Ki Tetze

 

5755



The definition of what is "religious" shifts throughout different societies, in different lands, and through the ages. In antiquity, being "religious" meant offering sacrifices. Though most sacrifices, like those of Cain and Abel, were of live stock and the fruit of the field, it was also not uncommon to offer children, women, and prisoners taken in war. These were made the "special" gifts to the gods. In the days of the people Israel living in their land, it meant being aware of God’s presence, by bringing animal sacrifices to the Temple in Jerusalem at the designated times.

By the Second Temple period, a new emphasis, one of ritual purity and of obedience to a growing oral tradition, became the defining feature of Judaic (Rabbinic and post Scriptural) religiosity, which the Rabbis of the Talmud extended into an emphasis on the performance of mitzvot and on study as a religious act. Long before the Temple was destroyed, the sacrifice rituals had become secondary to the performance of mitzvot. Thus we understand the teaching of Rabban Yokhanan ben Zaka’y, that Gmilut Khasadim, the doing of acts of loving kindness, have the same expiating power as the offering of the atonement sacrifices.

In the medieval period, study and ritual purity remained important, but they were refocused through the lenses of Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism. Finally in the early modern age, social justice (for some) and celebration through song and dance (for others) often competed with the earlier identifying features of religiosity. It is only the most fundamentalist who cling to the desire to return to a time when sacrifices of burnt offerings were made on the altar in the Temple.

Jews today have inherited this range of different ways of being religious, from offerings of alms to segregating themselves in a "community for God," to social justice; from prayer and study to dance and fervent song, from purity ritual (of imersion) to the performance of mitzvot. There are many paths of piety rooted in thousands of years of Jewish tradition.

On the other hand, America today seems to offer two primary modes of religion: Either literalist obedience to a sacred book (found most strongly in evangelical Christianity) or in New Age neo-ignorance (found in male drum smacking and women’s witch conventicles). In both cases, what American spirituality avoids is the bodily reality of human existence. Too much of American spirituality assumes that "spirit," a concept originating in Greek thought and transferred to Pauline Christianity, is the opposite of "body". Spirit, we are told, is good, pure, and eternal. Body is bad, corrupt and ephemeral.

Given that understanding of spirit, it is no wonder that the wide range of American spiritual movements tend to help free people from the traps of their own bodies and drives. Cults from eastern religions and from the latest fad all unite in an effort to help us transcend our bodies.

How surprising, then, to look back over the list of Jewish spiritual responses and see how solidly rooted in bodies they all are. Judaism is a corporeal religion. We know that a spirituality that doesn’t redeem the body with it is merely an escape, and one doomed to failure in the end.

That emphasis on the body surfaces in today’s Torah portion in the unlikeliest place: If a man is guilty of a capital offense and is put to death, and you impale him on a stake (after his having already been executed), you must not let his corpse remain on the stake overnight, but must bury him the same day. For an impaled body is an affront to God: you shall not defile the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess.

Why is an impaled body an offense against God? Wouldn’t the humiliated corpse serve a valuable preventative function, since all who saw it would resolve not to commit a similar offense? If so, it

should be a good thing to leave the body hanging. In the Arab world this is, in fact done. You can watch executions by hanging on Television, and the bodies, which are hung in the city square, are left there for a number of days.

Besides, the person isn’t the same as the body anyway! The body is relatively unimportant, like a used set of clothing that no longer fits. So who cares about how the body is treated?

Apparently, the Torah doesn’t accept that trivialization of the body. Rashi adds to the Torah that "it is a slight to the King (God), because humanity is made in the likeness of God’s image and lsrael are God’s children. This may be likened to two twin brothers who resembled each other. One became a king while the other was seized as a criminal and was hanged. Whoever saw him exclaimed, "The king is hanged!"

This shocking comment implies that our resemblance to God is more than just spiritual, that even our bodies reflect the divine image, and therefore deserve reverence and respect. In Midrash Vayikra Rabbah, the great sage Hillel compares keeping our bodies clean to maintaining a statue of a king. He comments that "bathing the body is an obligation, since we are created in the image of the Ruler of the world." This teaching has helped maintain the health of the Jews, for who bathing was a religious ritual, in a time of dirt and desease. For that same reason, Jewish tradition prohibits cremation as undignified to the body of the deceased, and Talmudic tradition affirms a physical resurrection of the dead.

One need not share every Talmudic belief about the afterlife to recognize great wisdom in preserving a sense of awe and gratitude for the human body. In an age awash in self-destructive drugs, lack of exercise and poor nutrition, respect for our bodies is dangerously low on our agenda.

Biblical and rabbinical tradition maintain that our bodies reflect God’s image and therefore command respectful maintenance. In addition, our bodies are not our property, but God’s. We use them, as the tenants and stewards of God’s possessions. But ultimately, our bodies must be returned, well-tended, to their original Owner.

Is there a connection between the trivialization of the body in American spirituality and the callous disregard for bodies in American life? One has to wonder if the reason we have so little regard for the demise of thousands upon thousands in foreign lands due to war and hunger and natural catasrophes is not somehow connected to this Greek separation of the body and the spirit, and the "devilization" of the body. Let’s get back to basic, and put things where they should be -- we are his creation -- body and soul!
 

 

Ki Tetze 5756



The second Shabbat in the month of Elul continues the preparations, or the "count-down" if you please, to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Time of Judgement. It is interesting to note that the three portions left for us to read are "Ki Tetze," "Ki Tavo" and "Nitzavim" (which this year is combined with Va'yelekh). Why is that? The first week's portion is "as you start out;" the second is "as you come;" the last is "you are now standing" -- so in these last three weeks before the High Holiday period we begin a journey, we arrive at our destination, and we stand ready to face the court.

The preparations for coming before the court also involve a reevaluation of our values. Thus, this weeks portion teaches us some basic concepts of human decency -- dealing with an issue that is so much with us today: the rights of women. One must remember that a few short years ago women had no legal or social standing in many societies -- and yet we have one mitzvah after another that enfranchise women and protects them from injustice and disregard. We learn about "tough love," when we have to face the fact that a child is undeserving of his parents love and protection because he or she has become corrupt in his behavior. We read a simple single verse, "You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together."

[Deu.22:10] In this one simple verse we find the whole principle of prevention of cruelty to animals. One can almost read this verse as a commentary, not a law. It is only natural, the spirit of the text implies, that you shall not allow disparity between the animals which would cause them suffering.

There is one more issue that is dealt with in this week's portion, and it is the matter of various categories of people who are forbidden from becoming full-fledged members of the Jewish community. This tends to be a controversial issue in our days, as the orthodox community prefers to allow do converts or very few converts, and as a few in the Reform movement opt to "convert" people to Judaism with no restrictions what-so-ever of knowledge or of preparation and plans for Jewish living. The Torah text says, "No Ammonite or Moabite shall be admitted into the congregation of the Lord; none of their descendants, even in the tenth generation, shall ever be admitted into the congregation of the Lord, because they did not meet you with food and water on your journey after you left Egypt, and because they hired Balaam son of Beor from Petor in Aram-Naharayim to curse you." [Deut. 23:4,5] We read further, "You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your kinsman. You shall not abhor an Egyptian, for you were a stranger in his land. Children born to them may be admitted into the congregation of the Lord in the third generation." [23:8,9] Finally we read, "Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way, when you were faint and weary, and struck down all who lagged behind you; he did not fear God. Therefore when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies on every hand, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; do not forget." [Due.25:17-20]

We may well ask: Why are the Egyptians to get better treatment than the Ammonites and Moabites? They enslaved us, and oppressed us brutally. By comparison, the bad behavior of the Ammonites and Moabites seems rather mild! And why should a loving and forgiving God be so harsh on the Amalekites -- after all, they engaged us in war, and war is hell, in Sinai as in Georgia...

Our sages remind us that the Ammonites and Moabites were descended from Lot's daughters, and, in fact, owed their existence to Avraham Avinu, the Partriarch Abraham , for whose sake Lot and his family were saved by the angels. Thus the Ammonites and Moabites, by not providing elementary desert hospitality to the descendants of Abraham, were guilty of gross ingratitude. The Egyptians, on the other hand, did not owe the Jews anything. The Jews were just another nation to them. Hence, reprehensible as their behavior was, they were not guilty of this terrible sin, ingratitude.

Commentary tells us that God began the revelation at Sinai with the declaration: "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage" (Exod. 20:2). Why did God say that? Why not, for example, "I am the God who created the world"? For that matter, why put anything here at all? We should be satisfied with the knowledge that He is God, The One and Only, and should listen regardless of what He has done for us. Commentary says, the basic reason to accept God, and follow His commandments, is out of appreciation for what He has done for us!

To love God with all your heart, to serve Him with all your might, to worship God properly, one does not have to be a great scholar, or a mystical kabbalist, steeped in secret ceremonies, chants and amulets. The thing one need to have is an appreciation, and gratitude, for His deeds. This also explains why the Torah does not command us to treat the Egyptians harshly -- for we were once guests in their land, at their invitation, and it did not always go badly with us there, and we should be grateful for this. So our whole relationship with the Ammonites and Moabites, and with the Egyptians, hinges on this concept of gratitude.

Their character trait of ungratefulness must be rejected and never be integrated into the Jewish nation. There is something so perverse about ungratefulness that it leads to evil -- hence they hired Balaam to curse their "relatives" -- only to be rid of them and not feel obliged anymore. Because the Amonites and Moabites were, none-the-less, related to Abraham, the Torah insists merely that Israel must shun them, to avoid "contamination" with their negative character trait.

Now, when it comes to the Amalekites, the issue is different, and quite clear to see and understand. The Amalekites were guilty of consummate hatred, even an attempts at annihilation. They attacked the weak, the stragglers, the old and the frail. They showed no pity, and sinned by not fearing God -- and his judgement. Thus the Torah tells us that they must eventually be eradicated. Their character flaw is wickedness -- a flaw which can rarely be altered. In the same manner that we know today that pernicious cancer has to be removed even at a loss of it human host-flesh -- so also, God Himself, with all his qualities of mercy and lovingkindness, informs us to excise them, eradicate them completely. Their evil will pursue us even if we should attempt to merely avoid contact with them.
 
 

The warning concerning the Amalekites ends with the words, "Lo tishkakh -- you shall not forget." This warning applies not only to the Amalekite subject, but to all that we are taught in this week's lesson. We must learn well and never forget who we are, who we can associate with, who we must avoid -- and who are our mortal enemies. With each group we should interact as the Torah prescribes -- and we shall live long and prosper. Amen
 
 


 Ki Tetze 5757





Last week I mentioned that we were celebrating the first Shabbat in the month of Elul, the month of preparation for the High Holidays, the time of God's judgement of all of His creation. It is interesting to note that even the names of the four portions read during the month of Elul give an indication of the time of year that we are in:

We begin with Shoftim, which means 'judges.' The first verse says, "You shall appoint judges and officials throughout your gates." [Deu. 16:18] For the month of Elul we see this as a call to accept the sovereignty of God as our judge. It is incumbent upon us, as Jews, to place a mezuzah on our door, proclaiming His rule within the household through whose portals we proceed.

Once we accept God as judge, it is time for us to begin a journey of self discovery and self realization -- and the second portion of the month, which is this week's portion, is called "Ki Tetze," meaning 'when you set out.' The first words of this portion are, "When you go out to war against your enemies" [Deu. 21:10] What is the greatest and toughest war we have to wage all our lives for our life? The battle between 'yetzer tov' -- the good inclination and 'yetzer ra' -- the evil inclination. This battle, of course, is brought into focus precisely at the time of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

The third portion of the month is called "ki Tavo," which means 'when you come or arrive.' All journeys must eventually come to an end, and the important thing is to arrive at one's destination. Parshat "ki Tavo" begins as follows, "When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess," [Deu. 26:1] and relates to our time because it speaks not only of the physical, 'land,' that our forefathers were about to enter -- but also of the spiritual, 'inheritance,' which pertains not only to the land of Canaan, but to Torat Moshe, as we read, "Torah tziva lanu moshe morasha kehilat Yaakov -- Moses charged us with the Torah, an inheritance for the congregation of Jacob." [Deu. 33:4] It is this "inheritance" we must claim and make our own.

Once we 'arrive,' we are ready for the last Shabbat before the Days of Awe, and we read the portion is "Nitzavim," meaning standing with due attention, and the Torah reading begins with, "You stand assembled today, all of you, before the LORD your God." [Deu 29:9] Having travelled the road of self search and arrived at the destination of our spiritual "home" of the spiritual heritage of Israel, we stand before God to be judged, to be forgiven our shortcomings, and to be blessed with a good and fruitful year.

So, now that you see the 'tryptic' of our journey this month, let's concentrate on this week's experience in Ki Tetze. The first issue that the Torah deals with is the humanity of the Jew. It bids us treat with kindness and fairness a war captive woman -- who in the time of the writing was considered possibly as less important than a horse or a sheep. The Torah rules that if this captive is to become a mistress to the captor, she must be treated as any other concubine or wife. This establishes a standard of humane behavior that is then extended to other issues between man and his wife. The whole category of relations between men and women was very important in Judaism, in contrast with societies that came before it -- and after it as well.

Actually, the greatest threat to the survival of Judaism came in its conflict with Greek culture in the days of Alexander the Great and the leaders of the Greek world that followed him. The Greeks tended to divide 'man' into two parts, different and distinct from one another: body and spirit. They further taught that man needs to rejoice in the body, and the gods concern themselves with the spirit. Thus 'body' and 'spirit' became opposites. This concept which originated in Greek thought was transferred to Pauline Christianity, and in time influenced Judaism, too. Spirit, we are told, is good, pure, and eternal. Body is bad, corrupt and ephemeral. In a further slander and return to the attitude of male dominance, it was suggested that woman is a temptress and that she, and the men she influences, must somehow be freed from the trap of their own bodies and drives. These days, monastic cults from eastern religions and from the latest 'gurus' and fad-leaders all unite in an effort to help us transcend our bodies.

Within Judaism, we have accepted the idea that the woman's menses is somehow a 'curse' from God that renders the woman unclean and outside the pale. Fundamentalist ultra-orthodox Jews who put women down as a standard practice, shun them particularely when they are in this condition. They explain their exclusion of women from the company of men, especially during prayer, by suggesting that men can be tempted by the presence of a woman, or even by merely hearing her voice -- and stray from the 'spiritual' aspect of prayer to the 'physical' thoughts of lust. Phewy to them, and shame to those who have so little respect of fellow human beings and their own ability to avoid straying from the path of communing with God.

We Jews have inherited a wide range of different ways of being religious, from offerings of tz'daka to the poor to segregating ourselves in a "community for God," to political activities for the sake of social justice; from prayer and study to dance and fervent song, from purity ritual (of immersion) to the performance of mitzvot. There are many paths of piety rooted in thousands of years of Jewish tradition. We need not fall into the trap of acting unjustly just to be like our neighbors. If we look back over the list of Jewish spiritual responses, we shall see how very solidly rooted in bodies they all are. Judaism is a corporeal religion. We know that a spirituality that doesn’t redeem the body with it is merely an escape, and one doomed to failure in the end.

To make the point of this 'body and soul' issue, we need only look to the Torah text. Listen, "When someone is convicted of a crime punishable by death and is executed, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse must not remain all night upon the tree; you shall bury him that same day, for anyone hung on a tree is under God's curse. You must not defile the land that the Lord your God is giving you for possession." [Deu. 21:22-23] What is the purpose of an execution? It is the ultimate punishment -- one who commits a certain crime cannot be allowed to continue to live amongst the rest of society. It is also an object lesson -- this is what is done to one who transgresses! All society will take note and avoid this offensive behavior.

Why does the Torah say that a body left hanging after sunset is an offense against God? Wouldn’t the humiliated corpse serve as an object lesson, and a valuable preventative function, since all who saw it would resolve not to commit a similar offense? One would think that it should be a good thing to leave the body hanging, and the Torah that allows hanging should also allow the body to remain. In the Arab world this is, in fact, quite the normal practice. We all remember, to our great sorrow, watching the execution of Eli Cohen, Israel's master spy, by hanging on Television, and the body, which was hung in the city square, was left there for a number of days. Besides, the person isn’t the same as the body anyway! The body is relatively unimportant, like a used set of clothing that no longer fits. So why should anyone care, least of all God, about how the body is treated?

Well, the Torah doesn’t accept this trivialization of the body. Rashi interprets the Torah passage by saying that "it is a slight to the King (God), because humanity is made in the likeness of God’s image and lsrael are God’s children. This may be likened to two twin brothers who resembled each other. One became a king while the other was seized as a criminal and was hanged. Whoever saw him exclaimed, "The king is hanged!"

This shocking comment implies that our resemblance to God is more than just spiritual, that even our bodies reflect the divine image, and therefore deserve reverence and respect. If this is true of all humanity, it is even more emphatically true of women. While the Torah tells us that "male and female created He them," [Gen. 1:27] it also say that God saw that man was alone, and that therefore he fashioned woman out of his rib, to make her "at last... bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh." [Gen. 3:23]

Is there a connection between the trivialization of the body in American spirituality and the callous disregard for the rights of women, and by extension of other minorities, in American life? One has to wonder if the reason we have so little regard for the demise of thousands upon thousands in foreign lands due to war, hunger and natural catastrophes is not somehow connected to this Greek separation of the body and the spirit, and the "demonizing" of the body. Let’s get back to basic, and put things where they should be -- we are all His creation -- body and soul! Rejoice in the spirit, the neshana that He has placed within our body, and rejoice in the body that is the vessel for the neshama. Above all, recognize that God's blessing and his love is universal and know no bounds, no discrimination between genders, skin pigmentation or variance from human norms in physical or behavioral manifestations. Amen
 
 


Ki Tetze 5759





Dear friends, I must repeat and confess my love for our ancient tradition and the book that is its source. Look at the reading in the Torah for the last three weeks: We started two shabbatot ago by giving everyone a choice: "Behold I have placed before you a blessing and a curse..." Then, last week, we spoke of the need for a completely just society: "Tzedek, tzedek tirdof -- Righteousness and only that -- 'tzedek,' shall you pursue..." The prescription for a great society comes to its logical conclusion in this week's portion, which deals in issue after issue with the rights of women! And to think that some people think of Judaism as archaic and outdated! Or much worse, as sexist!

To begin with, we must understand and give credit to the fact that our Torah is thirty five hundred years old. At the time when it was given it would have been impossible to use the concepts, the laws or even the language that we use today. Life was much more of a struggle in those times, and society was much more structured for the greater good of the kind of groups that could be protected not only in society but from society. In those days there was no such thing as a nuclear family -- people lived in the extended family or clan circle. In this kind of a group, as in the world of nature, there was always a "dominant male" who ruled over the entire group. Women, because of their physical limitation of being less muscular than the male, were obviously less powerful in the social structure. Judaism, to the best of my knowledge, was the first society that made a policy of protecting women and giving them not only 'security' but also dignity and equality.

This week's portion, Ki Tetze, deals with many issues of women's rights, from the first subject mentioned, that a woman who is taken prisoner in war has the same rights as any 'bride' in Israel, if her captor wishes to take her as a bed-mate. A bedded woman, the text adjudicates, is in fact a wife. The next subject deals with a man who has two wives, the first hated and the second loved, and how the rights of the hated wife and her first born son are protected; next we read about matters of a 'betrothed' or 'promised' woman, the subject of the good name of a woman whose husband stops caring for; the guilt of a man as well as the woman in extramarital relations; and rape in town and in the field.

In all these discussions, one must recognize the time when the matter was stated. To try and bring these issues up today and critique them for lack of sensitivity to the needs and predicaments of being a female in our male dominated and sex oriented society does injustice to the spirit and history of Judaism. There are a number of issues that are raised these days by militant feminists that are really nor relevant to the issue. One of these is the matter of the 'gender' of God. There are many feminists who are offended by words such as 'Adona'y,' 'elohim,' 'shada'y' and others in the Hebrew, and "Lord" in particular in the English. This is really a spurious issue, in my mind, since the definition of God, in Judaism in particular, defies any gender relations, as we believe that God is not manifest as a physical entity of any kind, and therefore cannot be view by 'male chauvinists' nor by 'militant feminists' as being either a male or a female. The latter group must not fall into the trap of wishing to compensate for past transgressions of a male dominated society by changing the nomenclature and definition of the deity as female (e.g. -- calling God "shekhina," a feminine noun, or referring to God as 'she.').

This week's portion is called "Ki Tetze," meaning 'when you set out.' The first words of this portion are, "When you go out to war against your enemies" [Deu. 21:10] What is the greatest and toughest war we have to wage all our lives for our life? The battle between 'yetzer tov' -- the good inclination and 'yetzer ra' -- the evil inclination. This battle, of course, is brought into play not only in time of national strife, but at any time when we allow an issue to dominate our whole being, to the exclusion of all other issues, even to the exclusion of logic. We are what we are, and our history is set and cannot be changed. One does not compensate for past errors, nor is there place for tipping the scale in the other direction. Past errors must be redressed, and the path of 'tzedek' must be found and followed. Only in this manner will we bring about "tikun olam," the repair of our world.

Amen.
 
 




Ki Tetze 5760



This week’s portion of the Torah, Deuteronomy 21:10 to 25:19, begins with a teaching concerning the rights of women: “When you go forth to war against your enemies, and the Lord your God has delivered them into your hands, and you have taken them captive, And see among the captives a beautiful woman, and desire her, that you would have her as your wife; Then you shall bring her home to your house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails; And she shall take off the garment of her captivity, and shall remain in your house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month; and after that you shall go in to her, and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. ” [Deu. 21:10-13] Even an ‘enemy’ woman has the right to her personhood. Though she was captured in battle, she may not be physically abused. If a man desire his captive, he must treat her as a wife. This passage gives us the name for the portion, “Ki Tetze,” meaning ‘when you go out.’ Next we read of a different issue relating to marriage in ancient time: “If a man has two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son is hers who was hated; Then it shall be, when he makes his sons inherit that which he has, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, who is indeed the firstborn; But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he has; for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his. ” [Deu. 21:15-17] Here, again, the rights of the “first” wife, though she is no longer the beloved (and we must assume she was loved once, else why was she betrothed?), must be preserved, through the inheritance of her offspring. Next we come to a passage that contains one of the most strict and seemingly cruel instructions that the Torah teaches: “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son, who will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and who, when they have chastened him, will not listen to them; Then shall his father and his mother lay hold of him, and bring him out to the elders of his city, and to the gate of his place; And they shall say to the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die; so shall you put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear. ” [Deu 21:18-21] The great sages argued back and forth over the generations about this one. They asked, “how terrible is the action of a ‘ stubborn and rebellious son, who will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother’ that he be deserving of a death sentence?” The text says that he would be “ a glutton, and a drunkard” which most assuredly is not a capital crime!

Some commentators suggest that “ a glutton, and a drunkard” is a person addicted to eating rich foods and drinking cheap wine. His habit would be so costly as to render his parents to become poor. Such a person would then become a burden on society, since he will not be able to sustain himself in the manner he got used to in his parents home, and eventually will stray into a life of crime to “support his habit.” Once he arrives at this stage, he would become a menace to society and could commit a violent crime, including murder, to help sustain his craving. The commentary suggests, therefore, that the severity of the punishment is merely “putting the cart before the horse.” “You know that he will eventually commit the crime, so why not take him out of the equation ahead of time, and avoid the crime from happening.” In other words, the execution is merely an act of crime prevention.

Others comment in a different vein altogether. They point out to the text, “ Then shall his father and his mother lay hold of him, and bring him out to the elders of his city” and say: “What parents are going to lay hands on their child and bring him as a lamb to slaughter?” Therefore, they argue, the purpose of this passage is to impress upon parents that they must take special care during the formative years of a child’s character, to insure that they rear him in such a manner that he would not ever get to become “ a glutton, and a drunkard,” and would not put them in the unenviable position of parents who have to, God forbid, condemn their own child to extinction. Today this type of action by parents is called “tough love” – when they have to deny their child what might be considered parental assistance – because it would be bad for the child and addictive in nature.

May God help us in the rearing of our children, to make sure that we teach them to love God and live in harmony with al of His creation.
 
 

Amen
 

Ki Tetze 5761



This week we read in the Torah the portion of Ki Tetze, which is found in the book of Dvarim, Deuteronomy 21:10 to 25:19.  It begins with a teaching that has ramification concerning the rights of women as well as how one conducts himself/herself in war.  Listen: “When you go forth to war against your enemies, and the Lord your God has delivered them into your hands, and you have taken them captive, And see among the captives a beautiful woman, and desire her, that you would have her as your wife;  Then you shall bring her home to your house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails;  And she shall take off the garment of her captivity, and shall remain in your house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month; and after that you shall go in to her, and be her husband, and she shall be your wife.” [Deu. 21:10-13] Notice that it mentions taking captives.  This teaches us that they were not required to annihilate their enemies.  If you capture an enemy, even an ‘enemy’ woman, the right to personhood must be considered.  Though she was captured in battle, she may not be physically abused.  If a man desire this captive, for a close personal relationship - he must treat her as a wife, not as a piece of “enemy property.”  This teaches us a very important lesson by inference also about how the Israelites treated their own women.
Which takes me by one quick hop and skip to the news of the week - and the Durban, South Africa conference on racism under the auspices of the United Nations, which was highjacked by the Arab and Moslem nations.  Thank God for the Jewish activists in this country and in Israel who made us aware in time of the danger that lurks in the seemingly forthright ideal of this conference.  Thank God for all those who warned and made our government and our President aware that this was NOT the kind of forum we want to attend.

After all, look at who is coming to Durban to see just how concerned they are about racism and human rights.  First, consider the hosts.  For sure, the blacks of South Africa have had a lost and sad history of being persecuted and shunned in some two centuries of British and other European colonial rule.  However, as often happens, the victims of yesteryear become the predators of our today and tomorrows.  Nelson Mandela, who was supported by most if not all the Jews of his country, and whose release was hailed by the State of Israel, has turned a blind eye to Arab aggression against the Israelis and the Jews.  I believe that he was blinded by the skin color of the contestants - the Arabs’ is darker than the European Jews - though Arabs have been slave hunters in Africa, and though blacks are often discriminated against in Arab and Moslem lands.
 Next we have to think of the Arabs.  Ah, yes, the noble Arabs, sheiks of desert fame, noble warriors and great lovers.  Or are they?  Their religion teaches them to be dishonest in relation to others.  “The end justifies the means.”  You don’t have to live up to promises if you are strong enough to break them.  You make treaties to defeat your enemies, and you don’t have to live by the treaties beyond the moment when you can survive and overcome their abrogation.  This is the way they conquered the ancient world in the time of the rise of Islam, and this is the way they have lived ever since.  Churchill said of the Germans, “the Hun is always at your throat or licking your boots.”  Well, the huns must have taught a thing of two to the Moslems - or was it vice versa?

As for Islam, away from Arabia – it is not much better, either.  Look at how the Iranians broke every rule of international convention in attacking the U.S. embassy in Teheran; look at the Moslems of Indonesia and how they raped and plundered the people of East Timor.  Look at the continued strife and total lack of civility in Chechnia, Bangladesh, Afghanistan.  Think of million of women who live in daily peril in the homes of their fathers or their husbands - if they are lucky enough not to be sold into slavery or prostitution, two institutions that flourish in the Moslem world as no where else on earth.  Think also of the millions, yes, millions of victims of fanatical Islam, killed in Sudan, in Lybia, in the Pacific islands, Indonesia and Micronesia.  Which way to the head of the class of Racism and perversion of human rights?

And, let us not forget the second most populated nation in the world, which prides itself on its democracy.  I am referring to India.  The land of Ghandi and of Nehru, the sainted leaders of the non-violence movement of the first half of the twentieth century.  India, where the cast system still discriminated against some fifteen percent of the huge population, because of family.  If you are born to the family of “untouchables,” you should consider moving to Europe or the U.S. – or committing suicide!   It is not a great human achievement to be an untouchable in India.

So, dear gentle folks who are coming to Durban to review Racism - consider if you please, that a people who has survived two thousand years of exile and close to four thousand years of persecution, racial and other kinds, and who wish to live in peace but will not succumb to blackmail and racism is not racist - it is merely more involved in survival than in the kindness to strangers business.  A hundred years ago we stretched am arm to embrace our neighbors.  Ten years ago we offered a hand of friendship.  These days we look with suspicion at everyone who comes our way whom we have never met before.  It is not racism - it is the practical world where too many are suicide bombers.

Let the participants of the Durban conference learn the refrain of the song so many of us sang in the sixties and seventies...  “Let there be peace on earth – and let it begin with me!”

Amen.

5762

This week we read in the Torah from the book of Dvarim, Deuteronomy 21:10 to 25:19, a portion called Ki Tetze. It begins with two teachings concerning the rights of women. Listen: "Ki tetze lamilkhama al oyvekha – When you go forth to war against your enemies, and the Lord your God has delivered them into your hands, and you have taken them captive, And see among the captives a beautiful woman, and desire her, that you would have her as your wife; Then you shall bring her home to your house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails; And she shall take off the garment of her captivity, and shall remain in your house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month; and after that you shall go in to her, and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. And it shall be, if you have no delight in her, then you shall let her go where she will; but you shall not sell her at all for money, you shall not treat her as a slave, because you have humbled her. If a man has two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son is hers who was hated; Then it shall be, when he makes his sons inherit that which he has, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, who is indeed the firstborn; But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he has; for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his." [Deu. 21:10-17]
This is a core principle in Judaism, in my opinion. The double lesson concerning women – the issue of the war captive and the issue of a woman who is not loved – given conditions in antiquity - are dealt with in a humane and considerate fashion. We read this passage today and comment to ourselves, "of course, it's only right..." However, when you consider that these teachings were given thirty five hundred years ago, or twenty five hundred in the opinion of the scoffers and deniers, well, it puts it a little more in perspective.
Or think again... Think of the terrible atrocities we all heard and read about during the Bosnia. Herzegovina and Kosova wars – when women were brutalized and raped repeatedly... And then you return to the text in the Torah that you must give a captive woman a chance to mourn for their family and cleanse herself from the grime and crime of war, and the women who are desired must be treated "in the manner of the day," so that a captive enemy woman has the same rights as a native woman, and has to be given consideration in the relationship and especially if the relationship is terminated.
This matter then gives way to a second issue that concerns women – in a polygamous relation as stated in our text, to be sure - concerning the inheritance laws of the land. You may think that the whole issue is moot at present, since there are no societies outside of Islam where polygamy is permissible. However, the fact is that most of the nations of the world permit sequential polygamy, a situation where people marry, divorce and marry again. Very often, when a man parts from a wife of a few years, with who he has produced children, and goes off to marry a different woman (or vice-versa - in modern times a woman may leave her husband to find another man!) – the last thing the departing partner wants to do is have consideration for the first - now hated - spouse. The family courts in each community are replete with examples of feuding former spouses, acting hatefully and vindictively.
So, the two passages we read in the Torah this week are important today as they were in antiquity. However, these passages teach us much more than just the issues they deal with in context. There are peripheral issues, such as the matter of treatment of enemy captives, or the rights of children from families with multiple parents on the side of the father or the mother (or both) – due to death or divorce. Both points I touched on, the matter of the captive woman and the matter of the hated first wife, deal with the fundamental principle of the rights of women. There can be no question that Judaism, as a religion and as a social order, gave the exact same consideration to women as they did to men, and to children as they did to adults. This is evident from so many of the teachings in the Torah, and from the stories concerning the personages in our history. It suffices to look at the statement at Sinai, "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Six days shall you labor, and do all your work;. But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates;" [Ex. 20:8-10] – sons and daughters, manservant and maidservant are mentioned in one breath.
Should you ask, "but why isn't the wife mentioned alongside the man?" I will direct you to the story of the creation of Eve, where the conclusion teaches us, "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall be one flesh." [Gen. 2:24] When you think of our founding fathers, Abraham had great respect and consideration for Sarah. Yitzkhak listened to his wife Rebecca when she suggested that he send Ya'akov to her brother Lavan in Aram of the two rivers – and Ya'akov spent fourteen years of his life obtaining the favors and collaboration of Rakhel and Leah. And these four were the first but not the only heroines of our history, by any means. The thread of "women of valor" goes on from the matriarchs to Serakh bat Asher, to Yokheved and Miriam, to Naomi and Ruth, to Deborah the judge and Khulda the prophetess, to queens and housewives, mothers and grandmothers - Henrietta Szold and Golda Meir, Hannah Senesh and Ann Frank.
We have been fortunate and blessed with all these women of valor – unique heroines each and every one of them. The raised children, supported families, and changed the world to a better place for their relatives and for the rest of humanity. How fortunate we are to be a part of this tradition that recognized their worth, that gave them the opportunity to manifest their God-given talents and gifts, to make this world a little more like the perfect creation God wished it to be. May we always be privileged to know them, to bask in the warmth of their love and creativity, and to celebrate the gift of their being – the finest gift God has given men.

Amen

 

Ki Tetze 5763

This week we read in the Torah from the book of Dvarim, Deuteronomy 21:10 to 25:19, a portion called Ki Tetze. It begins with two teachings concerning the rights of women. Listen: "Ki tetze lamilkhama al oyvekha – When you go forth to war against your enemies, and the Lord your God has delivered them into your hands, and you have taken them captive, And see among the captives a beautiful woman, and desire her, that you would have her as your wife; Then you shall bring her home to your house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails; And she shall take off the garment of her captivity, and shall remain in your house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month; and after that you shall go in to her, and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. And it shall be, if you have no delight in her, then you shall let her go where she will; but you shall not sell her at all for money, you shall not treat her as a slave, because you have humbled her. If a man has two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son is hers who was hated; Then it shall be, when he makes his sons inherit that which he has, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, who is indeed the firstborn; But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he has; for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his." [Deu. 21:10-17]
Dear friends, I must confess, and not for the first time, my love for our ancient tradition – and the book that is its source. Last week we spoke of the need for a completely just society: "Tzedek, tzedek tirdof -- Righteousness and only that -- 'tzedek,' shall you pursue..." This prescription for a just and honorable society comes to its logical conclusion in this week's portion, which deals in issue after issue with the rights of women – and of course, by extension of all "minorities" in a world where we are all parts of one minority or another! And to think that some people think of Judaism as being archaic and outdated! Or, what is much worse – as being sexist!
Dear Courtney: you are celebrating your coming of age, to be responsible for your religious obligations. It is called "Bat Mitzvah" – a new celebration in Judaism, but it is based on an old concept which is taught in the Torah this very week. Don't forget it. Be proud of your heroitage and continue to study and to celebrate your personhood, your unique talents and abilities. Look at this Torah that we read from this Shabbat. Why do we read out of a parchment scroll? Even if it is very old, I would venture to say it is less than a hundred years old. However, the text of our Torah is thirty five hundred years old. At the time when it was given it would have been impossible to use the concepts, the laws or even the language that we use today.
Life was much more of a struggle in those days, and much more uncertain. Ancient society was much more structured for the greatest good of the group or clan. People had to protect the clan and be protected not only in the group and from outside the group.. In those days people lived in the extended family or clan circle. In this kind of a group, as in the world of nature, there was always a "dominant one" who ruled over the entire group. Women, because of their physical limitation of being less muscular than the male, were obviously less powerful in the social structure. Judaism, to the best of my knowledge, was the first society that made a policy of protecting women and giving them not only 'security' but also dignity and equality.
This week's portion, Ki Tetze, deals with many issues of women's rights, from the first subject mentioned, that a woman who is taken prisoner in war has the same rights as any 'bride' in Israel, if her captor wishes to take her as a "partner" or "mate." Such a woman, the text adjudicates, is in fact a wife. The next subject deals with a man who has two wives, the first hated and the second loved, and how the rights of the hated wife and her first born son are protected; next we read about matters of a 'betrothed' or 'promised' woman, the subject of the good name of a woman whose husband stops caring for; the guilt of a man as well as the woman in extramarital relations; and rape in town and in the field.
When you read all these discussions, you must recognize and keep in mind the time when the issues were stated. It is quite impossible and unfair to try and critique the text for lack of sensitivity to the needs and predicaments of being a female in our male dominated and sex oriented society. Above all else, it perverts the true spirit and history of Judaism. Militant feminists raise a number of issues of male-female relations in Judaism that are really nor relevant to the issue. The fact is that Judaism recognized and accepted the female as a partner to the male, and each had a role to play in the basic unit of life, which was the family.
You, Courtney, have a wonderful example of this unit in your dear parents, who work hard and long to give you the kind of life that you live. They teach you by example how to be involved in important issues such as education and prevention of violence.
This week's portion is called "Ki Tetze," meaning 'when you set out.' The first words of this portion are, "When you go out to war against your enemies" [Deu. 21:10] You are setting out this Shabbat on the road to adult life, and you need to ask yourself, "what war am I going to, and who is the enemy?" Well, I would like to suggest to you that the war is the struggle to have a meaningful life - and the enemy is mediocrity. The world is set before you: there are great treasures to be found there - but nothing comes to those that wait for things to fall into their laps. You must wage war, struggle to wrest the treasures: friendship, beauty, meaning, purpose, and love. The enemy is comfort and lazyness - a feeling of why struggle to be first if you can just as nicely get there second or third or fifth – or last, God forbid.
So go out and fight your battle, and never lose heart, and never give an inch. Have courage and be patient. Remember that you are not alone. You have four thousand years of ancestors to support you in time of doubt and weakness. Above all else, you have God, who loves you and wishes to see you win.
Mazal Tov.
Amen.
Shabbat shalom.

Ki Tetze 5764

This week’s portion of the Torah, Deuteronomy 21:10 to 25:19, is called Ki Tetze. It begins with the words, “Ki tetze lamilkhama al oyvekha – When you go forth to war against your enemies...” This evening I do not want to go any further than these five Hebrew words. Notice that the five Hebrew words, “Ki tetze lamilkhama al oyvekha” – end up being nine words in English. That is another whole issue. The words are a key that a young person becoming bar-mitzvah can hang on to, as a lesson to guide him in preparation for adulthood. “When you go forth” – or also possibly we can read it, “As you go forth,” tell us of a point of departure. Here you are, about to “take off” and go “to war against your enemies” – and that does not necessarily mean joining the army and being sent to Iraq. The “to war against your enemies” is the struggle to live your life, to earn your keep, to build a home and establish a family, to make yourself a blessing to yourself, your immediate family, and the community around you, from the smallest circle of your family, to your congregation, your circle of friends and neighbors, to the people in your town, your state, and your nation.
If you join the armed forces, you go through boot camp and then through advanced training before you are sent to battle. As you prepare to wage the “war” of life, you are trained by your parents at home, getting chores to do, learning to cooperate with others in the home and in school. Your training is broadened further by attending school. Kindergarten, primary school Junior high and High School are all training-fields for adult survival.
Jewish people need some specialized training, which we get in our synagogue Religious school. That is where we first introduce our “recruits” to the skills necessary to wage the battle of life as a Jewish person, one of a small minority that has a very unique role to play in the scheme of things. We are the “Ki tetze” people, the ones who have been “going forth” since the days of Father Abraham, to be a blessing to all the families of humankind.
Four weeks ago we read the second portion in the book of Deuteronomy, from 3:23 to 7:11. That was the portion that contains the so called “call words” of the Jewish people – the S’ma Yisrael. Listen carefully to the text: “Hear, O Israel; The Lord is our God, the Lord is one; And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart; And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the posts of your house, and on your gates.” [Deuteronomy 6:4-9] These words, uttered by our great teacher, Moshe, are a short compilation of how to live a Jewish life.
Long before the Jews were exiled from their land, when the Temple was still standing and the priests were offering sacrifices, already the tradition grew to worship God with words and deeds. One of the first prayers we spoke were these words of Moshe. Long before the liturgy became comparatively fixed, the order of worship in the Temple at Jerusalem included the recitation of the Sh’ma, and this was preceded by the recital of the “Aseret Hadibrot,” the ten statements God uttered at Sinai, as inscribed in Exodus, chapter 20. We know this to be so, because we read about it is the “oral Torah” that was transcribed as “the Mishnah,” in the Tamid tractate, 5:1.
After the rise of Christianity, the reading of the Ten Commandments was abolished. The reason given in the Jerusalem Talmud is that the Christians contended that only these “commandments” and no others were given at Sinai – and therefore all 613 mitzvot mentioned in the Torah did not have to be followed by those who worshiped the God of Israel. You must understand that at the time, these “Christians” were in fact Jews and others, who were changing Judaism into what would eventually become a new religion. So here were these “outsiders” who claimed to change Judaism in the name of “the Teaching at Sinai” – Torah reviewed and reinterpreted. The sages of Judaism persevered, but the die was cast, and the “outsiders” left the Torah to the Jews, accepting and adopting a “New Testament” that would seal the break with Judaism and establish a new religion and a new covenant for Christians.
The Christian argument lay in the fact that the Sh’ma contains the verse, “And these words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart;” [Ibid. 6:6]. As the text of the Sh’ma does not specify what is meant by “these words,” the juxtaposition of the Sh’ma and the Ten Statements offered seemingly irrefutable evidence that “these words” are none other than the selfsame Ten, which were now seen as Commandments, even though they were designated in the Torah [Ibid. 10:4] as the “Ten Words” (Aseret Hadevarirn).
The pivotal lesson of the Shma is a threefold lesson: The covenant relationship of the Jewish people to the Creator, “The Lord is our God,” the single and unique nature of God, “The Lord is one ,” and the relationship of the People Israel to this Almighty God. “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.”
That, then, is the point of departure. Not out of fear, and not out of obligation, but out of love, we learn God’s teachings and live by His instruction. His word is the fountain of life, and those who drink of that fountain shall continue to live to praise him forever.

Amen

Shabbat shalom


 

 

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