d loves us and is waiting to help us in our spiritual journey through life. However, merely praying and hoping is not enough. We must do our part and take action to initiate these changes.
This idea is especially relevant in the weeks before Rosh Hashanah. This is a time when many people look forward to the coming High Holiday season as an opportunity to focus on self-improvement, helping others and reconnecting to Jewish life. At first glance, the gap between our personal vision of renewal and actually achieving it may seem quite daunting. The good news is that all we have to do is take the first step – and then another, and then another. If we do that, we are guaranteed not to be alone.
Turning Enemies Into Brothers
לא תראה את חמור אחיך או שורו נפלים בדרך והתעלמת מהם הקם תקים עמו
“You shall not see the donkey of your brother or his ox falling on the road and hide yourself from them; you shall surely stand them up, with him” (Dvarim 22:4). The Torah commands us to not to sit idly by when a fellow Jew’s donkey or ox is collapsing on the road. While it’s unlikely that any of us will meet up with collapsing ox anytime soon, a modern-day equivalent of this commandment is the obligation to help someone whose car breaks down. (In fact, many cities on the East Coast with a large Jewish population have an organization called Chaverim — Friends — with a 24-hour, free service specifically to assist anyone with car trouble.)
Now, there are many mitzvot that are mentioned elsewhere in the Torah that are repeated in Devarim (hence the prefix deut in Deuteronomy, which means second in the English name of this book of the Torah), and this mitzvah is one of them. The first time we see this commandment is in Shemot (23:5): “If you see the donkey of your enemy lying under its burden, and you might not want to help him, [but you should] make every effort to help him.” There is one significant difference between the two verses. In the earlier verse in Shemot, the Torah describes the fallen donkey of your enemy, whereas in this verse in Devarim, the Torah describes the fallen donkey of your brother. Why the transition from enemy to brother?
Rabbeinu Bachya explains that the word for love in Hebrew is ahava. The root of that word is the word hav — to give. Contrary to popular notions, we don’t love the person who gives, who sacrifices so much for us. Rather, we love the person we give so much to, and sacrifice so much for. (This explains why parents generally love their children more than the children reciprocate.)
Therefore, if someone feels that there is some love lost between him and his (or her) spouse, child, or friend, one way to help rekindle the love is to find something he can do for that person. (And if he can do it without the other person knowing that is sometimes even better!)
In my first year of yeshivah, there was an individual that really rubbed me the wrong way. Barely a day went by without him asking for some favor or borrowing something from me. I felt uncomfortable about my dislike, so I asked my rabbi what I could do about it. He said I should start doing things for him. I couldn’t find much to do that he wasn’t already asking of me, so I decided to pray that he find a wife, as I knew it was something for which he was really longing. Within a few months we became very close, and to this day remain good friends.
This helps us understand why the Torah transitions from calling the donkey owner “your enemy” to “your brother.” If the first time one sees his enemy’s donkey fallen on the side of the road he helps him despite his inner dislike, he’ll begin to develop positive feelings for that person, and he will no longer be his enemy, but will change to being like “his brother.” This is a powerful recipe for turning enemies into friends.
For Discussion Around the Shabbat Table
This week’s portion includes the prohibition of taking an ownerless bird and her eggs or young while she is still sitting on them. Instead, we are obligated to send the mother away and only then take the eggs or young. The Torah declares that the reward for performing this commandment is that “it will be good for you and will prolong your days.” (Devarim 22:6-7)
1) Only one other commandment comes with a promise of a long life: Honoring one’s parents. (Shemot 20:12) At first glance, these two commandments seem totally dissimilar and unrelated. Yet the Torah seems to draw a parallel. What possible common denominator can there be between honoring one’s parents and sending the mother bird away?
2) Nachmanides explains that the purpose of this commandment is to teach people to accustom themselves to act mercifully, while Rashi points out that this commandment can only be performed if a person happens to come upon such a nest, rather than through advance planning. If the intent is to accustom ourselves to acting mercifully, why shouldn’t we plan to do this mitzvah? How could planning ahead for its performance somehow detract from the desired outcome of becoming more merciful?
“If you build a new house, you shall make a fence for your roof, so that you will not place blood in your house if a faller falls from it.” (Devarim 22:8) This is a seemingly logical commandment to put a guard rail on one’s roof to prevent an accident. The “curve ball” is at the end of the verse. The “would be” victim of the homeowner’s personal negligence in this case is referred to as a “faller.” Rashi notes that one who falls is viewed as if he was meant to fall, and the unfortunate result was a match made in heaven between the negligent home owner and the one deserving of a fall. The Torah seems to imply that on some supernal plane, the tragic fall was no accident at all.
1) Doesn’t this notion somehow diminish the responsibility of the one who failed to secure his roof?
2) If falling victims somehow deserve their fate, why is the onus placed on the homeowner to prevent something that is ‘meant’ to happen?
A child is declared a wayward and rebellious son for stealing and gluttonously consuming meat and wine. Although none of these is itself a capital crime, Rashi explains (Devarim 21:18) that he is punished because of his future actions, for such a child will eventually murder in order to steal money to support his excessive desires. How can this be reconciled with the principle (Rashi Bereishit 21:17) that a person is only judged based on his present deeds with no concern for his future actions? (Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky quoted in Derech Sicha)
The Torah prohibits (Devarim 23:4-5) a person who is born to Jewish parents to marry an Ammonite or Moabite because they failed to give the Jewish people bread and water after the Exodus from Egypt. Why aren’t the Edomites similarly banned from marrying into the Jewish congregation for their insistent refusal (Bamidbar 20:14-21) to allow the Jews to pass through their land, even when Moses offered to purchase food and drink from them, and threat of war should they attempt to do so? (Torah L’Daas Vol. 10 by Rabbi Mattis Blum)
Q: As the Torah is the blueprint for the entire Creation, our Sages teach that it inherently contains within it hints and allusions to everything which will ever exist or occur in the universe. How is this information stored, and what does it have to say about recent and current events in Jewish history?
A: The Vilna Gaon explains that the Torah’s recounting of the episode of Creation contains the events which transpired in the first 1000 years of history, with the second 1000 years hidden in the remainder of the book of Bereishit, the third 1000 years in Shemot, the fourth 1000 years in Vayikra, the fifth 1000 years in Bamidbar, and the final 1000 years in Devarim. As Devarimcontains 10 portions (counting Nitzavim and Vayeilech as one, as they are often read together as a double portion), each portion hints to the events of one century of the 6th millennium, beginning from Devarim and ending with V’zot HaBeracha.
The majority of the years of the illustrious life of the Vilna Gaon (1720-1797), whose name was Eliyahu the son of Shlomo Zalman, fall in the 6th century of the 6th millennium, which is represented by Parshat Ki Teitzei. When asked where he, one of the greatest products of that century, is alluded to in Parshat Ki Teitzei, he immediately responded by quoting Devarim25:15, which commands us to have an אבן שלמה– honest weights and measures. The א in the word אבן is short for his name, Eliyahu, with the remaining letters – בן – meaning “the son of,” and the following word is father’s name – Shlomo!
Based on this explanation, it has been noted that the early years of the Holocaust, the greatest national tragedy in modern history, fall out in the century which is hinted to in Parsha Ki Tavo, which contains words of rebuke and terrible suffering which will befall the Jewish nation. However, consolation may be found by recognizing that we are currently living in the century which corresponds to Parshat Nitzavim-Vayeilech, which is commonly referred to as the portion of repentance. Not surprisingly, the years since World War II have seen a wave of unprecedented return to Jewish observance, precisely as predicted by the Torah. (Rabbi Ozer Alport)
Jumping Points for Discussion and Further Study
“When you go out to war against your enemy and G-d will give him in your hands and you will take a captive. And you see among the prisoners a beautifully formed woman; if you desire her, you may take her as your wife.” Devarim 21:10, 11
You may take her as your wife – The Torah does not condone this behavior, but speaks only as an antidote to man’s evil inclination, for if the Holy One, blessed is He, would not permit her, he would cohabit with her illicitly. Indeed, if he does marry her, ultimately their marriage will not be a satisfying one and he will despise her. He will also produce from her a wayward, rebellious son. This is why this chapter, and that of the wayward son, adjoins one another. – Rashi
And G-d will give him in your hands – This special permission was only granted once the battle had already been won. During the heat of the battle, it was absolutely forbidden for one to take a captive woman, for all his energies had to be channeled toward winning the war. – HeEmek Davar (Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin)
When you go out to war – This allowance was limited only to wars which were optional, not mandatory wars such as the battle to conquer the Land of Israel. – Rashi
The commentators point out that a war waged by the instructions of the Almighty carried with it a spiritual protection against illicit behavior so no such special dispensation was granted.
In Maayan Beis HaShoeiva, Rabbi Shimon Schwab zt”l explained that this parsha is not just the Torah “giving in” to the evil inclination. Rather, by making such an allowance, the Torah actually weakens the evil inclination and limits his ability to entrap a Jew in this sin. Indeed, there never actually occurred an incident of a common man availing himself of this dispensation. (There was an incident with King David – however, this was an exception based upon unique circumstance.) Rather than view this parsha as a sign of our weakness and penchant for sin, it is actually testimony to our greatness and spiritual might that we have never succumbed to one of the prevailing temptations of the battlefield.
“When you go out to war against your enemy and G-d will give him in your hands and you will take a captive.” Devarim 21:10
War against your enemy – This refers to the greatest war of all; the war against one’s Yetzer Hara [evil inclination]. Alexander the Great once returned from a war which required three years to vanquish his adversary, and encountered Aristotle who had come out to greet him. Flushed with success, Alexander was surprised to hear Aristotle proclaim, “Alexander, you’ve won the minor battle, now prepare to wage the major battle!” Unaware that further battles lay ahead, Alexander asked, “Is there a greater battle to be fought than the one I just concluded?” “Certainly,” responded Aristotle, “The war against the Evil Inclination which never ceases.” – Sifsei Kohen (Rabbi Shabse HaCohen – ShaCh, 1622-1663)
Our sages understood this verse to be speaking not only of actual war, but also of the war against the evil inclination which spends its entire existence plotting on how to mislead us into sin. This verse, they say, contains the secret of victory in that campaign. The key is to do as the verse says, “When you go out to war,” meaning that we must take the war to our enemy and not to wait for him to attack us. When we preempt the Yetzer Hara, we are far more successful at outsmarting him than when we wait for him to launch the first strike, which catches us unaware and ill-prepared to fend him off.
“When it shall be to a man a rebellious child who does not listen to the voice of his father and the voice of his mother, and they warn him, but he doesn’t respond to their admonishments.” Devarim 21:18
The voice of his father…voice of his mother – Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to say, “who does not obey the words of his father,” rather than the “voice?” A key principle of training a child to obey the will of G-d is to train him not only to listen to reason, but also to respect authority even if reasons are not provided. G-d does not always give us His reasons for why He expects us to act in a certain manner, yet we are compelled to do so regardless. This child, by refusing to respect the “voice,” (i.e. the instructions minus the rationale) demonstrates that he has rejected the concept of authority and handicapped himself for life. – Rabbi Mordechai Gifter zt”l
A rebellious child – “There never was, nor will there ever be, a classic rebellious child (who meets the strict criteria set forth by the Torah). Why then did the Torah write this law? In order that we should expound upon it and receive reward.” – Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, 71a
Rabbi Yisroel Salanter zt”l was wont to say, “Does the Torah lack for material which we can study, expound upon, and receive reward for doing so, that it needed to write an unrealistic chapter about a Rebellious Child?” He explained that while there is certainly no lack of material to study and expound upon, all of the other laws in the Torah have a practical application. Therefore, our study of those aspects of Torah, while holy and exalted, is not of the highest caliber because study of the highest caliber is attained only when it is done purely for the sake of Torah study, without any practical benefit achieved as a result. Only the laws of The Rebellious Child allow for that exalted level of study, since they have no useful application whatsoever, and are only studied for the sake of Torah study, with no possibility of personal gain involved.
PLOW WITHOUT THE OW!
“Do not plow with an ox and donkey together.” Devarim 22:10
Do not plow…ox and donkey – The same is true for any two species of animal, and for a situation in which two species are harnessed together to haul a load as well. – Rashi
Do not plow…ox and donkey – The reason behind this prohibition is that animals of two species are not of equal strength, and the Almighty had pity on the animals and did not wish to cause them undue stress. – Ibn Ezra
Do not plow…ox and donkey – The reason behind this prohibition is that animals of different species that are kept in close quarters are liable to mate with one another, and this is forbidden by the Torah. – Rabbeinu Bachya
Do not plow…ox and donkey – The reason behind this prohibition is that the ox tends to chew its cud regularly, whereas the donkey does not. Thus, the donkey will believe that the ox is eating while he is hungry, and this will cause it pain. – Baalei Tosafos
Do not plow…ox and donkey – Some of the aforementioned reasons apply only to certain situations, while others apply to different situations. Regardless, it is important to remember that the Torah does not offer reasons, and we are bidden to follow its instructions regardless of whether we understand their rationale. – Meshech Chochmah
Sefer HaChinuch [Mitzvah 550] adds that not only do we need to be concerned with the pairing up of animals of disproportionate strength, but also equal consideration must be given to humans when assigning duties to pairs to ensure that one partner will not be pulling the lion’s share of the load. This arrangement can cause great distress to both parties and should be taken into account when pairing people up.
“Your G-d was unwilling to listen to Balaam, and Your G-d turned the curse into a blessing for you, because your G-d loved you.” Devarim 23:6
Was unwilling to heed – This term indicates that Balaam had seized upon our weaknesses and could conceivably have “exposed” our flaws to the Almighty and succeeded in cursing us. His failure was due not to a weakness in his argument, but only because G-d was unwilling to listen to him. Why? Because G-d loves us and was unwilling to listen to someone malign us. – Ohr HaChaim
Turned the curse into a blessing – Do not think that Balaam only intended to curse us, but never actually did so. He cursed us, but G-d turned the curse into blessing. – HeEmek Davar
There are times that the Almighty thwarts our enemies when they seek to harm us by foiling their evil plots in one manner or another. When Balaam tried to curse us, however, He went one step further. Not only did He foil his plot, but He actually transformed the curse into blessing. Thus, the tool through which our arch-enemy intended to harm us proved to be a source of great blessing for us!
“When a man marries a woman and consummates with her, if she is displeasing to him or if he has evidence of infidelity on her part, he shall write her a bill of divorce and place it in her hand, thus releasing her from his household.” Devarim 24:1
Or if he has evidence of infidelity – In this case, it is strongly recommended that he divorce her, so that she should not find favor in his eyes, for her character is severely lacking. – Rashi
He shall write her – The verse is discussing a situation wherein the husband knows that his wife was unfaithful, but lacks the requisite evidence to prove it in Beit Din. Thus, although he is not technically obligated to divorce her, the Torah recommends it nevertheless. – Ibn Ezra (Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra, 12th century, Spain)
A bill of divorce – This bill of divorce is called a “Get.” Rabbeinu Bachya explains the reason for this name is because the numerical value of the word is 12, and the law is that a Get must be written in exactly twelve lines. It is also said in the name of the Gaon of Vilna that the letters Gimel and Tet that comprise this word are the only two letters that are never found adjacent to one another throughout the entire Torah. As such, they are symbolic of a couple that is not able to reside together in peace and harmony.
The Talmud [Tractate Gittin 90b] says, “One who divorces his first wife (i.e. the wife of his youth – Rashi), even the Altar sheds tears over him.” In Tractate Ketubot [10b], the Talmud explains that the Hebrew word for Altar is Mizbeach, and the first letter in Hebrew – Mem – stands for the words, Mazin – sustains, Maziach – gains atonement and eradicates evil decrees, Mechaper – atones for sins, because of the tremendous outpouring of blessing that resulted from the Altar. Ben Yehoyada explains that when one divorces his wife without cause, he drives the primary source of blessing out of the home and is left without a significant source of his blessing. In this manner, it is as if he has crippled his own personal Altar.
“Guard yourself against the leprosy affliction…Remember that which Hashem your G-d, did to Miriam on the road on the way out of Egypt.” Devarim 24:8, 9
Remember…did to Miriam – If you wish to take precautions regarding Tzaraat, do not speak Lashon Hara [slander], remember that which was done to Miriam who spoke against her brother (Moses) and was stricken with Tzaraat. – Rashi
Remember…did to Miriam – This is more than just a handy tip to help a person refrain from speaking Lashon Hara, as Rashi writes. Rather, it is a mitzvat asseh (positive commandment) that we must not speak slander and that we must actively remember that which occurred to Miriam when she spoke Lashon Hara against her brother, and the terrible consequences this righteous woman faced as a result. We must reflect on the fact that she spoke only a very mild form of slander, with the best of intentions, and against a person she loved and only wanted the best for. Nevertheless, her best intentions notwithstanding, she was punished heavily. Surely, we, who are far less selective in who we target with our slander, and whose motives are often less than pure, can expect to suffer for engaging in such deleterious behavior. – Ramban (Rabbi Moses ben Nachman, Nachmanides, 1195-1270)
Ramban adds that the word, “Zachor,” (remember) means that we must do more than simply think about the episode of Miriam. We must articulate it with our mouths and actively remind ourselves of the event to increase the impact of its message. This is a startling idea in the sense that we are bidden to perpetually recall Miriam’s misdeeds with no thought of the shame it will cause to her exalted memory. This can only be because the sin of slanderous speech is so great and so devastating that it overrides any consideration of her personal respect.
NO EXCEPTIONS TO THIS RULE
“Be careful with regard to leprous indicators and carefully observe its rules and be very vigilant to do all that the Kohen decides for you, as I have commanded them. Remember what G-d did to Miriam on your way out of Egypt.” Devarim 24:8,9
Be careful with regard to leprous indications – Do not remove the signs of impurity that appear upon you, and observe the Kohen’s instructions regarding isolation. – Rashi
Remember what G-d did to Miriam – Tzaraat (spiritual leprosy) comes as a result of improper speech, and one need not look further than Miriam, who was afflicted for casting aspersions on Moses.
The commentators all point out that this verse doesn’t seem to add too much to what the Torah already taught us in earlier Torah portions, in which the laws were discussed in detail. They explain that the intent of this verse is not to teach another law per se, but to emphasize the importance of enforcing the laws that we were already taught. There is no greater shame for a person than to be isolated and forced to leave the encampment as required when afflicted by tzaraat. Nevertheless, insists the Torah, we must be very vigilant about adhering to these laws, even if the person in question is of prominent stature. To this end, the verse continues with an admonition to remember what happened to Miriam. A prophetess in her own right, she was also the sister to Moses and Aaron, the King and High Priest respectively. Her royal status notwithstanding, she was publicly shamed when the entire encampment was forced to wait for her because she contracted this dreaded disease. She, like all others, was forced to endure the shame of tzaraat, because the roots of this disease are too noxious to be left alone, regardless of the victim’s status.
GLORY OF GOOD
“When you gather the fruit from your olive tree, you may not strip its glory from it [i.e. do not pick the last remaining fruit] behind you, since it must be left for the foreigner, orphan and widow…Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and that is why I am commanding you to do this thing.” Devarim 24:20-22
Do not pick the last remaining fruit – Do not remove its glory from it. From here we derive that one must not harvest the outer edge of the tree. – Rashi
Behind you – What do these words teach us? That the law of Shikchah applies (i.e. if one forgot to harvest certain olives from there tree, he may not turn back and collect them. Rather, he must leave them for the poor). – Talmud, Tractate Chullin 131b
Behind you – The seemingly superfluous presence of these words alludes to the notion of leaving these olives that are destined for the poor, to one’s inheritors instead. In this context, “behind you” refers to those who will be left after you, and the verse warns that one must give charity, and not worry about how much he will be able to leave over for his children if he supports the indigent. Don’t worry about it, says the verse. Think about the present and the fact that these people don’t have the ability to feed their own families today. What about the fact that your children may one day need your inheritance? In response to this the verse continues, “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; that is why I am commanding you to do this thing.” In Egypt, we had nothing. We were downtrodden slaves without a hope for the future. Yet, the Almighty ensured that we and our offspring had more than sufficient resources to carry us through forty years in the desert and beyond. – Kli Yakar (Rabbi Ephraim Luntshitz of Lemberg 1550-1619)
Yalkut Shimoni explains the verse as follows: “Do not act glorious or haughty toward the impoverished whom you allow into your fields to collect the olives.” Rabbeinu Bachya explains that one who gives charity has no right or reason to proclaim it to the world simply to collect accolades. That is not the way of a G-d-fearing individual who understands that this is mitzvah and not something that should be done for personal gain or honor.
Hey, I Never Knew That
The Torah prohibits accepting an Ammonite or Moabite (male) as a convert because of their cruelty and negative characteristics (Devarim 23:3). There are similar restrictions on other nations regarding conversion (e.g. Egyptians only after three generations). However, the Talmud points out that none of these genealogical, national restrictions apply since the time of Senacherib, the Assyrian Emperor. He, in the words of the Talmud, “mixed up the entire world” (Brachot 28a). His policy was to forcibly exile entire peoples so as to destroy national identity, similar to Stalin, and indeed he succeeded in obliterating the identities of many ancient peoples, who today cannot be identified as the same peoples mentioned in the Torah even if they are living in identifiable lands like Egypt and Moab (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Isurei Biah 12:25).
The Torah prohibits charging interest on a loan to a fellow Jew (Devarim 23:20). Is charging interest immoral, or is there another reason for this prohibition? The Torah juxtaposes the commandment to lend money to a Jew with the prohibition against interest (Vayikra 25:35-36). This indicates that the reason interest is prohibited is not because it is immoral. Rather, since we are required to help support other Jews and lend them money, we may not charge a fee for doing our duty. As Rabbi Hirsch states, “It is neither entirely his own money that he is lending, nor is the decision to lend entirely his own good will” (Shemot 22:24). Lending money without interest also creates a relationship in which the lender cares about the success of the borrower. Rabbi Hirsch continues, “If the prohibition is strictly kept, all capital is in itself dead and unproductive, and can only be of use by wedding it to labor… The rich man must either bring his otherwise dead capital to production by his own powers of work, or he must associate himself with the power of labor of the poor man, share profit and loss with him, and in his own interests further the interests of labor.”
Word of the Week
“When you build a new house you shall make a מעקה —ma’akeh for the roof” (Devarim 22:5). Onkelos translates ma’akeh as a “container” or “bag” which as Rashi understands it is something designed to protect that which is within, in other words a guard-rail, so people do not fall. Ibn Ezra and Rashbam write that they could find no similar words to this in the Torah, although Rashbam relates it to the word עקה—akeh which means to “oppress” (Psalms 55:4) or “encumber” (Amos 2:13). Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch also relates it to akeh which he understands as “enclose” or “press in.” Legally it is defined as a barrier or wall at least 10 handbreadths high (Bava Batra 61a).
“Do not wear שעטנז — shaatnez — wool and linen together” (Devarim 22:11). Rashi (ibid and Vayikra 19:19) translates שעטנז as mixture, and maintains that the root is נוז — nuz — “something mixed together and intertwined.” He also quotes the Mishnah(Kilayim 9:8) which interprets the word as an acronym for שוע, טווי, ונוז — “shua, tavuy, venuz” — “joined, spun and woven.” It appears from the Mishnah that the Biblical prohibition only applies if the wool and linen are “joined, spun, and woven” together. Nachmanides (Vayikra 19:19) relates the word to נלוז — niloz — twisted, indicating that the threads are twisted together. Rabbi David Kimchi lists this word as one of the only Hebrew words to have a five-letter root, as opposed to the vast majority of Hebrew words which have three-letter roots.
“You must not keep in your house two different measures, one large and one small” (Devarim 25:14). One must not have inaccurate weights and measure in one’s home, even if one is not planning on using them for business (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Theft, 7:3). Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Weiss was asked if it is permitted to allow children to play with real scales and measuring devices that are inaccurate. He responded that it is only permitted if the parents affix a note or sign to the measuring device that it is not accurate and should not be used for any transactions (based onBava Batra 89b). However, he cites authorities who permit owning an inaccurate measuring device that is obviously a toy, or one that is clearly only used for cooking and not for transactions (Responsa Minchat Yitzchak 10:149).
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein was asked if smoking marijuana was permissible. He responded that it is forbidden and gave a number of reasons. First he mentions both the physical and mental health risks of marijuana as sufficient reason to forbid its use. Also, if marijuana use is illegal by state law, then Jewish law requires obedience to that law, and hence it would be prohibited by Jewish law. He also assumes that one’s parents would object, and hence the obligation of respect for parents would also forbid its use. He then cites the case of the “rebellious son” from our parsha, who is described by the Talmud as being addicted to meat and wine, which will inexorably lead him into a life of crime (Sanhedrin 70a). Rabbi Feinstein maintains that the case of the “rebellious son” teaches us a Biblical prohibition against engaging in addictive behavior and consuming addictive substances (Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah 3:35).
Parsha at a Glance
This week’s portion, Ki Teitzei, includes 74 commandments, covering a wide range of areas of importance to the Jewish people as they prepare to enter and settle the Land of Israel according to Torah Law. It begins with the commandment regarding the wartime capture and treatment of one whom is referred to as “the woman of beautiful form.” In a very unusual commandment, the Torah permits a Jewish soldier to capture and later marry a non-Jewish woman, which under normal circumstances is strictly forbidden.
The reason for this allowance is that the Torah recognizes that a person’s state of mind during warfare is radically different and must be taken under consideration. Were it not for this allowance, the Torah understands that the soldier, in the heat of passion, would take this woman, despite the prohibition. Severe limits are placed on what he can and cannot do. For example, he must bring the woman into his home for a month, where she is not allowed to dress attractively and must conduct herself in an extended state of mourning. If, after this period of time, the man still wants to marry her, he may do so. If not, he must send her away in a dignified manner. He may not sell her for money or keep her as a slave.
Despite granting this leeway, the Torah warns that permanently bringing such a woman into one’s household will not lead to a happy ending. It indicates this by immediately proceeding to discuss the laws of the Wayward and Rebellious Son, who is put to death in his youth on the grounds that he is showing clear signs of becoming an irredeemable danger to society. At a young age, the boy is already stealing from his parents to buy and consume a large amount of meat and alcohol. Additionally, he is oblivious to repeated threats and warning. The commentator Rashi points out that if this young boy starts out this way, he will eventually rob and murder others to feed his habit. Therefore, the decision is made to put him to death before he loses all merit. (Rashi, Devarim 21:18)
The portion next moves to discuss the laws of showing proper concern for others’ property, including returning a lost article and helping one’s fellow Jew lift an animal that is sagging under his burden.
Additional commandments include the prohibition against women wearing men’s clothing and vice versa; the commandment of sending the mother bird away from her nest when collecting her eggs; and the construction of a protective fence on one’s roof, so that one’s property does not become the scene of tragedy.
The portion also covers the laws of how the court should rule in cases of suspected adultery. Should a man falsely accuse his bride of being unfaithful, and he is proved to be a liar, he must indemnify the father and is not permitted to divorce his wife any more. However, if the accusation is proved to be true, her act carries the death penalty, as is true with any case of adultery.
The portion discusses the laws concerning rape, as they apply to a betrothed girl or a single girl (e.g. adultery), as well as who may not marry into the Jewish people. Ammonite and Moabite men may not do so, because of their ill treatment of the Jewish people as they left Egypt. Egyptians and those descended from Edom, however, may marry into the Jewish people after three generations. Edom is a brother; Egypt allowed the Jewish people to dwell there.
After discussing the laws of proper personal conduct while on a military campaign, including making sure that there are proper facilities and equipment to deal with human waste, the Torah states several prohibitions: one may not turn over an escaped slave to his master; promiscuity must not be allowed, for both girls and boys; loans may not be given with interest; and one should not delay in fulfilling a vow made to G-d in terms of offerings, charity or other good deeds.
The portion then turns to commandments that are directed toward the rights and practices necessary for the harmonious functioning of society. These include the laws of divorce and remarriage; the death penalty associated with kidnapping; a warning not to engage in gossip or slander; to treat those who borrow money with dignity; timely payment of workers; sensitivity in dealing with the widow or orphan; and ensuring that the poor will benefit from gifts from the harvest.
The Levirate marriage, a subject of much discussion in the Talmud, is also included in this week’s portion. Should a man marry and die before having children, the Torah calls for the oldest brother to marry his deceased brother’s widow, or perform a form of divorce, which will allow her to marry someone else. The reason for this law is to allow the deceased brother’s name and inheritance to be carried on among the Jewish people.
The portion also includes an injunction to maintain honest weights and measures in business dealings, denouncing those who fail to do in the strongest possible terms.
This week’s portion concludes with one of the central principles of Jewish faith, which is to remember what Amalek did to the Jewish nation when they left Egypt – attacking from behind, when the nation was weak and exhausted. The Jewish people are commanded to wipe out the memory of Amalek from under Heaven, never to forget.