14 Elul 5776 פרשת כִּי-תֵצֵא, י”ד אלול, תשע”ו
This parashah contains more mitzvoth than any other portion; 74 to be exact, 27 that we need to do and 47 that we should not do. Moshe is at the end of his life and is frantic to tell his people as much as he can before he leaves them. In these mitzvoth we can see the beauty of the Torah which teaches that the individual is formed so that he can serve the community as opposed to the western society where community is there to serve the individual. Torah teaches us personal responsibility toward the community. Our Creator made us in His likeness and image; we are a reflection of Him unlike religion which has made their god in their likeness and image. Their gods are made with human, animal or other characteristics such as the stars, sun or heavenly bodies. This is idolatry. Our God says that there is no other god beside Him. He has no form but is ethereal. Having His likeness and image is beyond the physical. He gave us the ability to think, act and respond — responsibility. With this responsibility the Creator provided us with the important ability of having self-restraint. This is a very important quality to exercise when we are being tempted or provoked. Rabbi Shaul said that everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial.
This portion begins with the soldier who goes to war and if he sees a beautiful girl who he would like to have, he is ordered to show self restraint. This didn’t happen in any other civilization except Israel. Here we see how Torah brings us the true meaning of human rights and respect for our neighbor and even our enemies. Today we see a group of terrorists who rejoice in destroying people; they capture young girls, rape and kill them. This is the difference between what Torah teaches and these people who say that they are following the instructions of their god. What type of god do they have? Moshe is teaching us respect toward our fellow man. In this case, the soldier needed to take this girl to his home where she was to shave her head, change her clothes and be allowed to mourn the loss of her parents for one month. Anything outward that attracted him to her had to be removed so that he could see her for who she really was. If after this period he still wanted her, then he could marry her. This is a beautiful principle. It is important that women learn that their beauty needs to come from within. Women today go to extremes in their dress and expose themselves in order to attract the wrong kind of attention. The most important thing for women to learn is that her inner beauty which stems from her spiritual life is more attractive than anything she can do to the outside.
Next if a man has two wives, one who he loves and the other he doesn’t love and if the unloved wife has his first born son, this son is to be given double inheritance. The man is not to favor the son of the loved wife. It continues… if parents have a rebellious son, he is to be taken to the elders who need to stop him from destroying Israel. Our sages make the excuse for him saying that this man had gone to war and married a gentile woman. He subsequently married a Jewish woman but when the man wanted to give the inheritance to the son of his second wife, it was not permitted according to Torah. They say that the reason that his first son was rebellious was because his first wife was not part of Israel and she had led him down the wrong path. This is all supposition and I don’t buy it. It is always important to examine the principles of Torah to know right and just behavior.
Moshe speaks about the oppression of women and we see here that the Torah gives the women value equal to men. Today women’s libbers continue to protest that they are not considered equal to men in salary, position as well as being abused. Women do not realize that they hold the high position that they have today because of the Torah. At the time that the Torah was given to Moshe, women were a commodity, worth less than even cattle. They could be bought and sold. This is still happening today around the world. Girls are being bought and sold for prostitution and slavery. It is even worse today than at the time of the Torah because the principles and values of the Torah are not being upheld.
The Torah teaches us about respect; respect for your neighbor, your fellow man, and women. When the woman would get married she needed a ketubah and if she underwent a divorce she needed a get. Both of these documents were in order to protect the woman. She couldn’t be thrown in the streets. In those days women were dedicated to the home; there were no outside careers for them. If she was divorced and had no parents to take her in she would be left in a wretched state. We speak about the widow but not the divorced woman. If she was a widow her husband was gone and there were regulations about the other men in the family marrying her for protection but the divorced woman could still be provided for by her ex-husband. People don’t realize how advanced the Torah was in its principles of taking care of the woman.
If the husband wanted to get rid of his wife and he accused her of not being a virgin when she got married, her parents would have to produce the sheet with the blood from their marriage bed. If he was lying he would not only be punished, he would never be able to divorce her. If however they could not prove that their daughter was a virgin, she would be in trouble. There was a system of justice for those times.
We read here also about loaning money. We were able to charge interest to the outsider but not to those who were our own people. This is showing us that we are responsible to take care of our own community.
Next are teachings that once again relate to community. We were not to mix two different types of fiber, wool and linen, one animal and the other vegetable. They both have different strengths and when the cloth made from these fibers is washed it could not sustain its shape. This is not to be taken literally but to give us a more meaningful picture. The same can be said of not allowing the ox and the donkey to work together to pull a plow. The donkey would not be able to keep up because the ox is far stronger. Another example here is for the Israelite not to marry a pagan; in other words do not marry someone with a completely different set of beliefs because a lot of problems will arise in that marriage. All these are related.
Another regulation shown here is: do not take the eggs until the mother bird leaves the nest. What does this have to do with the others? If we can care for the least of these creatures, how much more should we have compassion for our fellow man? These are the laws of “rachamim”- mercy and they are for us to know that if we don’t have a little consciousness and feelings for the living and we only care about killing, there is something deeply wrong with us. We see this with those who worked by killing the animals for the offerings. There needed to be a time of rest or they could lose their sense of humaneness. Our Creator is warning us not to become killers but to have respect and reverence for others and this begins with the animals. Sadly today this has been lost. There are festivals in other religions and cultures where they torture the animals by stabbing them to death. If we do not show restraint we become beasts ourselves. We can see people in this world who have become barbarians no longer caring about who they murder. They don’t even care about their own life and this eventually leads to the destruction of humanity. This is what this parashah is teaching us.
This portion ends with a warning about the Amalekites. At the beginning of Genesis Cain was questioned by the Creator “where is your brother?” and he responded “Am I my brother’s keeper?” That was a rhetorical question but the answer is yes, we are each our brother’s keeper. The Torah teaches that we are responsible for each other. Moshe tells us to remember the Amalekites; they attacked us from the rear trying to destroy us for no good reason. What do the Amalekites represent? It is not about who they are as a tribe or race but as a people who were absolutely barbaric. This is what we are seeing in the Middle East today and is pure Sinat chinam – free hatred, The Amalekites represent the people who care for no one but themselves and destroy solely for the sake of destruction. The build nothing; they only tear down. Our Creator is telling us that these people do not deserve to live in our society for they will destroy us if we do not stop them. We have an example of this in our history. King Saul was told to destroy all the Amalekites but he decided he was more humane than our Creator, the Knower of all things. He kept alive the best of the women, cattle, children and King Agag, the King of the Amalekites. Due to this he lost his throne but more than that we read in the Book of Esther that hundreds of years later, there arose one of the greatest enemies of our people, Haman who was a descendant of King Agag, an Amalekite. The former leader of the PLO Arafat called himself an Amalekite.
Our Creator is against free hatred. He teaches us not to hate anyone rather that we need to help others. We do however have the right to defend ourselves from those who try to destroy us. Our life is sacred and no one has the right to take it away. This is a Torah principle. Most of the religions teach against self-restraint and responsibility. They say that if a person commits a sin or does something wrong, someone or something needs to pay for it and not necessarily the person responsible. In certain religions it is an animal or a person that takes your sin; in others it is an action or you can even pay to have the sin removed. We have become accustomed to passing the buck. They teach that someone else will pay for our sins so we don’t need to worry; that we cannot pay for our sins; it has to be someone else. Yet clearly in Deut. 24:16 it says, “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall the children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin.”
Today we have removed the responsibility for our own actions which comes with having free will. At this time of year as we make teshuva; it is not sufficient to simply say I’m sorry; we need to search within for what we have done wrong, acknowledge it, and then to make it right. Only then can the gates of heaven open to us.