Ki Teitzei

You can find the rest of the parsha text on at Ki Teitzei.

30 thoughts on “Ki Teitzei

  1. Wendy Berk

    From JTS

    What Does the Torah Really Say about Cross-Dressing?


    Every year, Ki Tetzei returns us to the only verse of the Torah that seems to speak about transgender and nonbinary people, particularly about those like me who used to be known as “transsexuals,” people born physically male or female who identify so strongly with the opposite gender that we can only live authentically as that gender:

    A woman must not put on man’s apparel, nor shall a man wear woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is abhorrent to your God.

    (Num. 22:5)
    These declarations seem painfully simple. That’s the way I experienced them as a trans child sneaking up to the attic to try to find some relief from gender dysphoria by putting on my sister’s outgrown clothing. This verse seemed to assure me that God abhorred trans people like me who cross-dressed (wore clothes of the gender opposite the one we were assigned on the basis of our physical sex) in order to express and feel like our true selves.

    But now I see that this verse—indeed, the Torah—doesn’t address or recognize what we now call “gender identity,” the subjective sense by which individuals identify ourselves as—feel we really are—male, female, or something else. Just as the Torah identifies as a Levite priest any male born into the tribe of Levi, regardless of whether an individual identifies as a priest, is interested in priestly duties, or even believes in God, this verse identifies people as men and women on the basis of the bodies and gender roles they were born into, without regard to whether individuals identify with those assignments.

    But we cannot make sense of what this verse prohibits just by referring to biology. “Man’s apparel” and “women’s clothing” are not a matter of physical sex; they refer to what we now call “gender expression,” the personally and culturally determined ways that individuals signify and others identify maleness or femaleness. What is considered man’s apparel and women’s clothing vary greatly in different times, places, ethnic groups, and social contexts. Cross-dressing at a Purim party means something different than cross-dressing as part of gender transition, and both mean something different from cross-dressing as part of a drag performance. Moreover, even among non-trans people, the meaning of gender expression varies personally: clothes that express one person’s sense of being a man or being a woman may not express another’s. For example, there are men who feel uncomfortable and inauthentic wearing suits, and women (I have a friend like this) who, when they wear formal dresses, don’t recognize themselves in the mirror.

    Because this verse does not address either the individual or the social circumstances that determine what gender expression, and thus men’s and women’s apparel, mean, it is hard for even non-transgender people to know how to dress in order to avoid the abhorrence of God.

    That is presumably why Rashi and other commentators recognized that interpretation is needed to determine exactly what clothing choices the law prohibits and God abhors. These interpretations fill in the blanks that make the verse unclear, its insistence on speaking only in terms of bodies and clothes without regard to the aspects of humanity that turn bits of cloth into meaningful gender expression: our subjectivity, our individual self-identification, and what we choose to communicate about ourselves in terms of gender; and the cultural and social codes and contexts that govern what clothing should be worn by what bodies in which situations, the gender implications of each piece of clothing, and the expectations and opportunities assigned to different genders.

    Rashi fills in these blanks by reading the verse not as a prohibition against cross-dressing itself, but against cross-dressing into order to commit fraud—specifically, fraud for the purposes of engaging in forbidden sexual activity:

    “A woman must not put on man’s apparel”—so that she looks like a man, in order to consort with men, for this can only be for the purpose of adultery (unchastity).

    This interpretation implies the social context that gives meaning to gender expression, that turns pieces of clothing into a communication about gender that is meaningful to others. To Rashi, “man’s apparel” means any clothing that would lead others to see a woman as a man and give her access to male homosocial spaces and intimacy that would be forbidden to her if her clothing marked her as a woman.

    Rashi’s reading also restores the subjectivity the plain text leaves out. The cross-dressing woman in his gloss clearly identifies herself as a woman because she knows she is dressing in a way that deceives others about who she is. She is driven by heterosexual desire for extramarital sex, and cross-dresses with the intention of passing as someone she knows she isn’t in order to have sexual access to men who would otherwise be inaccessible to her.

    By restoring social context and subjectivity, Rashi is able to read the verse in a way that specifies what it prohibits: cross-dressing in order to misrepresent the gender with which one identifies, an act Rashi sees as inevitably (“for this can only be”) linked to what he considers a much more serious crime: committing adultery.To Rashi, what God abhors is not cross-dressing. It is the perversion of gender expression from a system for communicating who we are to a means of misrepresenting oneself in order to deceive and betray others.

    To Rashi, then, I do not violate this law when I wear what I and my society consider women’s clothing in order to express my female gender identification, that is, to express my authentic sense of who I am. It is more accurate to say that I was violating it (in a non-sexual sense) before my gender transition, when I presented myself as a man despite privately identifying as a woman, using male clothing in order to present myself as someone I knew I wasn’t.

    Of course, neither Rashi’s gloss nor the peshat of this verse address gender transition or trans or nonbinary identities. But if Rashi is right—if the law prohibits cross-dressing only when done in order to misrepresent who we know themselves to be and deceive others about who we really are—then not only does God not abhor cross-dressing for the purposes of gender transition or other sincere gender self-expression. Indeed, God should applaud it, because our clothing tells others who we really are.

  2. Wendy Berk

    From the Hebrew College

    The Mitzvah of Forgetting

    Rabbi Neal Gold

    Parashat Ki Teitzei (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19)

    Parashat Ki Teitzei falls when the full moon of Elul is fat in the sky and the awareness settles on us that Rosh Hashanah is just around the corner. We are now deeply ensconced in the season of teshuvah and the task of sifting through the details of our lives and our relationships.

    Among the wide array of Mitzvot found in this parashah are a special set of agricultural laws that create a safety net for the poorest and neediest people in ancient Israelite society. These laws appear in various formulations in three different sections of the Torah (Lev. 19:9-10; Lev. 23:22; and in our parashah at Deut. 24:19-22). Despite some discrepancies between the passages, a startling message emerges: Not all of the ancient Israelite landowner’s crops belonged to the landowner; rather, a measure of the fields belonged to poor, hungry, and homeless people who were entitled to come and sustain themselves from what they rightfully owned.

    Of these biblical protections that are offered to people in need, the three most widely-known are:

    Pe’ah— the edge of the field, which was off-limits for the landowner to harvest;
    Leket—the gleanings that dropped to the ground while the harvesters were collecting the ripe crops, which now were to be left for people in need;
    Shikhecha—forgotten crops, perhaps a stalk or a row or section of the field that the landowner mistakenly neglected.

    Of these three different Mitzvot, let’s focus on the curious commandment of shikhecha, the forgotten crop. Our tradition finds some spiritual implications in this law that make it unique among the 613 Mitzvot of the Torah.

    Deuteronomy 24:19 states:

    כִּי תִקְצֹר קְצִירְךָ בְשָׂדֶךָ וְשָׁכַחְתָּ עֹמֶר בַּשָּׂדֶה לֹא תָשׁוּב לְקַחְתּוֹ
    לַגֵּר לַיָּתוֹם וְלָאַלְמָנָה יִהְיֶה
    לְמַעַן יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכֹל מַעֲשֵׂה יָדֶיךָ׃

    When you reap the harvest in your field and overlook a sheaf in the field, do not turn back to get it; it shall go to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow—in order that YHVH your G-d may bless you in all your undertakings.

    That is to say, in the process of harvesting a field, one particular stalk or area was accidentally overlooked by the harvesters. The verb v’shakhachta, “you forget (or overlook),” appears here, from which the rabbis later derived the word shikhecha to describe this Mitzvah. Once that crop was passed over, it no longer was the property of the landowner; it now went to sustain hungry people.

    However, our Sages pointed out that there is something extraordinary about shikhecha that makes it distinct from all of the other 612 Mitzvot and puts it in a category all its own. Namely: it is a Mitzvah that you can’t possibly plan in advance; it can only be performed once a mistake has happened! Only when this sheaf was accidentally left behind can the potential to use it for a Mitzvah be realized.

    This anomaly was recognized by the rabbis in the 2nd-century text known as the Tosefta:

    מעשה בחסיד אחד ששכח עומר בתוך שדהו ואמר לבנו צא והקריב עלי פר לעולה ופר לשלמים אמר לו אבא מה ראית לשמוח בשמחת מצוה זו [יותר] מכל מצות שבתורה אמר לו כל מצות שבתורה נתן [להם המקום] לדעתנו זו שלא לדעתנו שאילו [עשינוהו ברצון לפני המקום לא באת מצוה זו לידינו [אלא] הרי הוא אומר (דברים כד) כי תקצור וגו’ קבע לו הכתוב ברכה והלא דברים קל וחומר מה אדם שלא נתכוין לזכות וזכה מעלין
    …עליו כאילו זכה המתכוין לזכות וזכה על אחת כו”כ

    A story is told of a certain pious man [Heb. chasid] who forgot a sheaf in his field. He said to his son, “Go and sacrifice on my behalf a bull for a burnt-offering and a bull for a peace-offering!” [These are acts of gratitude and rejoicing.]

    His son replied, “Abba, what makes you want to celebrate the joy of this particular Mitzvah more than all the other Mitzvot in the Torah?” He answered, “God has given all the other Mitzvot in the Torah to be observed consciously, but this one is observed unconsciously. Were we to observe this one of our own deliberate free will, we never would have the opportunity to do it! But we are told, When you reap the harvest of your field and you overlook a sheaf… (Deut. 24:19) The Torah gave it for a blessing.”

    This is a perfect example of an argument kal va-khomer:¹ If, when a person has no deliberate intention of performing a Mitzvah, it is nonetheless reckoned to him as a merit, then how much more so when a person deliberately performs a Mitzvah! (Tosefta, Pe’ah 3:13)

    The Rabbis are teaching several beautiful spiritual insights. The first is the pure delight in having the unexpected opportunity to do a Mitzvah. That, in itself, is a wondrous way of viewing the world: as a place filled with luminous Mitzvah-potential. Imagine how that sort of consciousness changes the way we view the world—not to mention our interactions with others—when we know life is filled with opportunities for tikkun olam, even when we aren’t expecting it.

    Furthermore, this Mitzvah sheds some spiritual light on this season of teshuvah. For shikhecha can only be given after a mistake has happened. The landowner screwed up by missing this part of the harvest, but now has the ability to do good because of that error.

    Each of us has a similar opportunity during this build-up to Rosh Hashanah. Teshuvah is a Mitzvah that can only be done by people who have made mistakes, who have caused damage or hurt in the world. Only because we’ve done harm do we have the opportunity to grow and become better human beings, through the Mitzvah of teshuvah. We’ve done wrong, but can respond to the wrong by doing acts of repair.

    In a sense, each of us therefore has the upper hand over someone who is perfect and has not sinned—because we get the opportunity (and the ultimate joy) of performing the Mitzvah of teshuvah. If a person hasn’t sinned, then they can’t do the central Mitzvah of the season!

    This time of year is marked by serious responsibility and spiritual power. It is for all of us who, somehow, have temporarily forgotten our way, and now long desperately to do some good with what remains. Just like that ancient field hand from the Torah and his overlooked sheaves.

    Kal va-khomer: An argument made a fortiori: “If this small case is so… then how much more the larger/more obvious case must be so.”

  3. Wendy Berk


    All The More So
    Ki Teitzei, Deuteronomy 21:10–25:19


    This week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, is chock full of laws that cover all kinds of topics: what to do when your neighbor’s ox falls into a pit, who you are allowed to marry, even prohibitions against planting two different kinds of seeds in the same field. Some are laws we are proud to have in our Torah, like the law that prohibits abuse of a needy or destitute laborer, which explains that we must pay a laborer before sunset on the same day that the labor was done, because they need their wages. Then there are laws that are shameful, that we wish we did not find in our sacred texts, like the one that prohibits a man from wearing a “woman’s clothes” or a woman wearing a “man’s clothes,” citing that it is abhorrent to God; a law that has been used to oppress LGBTQ+ people throughout the ages. Some of these laws we can take at their face value, and others we must interpret, explain, and work to understand the context.

    There is one law that is specific to a particular context but enables us to apply the rabbinic principle of kal v’homer, which means “light and heavy,” and is used in context to mean “all the more so.” It was utilized by the rabbis to apply the logic inherent in some commandments to other situations. As an example, if someone is upset because you are late to a meeting, kal v’homer, all the more so, will they get upset if you miss the meeting altogether.

    This week’s portion offers a commandment whose logic we can similarly apply to the world we live in. We read:

    “If, along the road, you chance upon a bird’s nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs and the mother sitting over the fledglings or on the eggs, do not take the mother together with her young. Let the mother go, and take only the young, in order that you may fare well and live a long life.” (Deuteronomy 22:6-7)

    It is a very specific situation. You are traveling on a random road, and you happen to come across a bird’s nest. There is an inherent presumption that when you come across this bird’s nest, you see it as an opportunity for food, for sustenance. In that case, what do you do?

    There are two principles that will come into play. First, the prohibition against cruelty. And second, the command to conserve. As a prohibition against cruelty, we are told to let the mother go, or in some places, tradition says to chase away the mother bird away before we take the chicks or the eggs. It seems that there is something particularly inhumane about killing a mother animal with its young. This command parallels the verse we find in Leviticus 22:28 which states “Regarding an ox or a sheep, you shall not slaughter it together with its young on the same day.”

    Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame Dr. Tzvi Novick explains in an article that “The special cruelty in killing a ‘mother together with her young’ stems from the fact that it targets the relationship that stands in polar contrast to cruelty…One need not ordinarily take notice of [animals’] family bonds. But seeing the mother bird upon its young makes the parent-child relationship impossible to ignore.”

    The message is: don’t be cruel. If this should apply to a random bird on a random road, kal v’homer, all the more so, should we concern ourselves with the feelings and emotions of other people. And if we should be careful not to be cruel to the people we happen upon, the people who are strangers to us, kal v’homer, all the more so, should we also be concerned about the people we know, our acquaintances, our community members, and our family. All the more so should we be sure that we value and respect relationships, perspectives, and the emotions of people we encounter, and the people in our lives.

    We are also given this commandment to learn to conserve resources. We are told not to take the mother with its young with the reason “that you may fare well and live a long life.” If we take the mother, there will never be any more eggs or chicks. If, however, we take just the eggs, the mother can continue to produce eggs into the future. This command is a warning. If we take too much, we will use up our resources with no possibility to replenish them.

    If this is the case with one bird and one nest full of eggs, that we shouldn’t take too much, kal v’homer, all the more so, should we consider every time we use our natural resources. The Torah teaches in this simple example that we must conserve responsibly. We know all too well that exploiting our environment puts us in jeopardy. Taking without regard for what we will need in the future ensures that there will be nothing left.

    It seems like a simple command for a specific situation, but the logic of kal v’homer provides the answer to so many of the ills we face in our society.

    Don’t be cruel. We must take care of ourselves, but don’t be uncaring. Recognize how your actions affect others. Be thoughtful of another’s perspective. Be intentional.

    Don’t be greedy. Don’t take so much that there is nothing left. Don’t take all the wealth and power, don’t take from the earth with no regard for the future, and don’t just take because you can. What there is must sustain us, all of us, as well as anyone who will ever be.

    Don’t be cruel. Don’t be greedy. May we fare well, and live long lives.

  4. Wendy Berk

    From Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

    Against Hate
    Ki Teitse 5781

    Ki Teitse contains more laws than any other parsha in the Torah, and it is possible to be overwhelmed by this embarrass de richesse of detail. One verse, however, stands out by its sheer counter-intuitiveness:

    Do not despise an Edomite, because he is your brother. Do not despise the Egyptian, because you were a stranger in his land. (Deut. 23:8)

    These are very unexpected commands. Examining and understanding them will teach us an important lesson about society in general, and leadership in particular.

    First, a broader point. Jews have been subjected to racism more and longer than any other nation on earth. Therefore, we should be doubly careful never to be guilty of it ourselves. We believe that God created each of us, regardless of colour, class, culture or creed, in His image. If we look down on other people because of their race, then we are demeaning God’s image and failing to respect kavod ha-briyot, human dignity.

    If we think less of a person because of the colour of their skin, we are repeating the sin of Aaron and Miriam – “Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman” (Num. 12:1). There are midrashic interpretations that read this passage differently, but the plain sense is that they looked down on Moses’ wife because, like Cushite women generally, she had dark skin, making this one of the first recorded instances of colour prejudice. For this sin Miriam was struck with leprosy.

    Instead we should remember the lovely line from Song of Songs: “I am black but beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Solomon. Do not stare at me because I am dark, because the sun has looked upon me” (Song of Songs 1:5).

    Jews cannot complain that others have racist attitudes toward them if they hold racist attitudes toward others. “First correct yourself; then [seek to] correct others,” says the Talmud. (Baba Metzia 107b) The Tanach contains negative evaluations of some other nations, but always and only because of their moral failures, never because of ethnicity or skin colour.

    Now to Moses’ two commands against hate,[1] both of which are surprising. “Do not despise the Egyptian, because you were a stranger in his land.” This is extraordinary. The Egyptians enslaved the Israelites, planned a programme against them of slow genocide, and then refused to let them go despite the plagues that were devastating the land. Are these reasons not to hate?

    True. But the Egyptians had initially provided a refuge for the Israelites at a time of famine. They had honoured Joseph when he was elevated as second-in-command to Pharaoh. The evils they committed against the Hebrews under “a new King who did not know of Joseph” (Ex. 1:8) were at the instigation of Pharaoh himself, not the people as a whole. Besides which, it was the daughter of that same Pharaoh who had rescued Moses and adopted him.

    The Torah makes a clear distinction between the Egyptians and the Amalekites. The latter were destined to be perennial enemies of Israel, but the former were not. In a later age, Isaiah would make a remarkable prophecy – that a day would come when the Egyptians would suffer their own oppression. They would cry out to God, who would rescue them just as He had rescued the Israelites:

    When they cry out to the Lord because of their oppressors, He will send them a saviour and defender, and He will rescue them. So the Lord will make Himself known to the Egyptians, and in that day they will acknowledge the Lord. (Isaiah 19:20-21)

    The wisdom of Moses’ command not to despise Egyptians still shines through today. If the people had continued to hate their erstwhile oppressors, Moses would have taken the Israelites out of Egypt but would have failed to take Egypt out of the Israelites. They would have continued to be slaves, not physically but psychologically. They would be slaves to the past, held captive by the chains of resentment, unable to build the future. To be free, you have to let go of hate. That is a difficult truth but a necessary one.

    No less surprising is Moses’ insistence: “Do not despise an Edomite, because he is your brother.” Edom was, of course, the other name of Esau. There was a time when Esau hated Jacob and vowed to kill him. Besides which, before the twins were born, Rebecca received an oracle telling her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the elder will serve the younger.” (Gen. 25:23) Whatever these words mean, they seem to imply that there will be eternal conflict between the two brothers and their descendants.

    At a much later age, during the Second Temple period, the Prophet Malachi said: “’Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ declares the Lord. ‘Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated…” (Malachi 1:2-3). Centuries later still, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said, “It is a halachah [rule, law, inescapable truth] that Esau hates Jacob.”[2] Why then does Moses tell us not to despise Esau’s descendants?

    The answer is simple. Esau may hate Jacob, but it does not follow that Jacob should hate Esau. To answer hate with hate is to be dragged down to the level of your opponent. When, in the course of a television programme, I asked Judea Pearl, father of the murdered journalist Daniel Pearl, why he was working for reconciliation between Jews and Muslims, he replied with heartbreaking lucidity, “Hate killed my son. Therefore I am determined to fight hate.” As Martin Luther King Jr, wrote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”[3] Or as Kohelet said, there is “a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace” (Eccl. 3:8).

    It was none other than Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai who said that when Esau met Jacob for the last time, he kissed and embraced him “with a full heart.”[4] Hate, especially between family, is not eternal and inexorable. Always be ready, Moses seems to have implied, for reconciliation between enemies.

    Contemporary Games Theory – the study of decision making – suggests the same. Martin Nowak’s programme “Generous Tit-for-Tat” is a winning strategy in the scenario known as the Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma, an example created for the study of cooperation of two individuals. Tit-for-Tat says: start by being nice to your opponent, then do to them what they do to you (in Hebrew, middah keneged middah). Generous Tit-for-Tat says, don’t always do to they what they do to you, for you may found yourself locked into a mutually destructive cycle of retaliation. Every so often ignore (i.e. forgive) your opponent’s last harmful move. That, roughly speaking, is what the Sages meant when they said that God originally created the world under the attribute of strict justice but saw that it could not survive through this alone. Therefore He built into it the principle of compassion.[5]

    Moses’ two commands against hate are testimony to his greatness as a leader. It is the easiest thing in the world to become a leader by mobilising the forces of hate. That is what Radovan Karadzic and Slobodan Milosevic did in the former Yugoslavia and it led to mass murder and ethnic cleansing. It is what the state-controlled media did – describing Tutsis as inyenzi, (“cockroaches”) – before the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. It is what dozens of preachers of hate are doing today, often using the Internet to communicate paranoia and incite acts of terror. Finally, this was the technique mastered by Hitler as a prelude to the worst-ever crime of humans against humanity.

    The language of hate is capable of creating enmity between people of different faiths and ethnicities who have lived peaceably together for centuries. It has consistently been the most destructive force in history, and even knowledge of the Holocaust has not put an end to it, even in Europe. It is the unmistakable mark of toxic leadership.

    In his classic work, Leadership, James MacGregor Burns distinguishes between transactional and transformational leaders. The former address people’s interests. The latter attempt to raise their sights. “Transforming leadership is elevating. It is moral but not moralistic. Leaders engage with followers, but from higher levels of morality; in the enmeshing of goals and values both leaders and followers are raised to more principled levels of judgement.”[6]

    Leadership at its highest level transforms those who exercise it and those who are influenced by it. The great leaders make people better, kinder, nobler than they would otherwise be. That was the achievement of Washington, Lincoln, Churchill, Gandhi and Mandela. The paradigm case was Moses, the man who had more lasting influence than any other leader in history.

    He did it by teaching the Israelites not to hate. A good leader knows: Hate the sin but not the sinner. Do not forget the past but do not be held captive by it. Be willing to fight your enemies but never allow yourself to be defined by them or become like them. Learn to love and forgive. Acknowledge the evil men do, but stay focused on the good that is in our power to do. Only thus do we raise the moral sights of humankind and help redeem the world we share.

    [1] Whenever I refer, here and elsewhere, to “Moses’ commands,” I mean, of course, to imply that these were given to Moses by Divine instruction and revelation, and thusly did he pass them onto us. This, in a deep sense, is why God chose Moses, a man who said repeatedly of himself that he was not a man of words. The words Moses spoke were those of God. That, and that alone, is what gives them timeless authority for the people of the covenant.

    [2] Sifrei, Bamidbar, Beha’alotecha, 69.

    [3] Strength to Love (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 1977), 53.

    [4] Sifrei ad loc.

    [5] See Rashi to Genesis 1:1, s.v. bara.

    [6] James MacGregor Burns, Leadership, Harper Perennial, 2010, 455.

  5. Wendy Berk

    From Rabbi David Kasher

    THE BASTARD KING – Parshat Ki Teitzei
    Who is a Jew?

    This question is at the center of one of contemporary Judaism’s most difficult and painful conversations. To ask the question is to call forth debates that rage among (and within) the various Jewish denominations over two major issues: 1.) the requirement of matrilineal descent, and 2.) the stringency of conversion standards. Of course, modern Jewish movements disagree over many other matters of politics and practice, but none that so brutally draws a line between who’s in and who’s out. It is the divide over these particular policies of membership that truly threaten to fracture the unity of the Jewish people.

    It is significant to note, then, that the Torah’s own lines of communal boundary-marking are drawn by two very different conditions of membership, which are listed in succession in this week’s parsha:

    A mamzer shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; none of his descendants, even in the tenth generation, shall be admitted into the congregation of the Lord.

    An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter 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. (Deut. 3-4)

    לֹא-יָבֹא מַמְזֵר, בִּקְהַל ה: גַּם דּוֹר עֲשִׂירִי, לֹא-יָבֹא לוֹ בִּקְהַל ה. לֹא-יָבֹא עַמּוֹנִי וּמוֹאָבִי, בִּקְהַל ה: גַּם דּוֹר עֲשִׂירִי, לֹא-יָבֹא לָהֶם בִּקְהַל ה עַד-עוֹלָם.

    The word ‘mamzer,’ in the first of these two verses, is often translated as ‘bastard,’ though it does not have precisely the same meaning as that unpleasant English word. A bastard is simply someone whose parents were unmarried. A mamzer, on the other hand, is someone born or descended from any of the forbidden relationships in the Torah – including all forms of incest and adultery (though not, interestingly, unmarried relations.) And the mamzer is not only socially stigmatized, but is also functionally excommunicated from the congregation – a Jew who is forbidden from marrying other Jews.

    As for the Ammonite and Moabite, these are historic enemies of Israel, who are therefore banned from converting into the Jewish community, as members of other nations can. This prohibition can be seen as a way of punishing the descendants of Israel’s adversaries, or simply as a way of keeping distance from these despised cultures.

    Though these two prohibitions are quite distinct from the particular concerns of matrilineal descent and conversion, the two sets do have some striking parallels. One from each pair (mamzerut and matrilinealism) concerns the offspring of forbidden unions, whereas the other two (enemy nations and conversion) are about non-Jewish entry into the Jewish community. It is worth considering, therefore, what the classical rabbinic response was to the Torah’s version of communal membership requirements, and seeing how it might compare to rabbinic attitudes of today.

    One of the most powerful reflections on the status of the mamzer in rabbinic literature is found in a piece of midrash from Leviticus Rabbah that begins by expounding on a verse from Ecclesiastes:

    “So I returned, and considered all the oppressions done under the sun, and beheld the tears of the oppressed, and they had no comforter. On the side of their oppressors there was power, but they had no comforter.” (Eccl. 4:1) Daniel the Tailor said, “Behold, the tears of the oppressed,” refers to the mamzers. Their fathers sinned, but what did this disgrace have to do with them? The father of this one went to a woman forbidden to him, but how did the child sin, and how does it concern him? They “had no comforter” but “on the side of their oppressors there was power.” That refers to the hands of the Great Sanhedrin, that move against them with the authority of the Torah and remove them from the community, because it is written, “A mamzer shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord.” Therefore, says the Holy One, it is upon Me to comfort them.

    “ושבתי אני ואראה את כל העשוקים…” דניאל חייטא פתר קרייה בממזרים והנה דמעת העשוקים אבותם של אלו עוברי עבירות ואילין עלוביא מה איכפת להון כך אביו של זה בא על הערוה זה מה חטא ומה איכפ’ לו ואין להם מנחם אלא מיד עושקיהם כח מיד סנהדרי גדולה של ישראל שבאה עליהם מכחה של תורה ומרחקתן על שום לא יבא ממזר בקהל ה’ ואין להם מנחם אמר הקב“ה עלי לנחמן

    The first thing that stands out in this midrash is that the interpretation of the verse is given by “Daniel the Tailor.” It is unusual for a midrash to record the commentary of a non-rabbi and, in this case, it seems no coincidence that the humble profession of the speaker seems to mirror the lowly status of his subject. One cannot help but wonder if Daniel the Tailor was a mamzer himself.

    In any case, what does Daniel want to highlight about the law of the mamzer? Why, the most glaring thing of all: that it is deeply unfair! Here we have someone who is born a second-class citizen. Even if you fully support the Torah’s sexual prohibitions, this person – the offspring of such a prohibited union – is being punished for a crime they did not commit. Mamzers are cast out of a society they never wronged, before they ever had a chance to enter into it. What could be more plainly unfair than that?

    And, says Daniel the Tailor, to add insult to injury, we do not even see an attempt in Jewish society to provide the mamzer with sympathy and comfort. On the contrary, “the Great Sanhedrin,” the high court of ancient Israel and the representative of the community, seems all too eager to drive the mamzer out, “with the authority of the Torah.”

    Who then, can the mamzer turn to for support? Only God, who, seeing no one else step forward, is willing to be their comforter. The mamzer, Daniel the Tailor despairs, will find no ally amongst the people.

    There is a great irony here, in that we would usually associate the “authority of the Torah” with God. It is we, the people, who might read these lines and find them objectionable. “We feel your pain,” a rabbinic court might say, “But what can we do? Our hands are tied!”

    Yet in Daniel the Tailor’s rendering, it is the “hands of the Great Sanhedrin” who move against the mamzer, “with force.” They act decisively, as an expression of their power, and it is a power they claim from “the authority of the Torah.” God, meanwhile, is the One who objects to their mercilessness. When the people act as oppressors, God becomes the great Comforter. One almost gets the sense that God wants us to object to the Torah. When instead we jump eagerly to use God’s law as a tool of oppression, God is is forced to step in and give the comfort and compassion we should have given.

    This is a radical theology, one which suggests that not only can the laws of the Torah be inherently unjust, but that we are responsible for identifying that injustice and (possibly) reinterpreting the law to bring comfort to the oppressed.

    We might, however, write this message off as a touching sentiment expressed by a man who actually held no rabbinic authority and did not understand the complexity of the system. What does Daniel the Tailor know about the workings of the Great Sanhedrin? He sees the consequences of their decisions, but perhaps he does not realize that there was truly no other choice.

    Yet Daniel the Tailor’s critique is not actually the most daring approach to the question of the mamzer in rabbinic literature. That claim would have to belong to Rabbi Yochanan, a great leader during the Second Temple period, and in many ways the founder of rabbinic Judaism. He has this to say about the mamzers in his community:

    Rabbi Yochanan said: By the Temple I swear, it is within my power to determine who is of impure birth. But what can I do? Some of the greatest people in the generation are among them! Thus he reasoned like Rabbi Isaac, who said: Once a family becomes mixed up, it remains so. (Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 71a)

    א”ר יוחנן היכלא בידינו היא אבל מה אעשה שהרי גדולי הדור נטמעו בה סבר לה כר’ יצחק דאמר ר’ יצחק משפחה שנטמעה נטמעה

    This short passage reminds us of something we have overlooked so far: that is, for all the talk about proper lineage, we often are not really able to trace a family line back more than a generation or two. Rabbi Yochanan claims, however – whether through personal knowledge or divine wisdom – that he is somehow able to tell who is a mamzer (remember, this might be based on one illicit union ten generations prior). Such a person, walking around as a regular member of society, probably themselves unaware of their status, presents a problem for the rabbis. For not only is the mamzer forbidden from marrying a non-mamzer – if he does so, and has children, now they will be mamzers. This problem, one soon sees, will multiply rapidly, and soon we will have no idea what families are of pure birth, and who is in and who is out of the community. This is a crisis of staggering proportions! Whatever will Rabbi Yochanan do?


    He will do nothing at all. Though the words of the Torah compel him to identify the mamzer and ban him from marrying into mainstream Jewish society, Rabbi Yochanan indicates his plan is to simply ignore the law. And why? Because “some of the greatest people in the generation are among them.” This is a startling admission: the mamzer crisis is not looming; it is already upon us. Many of the great families of ancient Israel have, somewhere in their closest, the skeletons of questionable unions. If he begins singling mamzers out now, not only will good people suffer, but the community will also lose its many of its greatest luminaries.

    The point is, it is too late to indulge in legal purity, to hide behind the letter of the law and pretend that this will solve the problems of the community. What is needed instead is creative legal reasoning, even if it is imperfect – and that is precisely what Rabbi Yochanan offers up: “He reasoned like Rabbi Isaac, who said: Once a family becomes mixed up, it remains so.” What’s done is done. Whoever has managed to enter the community, remains in, like a spice in a mixture that cannot possibly be extracted. This is not a particularly strong legal argument, Rabbi Yochanan seems to concede. But what can he do? His hands are tied – not by the law, but by the reality around him – and this is the only recourse he has.

    What was it that allowed the greatest rabbi of the generation to feel justified in such naked pragmatism? How did he reconcile himself to turning a blind eye instead of enforcing the explicit law of the Torah he so revered? Why did he not insist on legal absolutes and just let God work out any problems that might ensue?

    The foundations of Rabbi Yochanan’s realist approach may be found by looking at the other verse we saw above, the prohibition against an Ammonite or a Moabite entering into the congregation. On its face, this seems like a much easier rule to accept. Whether or not Daniel the Tailor would find it morally objectionable, it just seems that such a case would arise far less frequently than the problem of the mamzer. For better or worse, all societies regularly deal with adultery and other sexual transgressions. But how often does a Jew end up with Ammonite or a Moabite? It seems easy enough to just agree to keep them and their descendants out of the community.

    And yet, there is one famous case of such a descendant – one that vexed the rabbis considerably. For the text of the Bible makes it quite clear that none other than David, the greatest of the Israelite kings – often thought to be the progenitor to the messiah – was the great-grandson of Ruth the Moabite. Indeed, the Book named for her concludes with these lines:

    And Boaz [Ruth’s husband] begat Oved, and Oved begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David. (Ruth 4:21-22)

    וּבֹעַז הוֹלִיד אֶת-עוֹבֵד. וְעֹבֵד הוֹלִיד אֶת-יִשָׁי, וְיִשַׁי הוֹלִיד אֶת-דָּוִד.

    Oh dear. David is clearly the descendant of a Moabite. And this is clearly less than ten generations. So it must be that King David is illegitimate, that all his children are therefore illegitimate, and that the entire kingship of Israel is illegitimate. Very bad news, indeed.

    So what did the rabbis do with this? Did they move swiftly, “with the authority of the Torah,” to invalidate the Davidic line? Did they claim their hands were tied by letter of the law? Did they chose the strictest possible interpretation of those letters, in order to maintain the purity of the bloodline of the Jewish people? Or did they rely on weak legal reasoning to get out of the problem?

    Well, you decide. This is how the rabbis of the Talmud resolved the case of David’s lineage. They presumed that a similar question must have arisen in the time of David’s rule. Someone surely challenged his authority based on his great-grandmother the Moabite. And this is the answer they imagined was given at the time:

    The wording [in the Torah] refers to a male Ammonite, not a female Ammonite, and a male Moabite, not a female Moabite. (Yevamot 76b )

    תנינא עמוני ולא עמונית מואבי ולא מואבית

    This is a little tricky to understand in the English translation. But the point here is that Hebrew, like many languages, has male and female nouns, and when referring to an unidentified member of a particular nationality, it defaults to the male. So the language of “Ammonite or Moabite” in the Torah is phrased in the male, and therefore could be read either as “any Ammonite or Moabite,” or “only male Ammonites and Moabites.” And the rabbis concluded the verse must be speaking only about men. So women Ammonites and Moabites could enter the congregation. Therefore, Ruth’s marriage was legitimate. Therefore David was a legitimate king.

    Now, technically, that is a possible reading of the verse. The problem is that there are many, many instances of nouns and verbs defaulting to the male form in the Hebrew, and we almost never assume that this means the verse is speaking only to men, unless it specifically uses the word “man.” So no one presumes that only men are to keep the Sabbath, or to refrain from eating pork.

    And so why would this injunction against allowing Ammonites or Moabites into the congregation only apply to male Ammonites or Moabites? It is the whole nation that is considered an enemy of Israel. There is no reason to presume that the Torah would absolutely reject male Moabites, but give a free pass to any female Moabites who wished to convert.

    No reason, that is, except for Ruth. Ruth was clearly welcomed into the congregation despite her national origins. So the question is, did the “no male Moabites” understanding of the verse exist even then? Or did the rabbis come up with it later, in order to solve a problem – to legitimize the beloved King David, and the entire national history that followed his reign.

    If it is the latter, perhaps the rabbis looked at the problematic texts in front of them and reasoned, like Rabbi Yochanan, “What can we do? The greatest person of the generation is among them!” And perhaps Rabbi Yochanan, similarly, took a cue from the presumed legitimacy of King David, despite his Moabite origins, and simply declared also for the mamzer, “Once a family becomes mixed up, it remains so.” What’s done is done.

    What lessons can we take from these rabbinic interpretations into our own contemporary conversations about who’s in and who’s out of the Jewish community? I think the general implications are obvious. I will leave the particular applications to rabbis with greater legal authority (and a good measure of courage).

    One thing in these rabbinic teachings I think bears emphasizing, however. Daniel the Tailor worried, as so many of us do, about the pain caused to those who are shut out of the community. He looked at the problem from the outsider’s perspective, and made an argument for communal compassion.

    But Rabbi Yochanan stressed the greatness of the people who would be thrown out of the community, the tremendous human resources that would be lost to the nation if he were to start scrupulously tracing lineages and delegitimizing fellow Jews. He looked at the problem from the insider’s perspective, and made an argument for communal strength.

    Who will be the next to be declared a mamzer? a bastard? an illegitimate convert? a “goy”? If we presume, like Rabbi Yochanan, that “it is within our power to determine who is of impure birth,” and we move, like the Great Sanhedrin, to remove them from the community “with the authority of the Torah,” at what point will we lose the next Einstein, the next Kafka, or the next King David? At what point does the messiah herself sit alone, outside the gates of the community, with no one but God to comfort her?

  6. Wendy Berk

    From Reconstructing Judaism

    Ownership and Return

    By Rabbi Steven Nathan

    This week’s parashah, Ki Tetzey, contains the greatest number of mitzvot/commandments of any Torah portion. The 72 mitzvot found in the parashah focus on everything from the treatment of captives, defiant children, lost animals and the poor through laws of inheritance, weights and fair weights and measures. This amalgam of mitzvot may seem random at times, yet there is a guiding principle that reminds us not to be indifferent to other people and the world around us.

    One of the mitzvot found in the parashah concerns the obligation that we have to return lost property, no matter what it may be or how long ago we may have discovered it. In reading the commentaries on Ki Tetzey I came across many stories from throughout Jewish history dealing with this specific mitzvah.

    One story concerned a man who came to Rabbi Aaron of Chernobyl to tell him of a terrible recurring nightmare that he was having. The man had found a wallet containing a fortune. When he could not find the owner in the crowd, he kept the money, and with it became even wealthier than he could have imagined. In his nightmare the man to whom the money had originally belonged became destitute and had to beg in the streets. He died, leaving his wife and children in poverty so that his children could not even afford an education.

    The rabbi instructed him to find the man who had originally owned the money and to give him half of the wealth he had accumulated. Once he did so, the man’s nightmares ceased.

    The other story does not explicitly concern finding lost items, but it is often used as a parable to teach this mitzvah. In this Talmudic story (Ta’anit 25a) men carrying two measures of barley visited Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair. They deposited the barley with him and seemed to forget about it. Seven years later the men returned to find that Rabbi Pinchas had sowed the barley and reaped great harvests. When he saw them, Rabbi Pinchas told them to take everything from “your storehouses filled with grain.”

    In the first story the man who found the wallet realized that he had profited from the loss of another. Not able to abide this, he was instructed not to return his entire fortune, but instead to share the wealth with the man to whom the money had originally belonged.

    In the second story the grain was not lost, but it was simply forgotten. Still, in good faith, Rabbi Pinchas not only shared the wealth, but he handed all of the remaining grain back to the original owners.

    In both of these stories there is an underlying assumption that there is someone who is the “rightful” owner and someone else who is simply a “proxy” or “temporary” owner who must eventually relinquish not only the original property, but all or part of what had accumulated.

    In principle this moral is one to which we can relate. We must care for others as well as for ourselves; we have no right to profit from the misfortune, negligence or forgetfulness of others. This is part of creating a caring society, just as much as laws protecting the widow, the orphan, the poor and the stranger (which we we also find in this week’s parashah). However, I believe that there is another underlying assumption that should be questioned — though I cannot propose a definitive answer.

    The assumption of which I speak is that the property is owned by anyone at all. In Psalm 24 we are told “the world belongs to God in all its fullness, the earth and all who dwell on it…” In other words, everything on this earth belongs to God. Nothing is truly owned by any human being. A parallel teaching can also be found in Buddhism: nothing in life is permanent. Everything is temporary and ephemeral. We must rejoice in the moment, because that is all we have. We must rejoice in what we have at the moment because we do not know if it will be “ours” the next moment, if indeed it ever was “ours.”

    We spend so much of our lives focusing on acquiring things, whether money, property, books, music, etc., etc. that we often forget to enjoy what and who is in front of us at any given moment.

    In both of the stories above there was an assumption that an object belonged to someone and therefore needed to be returned. And yet there was also an assumption that nothing truly belonged to anyone, or else neither of the “finders” would have dared to profit at all or to keep — or return — any of what they had amassed.

    These two stories bring to light an essential paradox in life with which we must struggle. Given the nature of society as it has developed, we must realistically focus on “ownership.” Yet if we look at the grand scheme, we really don’t own anything. Those who choose to become monastics or practice a life of true simplicity give up everything except what they need to keep themselves warm and fed. Most people are not willing to do that, nor is that what I am proposing. For we are also commanded to rejoice in God’s world and everything in it. But we should never lose track of the fact that everything is temporary and ownerless, from a human perspective, yet eternal and proprietary from a Divine perspective. To quote another great sage, “aye, there’s the rub!”: how to enjoy what we have, who is with us in this very moment, while knowing deep down that the next moment everything may change.

    And so we must continue to engage ourselves with things and people, to fill our days, and theirs, with joy. We honestly do not know who and what will be here with us the next moment. This insight could cause us to despair, yet we are commanded to rejoice in what we have, and in who is part of our lives at this very moment. We must participate in life with all our heart, all our soul and all our might so that we can experience that joy. We’ll experience the next moment when it arrives.

  7. Wendy

    From My Jewish Learning

    Unguarded Roofs
    We are responsible for our actions, our property, and any objects of danger we witness in the world.


    Parashat Ki Teitze offers one of the first instances of building code in human history — the precursor to restrictions on asbestos insulation and circuit breaker requirements. At a moment in time when houses had flat roofs, the Torah tells us, “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall from it.” It’s a simple principle — a flat roof, where family and friends might hang out and barbecue, is an inherently dangerous place. We should anticipate that danger and build a railing so no one falls.

    This is an intuitive proposition, but we shouldn’t fail to note one innovative implication. The parapet requirement provides a practical application of the more abstract principle of –“You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor (Leviticus 19:16).” Beyond demanding that we not perpetrate sins of commission against one another, the Torah now concretely prohibits a sin of omission. It’s not enough for us simply to refrain from pushing someone off of a roof, we must anticipate and proactively protect against that danger.

    Objects of Potential Danger
    It’s not an especially radical leap to apply the principle more generally — if we can easily foresee that something we own may cause danger, we should take precautionary action to mitigate the danger. It’s in the spirit of this verse that American law has seen fit to regulate some of the most mundane details of home ownership. Homeowners must clear their sidewalks of ice and snow so postal workers won’t slip and fall. Swimming pool owners are required to cover their pools when they’re not in use to prevent wandering children from falling in and drowning.

    These are sensible precautions and represent a reasonable approach to assigning responsibility and accountability. Maimonides, however, expands the principle dramatically. In his legal commentary on this verse, he writes:

    “Both the roof and any other object of potential danger, by which it is likely that a person could be fatally injured, require that the owner take action… just as the Torah commands us to make a fence on the roof… and so, too, regarding any obstacle which could cause mortal danger, one, not just the owner, has a positive commandment to remove it… if one does not remove it but leaves those obstacles constituting potential danger, one transgresses a positive commandment and negates a negative commandment ‘Thou shall not spill blood’ (Mishneh Torah, Laws of the Murderer and Protecting Life, 11:4).”

    Here, Maimonides builds upon the radical step already taken by the Torah. In addition to being responsible for acts of omission as well as commission, we are now responsible not only for our own property, but “any other object of potential danger.” Our universe of obligation now encompasses everyone, even people we can’t see, and we are bound to anticipate potential dangers and preemptively protect people against them–poverty, violence, disease, hunger.

    Our Purview of Responsibility
    The potential applications of this principle are myriad. Take malaria, the most widespread of transmissible diseases in the world. Each year, malaria causes over 300 million acute illnesses and over one million deaths. In sub-Saharan Africa, the World Health Organization has documented a 20% decrease in child mortality among families that use insecticide-treated mosquito-nets over their sleeping areas. By Maimonides’ logic, a malarial mosquito seems a perfect extrapolation from an unfenced roof and we should be bound to provide mosquito nets for all people living in regions affected by malaria.

    But where would such responsibility end? If we take the principle to its logical extreme, we run the risk of being paralyzed by compassion fatigue–the feeling of our inadequacy measured against the overwhelming needs we face around the world. It can’t be that the Torah and Maimonides would set us up for such an exercise in frustration.

    The tradition offers a solution to this dilemma from a well-known Talmudic passage:

    Whoever can prevent his household from committing a sin but does not, is responsible for the sins of his household; if he can prevent his fellow citizens, he is responsible for the sins of his fellow citizens; if the whole world, he is responsible for the sins of the whole world.
    The key word here is can. If one can intervene only in one’s household, that is the purview in which one is responsible. If however, one can intervene globally, one’s responsibility extends that far.

    When we look at the world, at all the roofs left unguarded, all the dangers that imperil people, the implications are daunting. As we begin the season of personal reflection of the high holidays, the question of how much responsibility each one of us bears becomes paramount. We must think deeply about whether we have acted to prevent others’ wrongdoing and we must begin the work of constructing parapets, of institutionalizing precautions against destruction, willful or accidental. It’s hard work, but if we truly want to avoid “standing idly by the blood our neighbor;” it must be done.

    Provided by American Jewish World Service, pursuing global justice through grassroots change.

  8. Wendy

    From My Jewish Learning

    Compassion That Can Bring Messiah
    It all begins with how we treat animals.


    If you chance upon a bird’s nest along the way in any tree or on the ground, whether it contains young birds or eggs, and the mother is sitting upon the young birds or upon the eggs — you shall not take the mother bird together with her children. You shall surely send away (shalei’ach tishalach) the mother, and only then may you take the young for yourself; that it may go well for you, and you may prolong your days (Deut. 22:6-7).
    Our Sages discern within this Torah law several surprising and far-reaching implications. Concerning the phrase shalei’ach tishalach (“you shall surely send away”), the Midrash states:

    Why does the verse use a double expression? Because one who fulfills the ‘sending forth’ of this precept will be granted the privilege of ‘sending forth’ a slave to freedom. As it is written (Deut. 15:12), ‘And when you send him forth free…’ Fulfilling the precept of sending forth the mother bird also hastens the advent of the Messiah…

    Rabbi Tanchuma said: Fulfilling this precept hastens the arrival of Elijah the Prophet, whose coming is associated with the expression ‘to send forth.’ As it states (Malakhi 3:23), ‘Behold, I shall send forth to you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of God…’ and he shall console you as it says (ibid.), ‘He will return the hearts of parents towards children.’
    At first glance, these connections may seem arbitrary. What does the act of sending away a mother bird before taking the nestlings have to do with freeing slaves, or the coming of Elijah the Prophet and the Messiah? The Midrash uses the verb tishalach (to send away) as the element that connects the issues it mentions. But this semantic link between the three verses only begs the question: What do these issues actually have in common?

    Judaism and Animals
    A possible answer may be found by considering Jewish teachings on compassion to animals. While the Torah clearly places humanity above the animal kingdom, it mandates respect for all creatures, forbids causing animals unnecessary suffering, and idealizes the state of peace and harmony among all living things that will prevail during the Messianic era. The term nefesh chayah (living soul) is applied to animals as well as humans (Genesis 1:21, 1:24).

    The Kabbalists, too, stress the importance of compassion and respect for animals, since all things emanate from the Divine Wisdom and serve God’s Will. Perhaps the cornerstone of the Jewish attitude toward animals is the psalmist’s declaration (Psalms 145:9): “His compassion is upon all of His works.” The Talmud (Sota 14a) teaches: Because the Creator shows compassion to all creatures, so should we.

    The Torah Ideal
    The Jewish paradigm of a perfect world is the Garden of Eden, in which harmony and peace existed between all creatures. The curse of death had not been visited upon the world, and both humans and animals were vegetarian, both by instinct and Divine mandate. (In fact, even after the banishment from Eden humans were not permitted to eat meat until after the great flood during the generation of Noah.) This Eden-like state of harmony and peace will be restored in the Messianic era. As the prophet Isaiah states (11:6-7), “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb…the lion shall eat straw like the ox…”

    According to Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, first Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel, all creatures will then return to their original vegetarian diet, for the tikkun (spiritual rectification) accomplished by meat-eating will have been fully accomplished.

    Of course, the central feature of the Messianic era is freedom from political subjugation. The entire Jewish people will return to the land of Israel, where at last they will dwell in peace. All conflict between nations will cease.

    Beyond this, human nature itself will be transformed, as it is written, “A new heart I shall give you, and a new spirit I shall put within you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your flesh, and I shall give you a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).” The prophets envisioned a future world in which compassion, not selfishness and strife, will proliferate. “They shall neither hurt nor destroy upon all My holy mountain, for the knowledge of God shall fill the earth as the water covers the seas (Isaiah 11:9).”

    From Study to Deeds
    Given this, we can see a profound connection between the mitzvah of sending forth the mother bird, the freeing of a slave, and the advent of the Messiah. According to another Midrash (Devarim Rabbah 6:1), this precept is an act of compassion:

    Rabbi Yudan ben Pazi stated: Why is an infant circumcised after eight days? The Holy One, blessed be He, extended mercy to him by waiting until he became strong enough. And just as the Holy One, blessed be He, has mercy on human beings, so does He have mercy on animals; as it is written, ‘A bullock, a lamb, or a kid goat, when it is born, it shall be seven days under its mother, but from the eighth day and thenceforth it may be accepted as an offering to God (Leviticus 22:27).’ Not only this, but the Holy One, blessed be He, declared, ‘(A mother cow) and her young you shall not slaughter on the same day (Leviticus 22:28).’ And just as the Holy One, blessed be He, has mercy upon beasts, so does He have mercy upon birds, as it is written (Deut. 22:6), ‘When you encounter a bird’s nest…’
    Certainly the Torah wishes to ennoble us through its teachings (Avot 1:17): “The study (midrash) is not the main thing, but the deed (ma’aseh).” The practical implication of the precept of sending away the mother bird is clear: acts of compassion for other human beings (such as freeing a slave) and ultimately world peace and enlightenment are brought about by an act of compassion for animals.

    Why should this be so? Perhaps because acts that bespeak an enlightened spirit are inherently Messianic. The example here is of sending away the mother bird; but this is implicitly true of all acts of compassion. A person can be compassionate only by putting aside self-concern and considering the total situation of which he or she is a part. This holistic awareness will be fully attained during the Messianic era.

    The spirit that moves us to behave in a sensitive and caring manner is an extension of that revolution in human consciousness. Thus, the Midrash enjoins us to bring the Messiah by becoming attuned to this spirit and allowing it to inspire our actions. Then, to paraphrase the words of our Sages (Talmud Bavli, Shabbat, 151b), the Merciful One will surely have mercy on those who are merciful.

  9. Wendy

    From Rabbi Richard Address

    Ki-Tetzei: Is That What You Really “Want”?

    Written by: Rabbi Richard Address on August 29, 2017.
    This week’s portion, “Ki Tetzei” is filled with a series of laws and regulation that again, seek to establish the moral and legal order of the land that the Israelites are about to enter. There are a wide variety of laws that form the legal foundation for society, even today. We have a famous passage about what to do if you come across a birds nest with eggs of new born, with the mother sitting with them, it is permissible to take the young but let the mother go (22:6). Likewise, one of the most famous proof texts for medicine and doctors is 22:2 which accounts the situation when someone looses his ox and the command that “you shall return it to him”. Commentaries deduced that if you are sick you have lost health and that it is commanded that we attempt to restore that which has been lost; in this case health, and this has been used as a major proof text for people becoming doctors and the permission to heal. There are laws about lending and also the major Biblical proof text allowing for divorce (24:1)) So much, and more , in this portion
    But I would like to return to the beginning of the passage. In [21:10]-14, we read of Moses instructing the people that when they go war and the people take captives and one sees a beautiful woman, and wish to take her to wife, she is to perform rituals of mourning for the los of her family, rituals of cleanliness and purification and then is allowed to become a wife. However, if after a while “you should no longer want her” the command is to release her as a free person.
    There is much to unpack here, not the least is the issue of taking women captives. There is discussion, of course, on the passage and some look at the words used to describe desire her in verse 11 (the Hebrew is v’chashaktah”) and then in 14, the word used to describe when the person no longer desires the woman (cha’fatz’tah). Why two different words? He desired her in 12 but does not desire her in 14.
    In a comment that looks at the psychological aspects of the portion, Vivian Skolnick, PhD sees the passage in verse 10 describing a person going out against his enemies as really being symbolic of each of us going to war within our inner impulses. She writes that “the natural unconscious desire of man is to take what he wants when he wants it without regard for others, especially from those who are weaker than he”. (“The Biblical Path to Psychological Maturity” p. 231)
    That desire often leads us to “desire” something in the moment and then, once we have it, we come to not want it any more. Do we, as a High Holiday prayer book states, confuse “lust with love”? Is the “enemy” we war against this inner conflict between satisfying a temporary desire and something that grows over time into something we “need”? How interesting that the Torah uses the image of desire for a woman? Have some of us walked this path in our life? I imagine we know people who have, be it a relationship or a position, we sometimes confuse what we need for our souls with a temporary desire. One of the gifts, we hope, of longevity is the ability to understand the temporal versus the lasting. It is an understanding that we hope we can pass down to those we love and care for. ]
    Shabbat shalom
    Rabbi Richard F Address

  10. Wendy

    From Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies

    Shabbat Parashat Ki tetse

    By: Reb Mimi Feigelson,

    “When my Soul was in the Lost-and-Found” – Take 2

    Torah Reading: Deuteronomy 21:10 – 29:19
    Haftarah Reading: Isaiah 54:1 – 10 + Isaiah 54,1-55,5

    Thank you Aretha Franklin / Carole King for singing our truth, and coining our feeling so many days of the year. Is “the Lost and Found” a place, a person, a state of consciousness, a time of the year? Is it a Rabbi, a friend, a relative? Is it perhaps the month of Elul, or Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur? Is it Sukkot? Maybe our prayer book or our regular seat during prayers on Shabbat? Perhaps our favorite tree on a trail that we regularly walk?

    I know for myself that there were years that when I felt myself ‘wandering’ when I felt lost, and not ready to go home after a day with my students I would make my way to join my dovening community for Mincha and Ma’ariv. For many months one of the elders would smile at me as I walked in and compassionately ask: “Who are you saying Kaddish for today?” I would smile back as say: “Does a person need someone to say Kaddish for, in order to show up for the evening prayers?” It was easier than explaining that I was feeling lost and needed a shul and a praying community to ground me, to help me reclaim a part of myself that had gotten lost during the day.

    At the end of my comments I will also bring a link to “When my Soul was in the Lost-and-Found” – Take 1″ – it was Deuteronomy / D’varim 22, 1-3, and it was the first time I spoke of our soul being lost, not only our physical possessions being lost at times. It is a concept that I hold on to daily, and in that way stays with me, and holds me when I come to the ‘headquarters’ of the laws of returning lost objects to their rightful owners, as they appear in our Torah portion (Shabbat Ki-Tetze 2008)

    1 You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep driven away, and hide yourself from them; you shall surely bring them back to your brother.
    2 And if your brother is not near you, and you know him not, then you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall be with you until your brother require it, and you shall restore it to him.
    3 And so shall you do with his ass; and so shall thou do with his garment; and so shall thou do with every lost thing of your brother’s, which he has lost, and you have found; you may not hide yourself.
    There are two thoughts that I would like to add. The first is an invitation to transform poetry into prayer. Imagine for a moment that the original words of the song were a prayer to God:

    “When my soul was in the lost and found
    You came along, to claim it
    I didn’t know just what was wrong with me
    ‘Til your kiss helped me name it
    Now I’m no longer doubtful of what I’m living for
    And if I make you happy I don’t need to do more”
    Imagine the feeling of feeling lost and being found by God. Imagine the feeling of God’s kiss on your lips, a kiss that brings back the clarity of what went wrong and where it went wrong. Imagine the clarity of what needs to happen right now in your life to set things straight. Imagine the feeling of knowing that you are able to make God happy, and in that moment there is complete wholeness in your life, a moment where nothing is lacking, there is no longing and desiring. There is a sense of Home, of presence. Perhaps similar to King David’s feeling as he requests in T’hillim/Psalms 27:4, the special prayer that we add every day from the first day of Elul till Hoshana Rabba:

    “One thing have I asked of God, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of God all the days of my life, to behold the graciousness of God, and to visit early in His temple.”
    Whether in Aretha Franklin, Carole King or your own voice, hear yourself sing to God:

    “When my soul was in the lost and found
    You came along, to claim it
    I didn’t know just what was wrong with me
    ‘Til your kiss helped me name it
    Now I’m no longer doubtful of what I’m living for
    And if I make you happy I don’t need to do more”
    My second thought that found its way to my heart last week is based on a frequently quoted concept of this period of the year being a time when “The King / Queen is in the Field.” A metaphor to God’s presence that is palpable in ways that is harder to sense other times of the year. More often than not I would use the image of the “Tshuva Specialist.” It is not that it is impossible to find ones way Home to God all year round, it is possible, yet harder. During these 7 weeks, God can be felt a bit closer. Similar to the way the medical specialist can be seen all year round, though most of the year they have office hours twice a week from 2:40 – 3:10 pm. During these seven weeks they have a walk-in clinic seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

    This year I’m walking with a different image. Yes, I’m holding on to the image of “God in the Field” though now it is not that we are able to see God with greater ease, rather God is walking and finding all our lost pieces while on the road. God is now our Brother/Sister, our Kin, who is bound to the commandment to return to us all that they have found along the way. My teacher, Reb Shlomo Carlebach (1925-1994) taught us that the word for sibling in Hebrew Ach / Achot (brother / sister) is connected to the word E’chuy (heal) as in the way we speak of Ach / Achot as nurse in Modern Hebrew. In this manner of reading, God is not only the one that finds our lost parts, as a sibling, rather also as a Healer. The Ultimate Healer.

    During these weeks of seeking, may we allow ourselves to feel that Divine intimacy, or at least be able to name it as our lost feeling; may this Shabbat beacon us, as a “Lost and Found” – returning to us all that we lost during the week; may our eyes be open to see what our kin have lost and may our hearts be open for others to come and claim that which is theirs.

    Shabbat shalom.

  11. Wendy

    From My Jewish Learning

    Every Act Is Significant

    The reward of long life for the seemingly simple commandment of shooing away a mother bird before taking her young teaches us that no act is trivial.
    By Rabbi Irving Greenberg

    Provided by CLAL: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a multi-denominational think tank and resource center.

    This parasha has the largest concentration of mitzvot (commandments) of any portion; 74 out of the traditional 613 commandments are found in it. Of all these commandments, one stands out. “If [walking] along the road, you chance upon a bird’s nest . . . and the mother is sitting over the fledglings or on the eggs, do not take the mother together with her young. Let the mother go and take only the young, in order that you may fare well and have a long life” (Deuteronomy 22:6).

    The Talmud labels this mitzvah the “lightest” (the most insubstantial) of all the commandments, probably because it takes little effort to perform. Sending away the mother might well involve merely making a loud noise. Indeed, just walking close (or advancing menacingly) might induce the mother to fly away.

    Commentators in every generation have wondered why there is so extravagant a reward (a good, long life) for so “trivial” an act! Indeed, one Talmudic commentator points out that the same reward is specified in the Torah for honoring parents. Yet fulfilling that commandment takes a lifetime and often involves money, emotion and effort without limit. He concludes that the equality of reward is the point. The “lightest” of commandments rewarded as much as the “weightiest” to teach us to treasure and observe all commandments equally–for the reward of any mitzvah is incalculable.

    Through this commandment, the Torah teaches that every act is of immense significance. Therefore, no act is inherently trivial. When you eat, you can choose food and prepare it to express reverence for life or commitment to being a Jew (kashrut). When you speak, you can say a word of encouragement, truth or love or you can say a word of malicious gossip, falsehood or degradation.

    Maimonides writes in his laws of repentance that every person should consider himself or herself as perfectly balanced between good and bad and the world as perfectly balanced between good and evil. The next action you do–however trivial–can tilt you and the whole world toward the side of good and life or to the side of evil and death. Choose life!

  12. Wendy

    From Jewish Theological Seminary

    By Professor Arnold M. Eisen | Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary

    This week’s Torah portion is directed at Israelites about to “go out” of the wilderness; next week’s portion offers guidance to those about to “come in” to the Promised Land. Deuteronomy is anxious for the Israelites to build a society distinct from the one that had enslaved them and no less distinct from the other societies and cultures that will surround them in the Land of Canaan. It wants a people united in their new nation-state—and, to that end, propounds a series of wide-ranging laws designed to bring and keep them together. The “going out” from all existing precedents must be substantial. The “coming in” must make them worthy of having God’s presence in their midst.
    This, I think, is the logic behind many of the regulations in Ki Tetzei; a set of dos and don’ts that in some cases are immediately comprehensible, but in others seem at first glance (or even second) to be of dubious importance. Let’s start with the mitzvot that clearly promote the collective unity. Sheep or oxen that belong to “your fellow” and have wandered off must be returned to their owner or, if that is not possible, held and sustained until claimed. Israelites must do the same with lost garments or “anything that your fellow loses and you find” (22:1–3). The word translated as fellow by JPS literally means brother: a member of the national-religious family of Israel. “You must not remain indifferent” or look away. If your brother’s ass or oxen have fallen in the road, help him to raise them up (22:4). Interest cannot be collected on loans of money or food to Israelites, but is permitted on loans to foreigners (23:20–21). Do not enter your neighbor’s house to seize a pledge that is the basis of a loan, or hold the pledge overnight if he needs it for warmth (24:10–13). You may eat grapes from your neighbor’s vineyard and pluck ears from the standing grain in your neighbor’s field (23:25–26). Olives left on the tree or grapes left on the vine after initial harvesting are to remain there for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. “Always remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this thing” (24:20–22).
    The main point of that final sentence—explaining the reason for all the rest—is its pronoun: second-person singular. You were a slave in Egypt—not you as an individual, since with few exceptions the generation of adults who had been enslaved have died out in the wilderness, but you the community of Israel—addressed as one here and elsewhere in the Torah, made into one people by collective observance of laws that bind them to each other and separate them from non-Israelites.
    This same process seems to be at work in many regulations where it is not immediately obvious. There is, for example (22:13–21), the case of the man who comes to hate his wife, and defames her with the charge that she was not a virgin when they married. Such defamation of character is fatal not only to marriages, but to the community as a whole. Think of children whose parentage and standing is suddenly rendered uncertain. Distrust would quickly spread from the marriage bed—and marriage contracts—to every other sort of union. The very next statutes concern adultery, an “evil in Israel” or any other society. Another law: if a man has two wives, one loved by him and the other not, his inheritance must go to the firstborn even if he is the son of the unloved wife. Affection is fickle and unpredictable. The social system requires order and transparency. Neighbors cannot always tell which wife is more beloved by her husband, but they will know which child came first, and plan accordingly. Even the awful law pertaining to the “wayward and defiant son,” which the rabbis couched in so many conditions as to make it virtually impossible to apply (21:18–21), seems designed in part to demonstrate that family rebellion threatens the community as a whole, and must be dealt with collectively. The parents declare the son’s crimes to the elders, and he is killed by the entire town. “Thus you will sweep out evil from your midst; all Israel will hear [or: obey] and be afraid.”
    The point, once again, is what all of Israel will do as one. Earlier sections of the Torah stressed the need for the children of Israel to maintain ritual purity in their wilderness encampment, because God dwelt among them. Deuteronomy is concerned with purity in the Israelite army as it goes into battle, the Ark of the Covenant in the lead, and with purity, ritual, and moral in the Land of Israel. Over and over (see, for example, 23:2–8), the Torah talks about who may be a part of the “congregation of the Lord.” It is one thing to maintain ritual purity in the wilderness, where the children of Israel are pictured as surrounded by no one and nothing. A man who is impure simply goes out of the camp until sunset, washes, and reenters. There is nothing out there to worry about—because there is nothing out there.
    The Land of Canaan is another matter entirely. It is full of Canaanites, meaning customs, cultures, gods, altars, temptations. Deuteronomy is all too aware of how fragile Israelite religion is—a new thing under the sun, the only religion of its kind, devoted to a God who cannot be seen or even imaged. It wants to make sure that the things Israelites see and do every day are utterly distinctive, whether ritual or commercial, private or public. No cult prostitutes in its community. No dishonest weights or measures in its marketplace. Protection of the rights of the stranger and the fatherless. And all the rest.
    The Torah tries at times to soften the brutal rules of warfare that are a feature of the ancient world (and of the contemporary world). One senses a certain desperation in Deuteronomy’s unceasing warnings against adopting the customs of other nations and its comprehensive effort to render Israelite society distinct from that of its neighbors. We who are familiar with the phenomenon and price of assimilation cannot avoid reflecting on how, why, and in what ways it is important for Jews to be different, and what price we are prepared to pay for that difference. We who have witnessed and taken part in the reentry of Jews into the Promised Land and the reestablishment of a Jewish nation-state there know what is at stake in Jewish observance, Jewish faith, economic justice, fair treatment of the poor and the stranger, and all the other policies to which Ki Tetzei insists we pay attention.

  13. Wendy

    From American Jewish World Service

    Sigal Samuel

    Parashat Ki Tetze contains 74 interesting and illuminating commandments—including one that, at first glance, gets my hackles up: “A man’s apparel should not be on a woman, and a man should not wear a woman’s clothing, for whoever does these things is an abomination before Adonai your God.”1 For many of us—and especially for those of us who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming—this apparent prohibition against cross-dressing feels problematic. Why should wearing clothes that are not “gender-appropriate” earn the harsh title of abomination?
    The ancient rabbis—who, apparently, were equally perplexed by this verse—offered a surprising interpretation of it, one that provides an opportunity to reflect on differing expressions of gender identity within our communities and around the world. Interestingly, the Babylonian Talmud does not read the verse as a simple ban on cross-dressing. Instead, it explains that the law prohibits cross-dressing for the purpose of falsifying one’s identity and infiltrating spaces reserved for the opposite gender.2 Similarly, Rashi, the celebrated medieval commentator, explains that the law forbids people from dressing like and associating with a group of the opposite gender for the purpose of adultery.3 Following this same logic, the Shulchan Aruch teaches that men and women are permitted to cross-dress on Purim, since it is for the purpose of simcha—joy or merrymaking—not illicit activity.4
    According to rabbinic interpretation, then, this law is not about preventing people from wearing clothes traditionally associated with another gender. It is about preventing deception—the veiling of our true identities—and the harmful results of gaining access to restricted spaces by means of that deception. Read in this light, the verse urges us to ensure that we create spaces that are safe, appropriate and consensual for everyone. Pushing the rabbis’ concerns about deception even further, I would suggest that when we use clothing (or other visible markers) to reveal our true identities—what we believe to be our authentic innermost selves—we achieve something that is not only permissible, but ideal.
    Unfortunately, those who reveal their true identities in ways that subvert traditional gender norms often face a great deal of discrimination. For many transgender and gender non-conforming people across the globe, particularly in developing countries, this translates into crippling social and economic hardship. India, for example, is home to approximately one million transgender people. Because the majority of them are denied access to job, education and housing opportunities, they are forced to inhabit slums and engage in sex work to survive. Since many are HIV-positive, members of the transgender community are typecast as “high risk,” a classification that serves to justify their restricted access to health services and social welfare, which further entrenches the bias against them.5
    Hijras—physiological males who adopt a feminine gender identity—constitute a conspicuous segment of the Indian transgender population. Neither fully male nor fully female according to traditional gender norms, they are regarded with a mixture of deference and disdain. On the one hand, their special status earns them a place at weddings and birth ceremonies, where they are asked to bestow blessings for good luck and fertility. Most of the time, however, they are relegated to the margins of Indian society, where they endure extreme poverty, discriminatory treatment and police brutality.6 Like many transgender populations the world over, they pay a high price for failing to fit into traditional male and female gender categories.
    Yet transgender populations across the globe are also making important social gains. This past May, for instance, Burma celebrated its very first International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Over 400 people attended the inaugural rally for LGBT rights, which was held in a social hall in the Burmese capital of Rangoon. One of the participants, a 106-year-old transgender woman named U Kyaw, was almost in tears as she told the audience how gratified she was to see this event take place in what had long been a conservative and repressive country.7
    Reflecting on U Kyaw’s experience deepens my appreciation for the Shulchan Aruch’s claim that subverting gender norms is permissible when it is done for the purpose of simcha. I can think of no greater joy than the joy that comes from having our authentic selves recognized and validated. When I consider U Kyaw’s life, I am overwhelmed with respect for the endurance she has displayed, and saddened that she had to wait an entire century to enjoy the fundamental simcha of being recognized for who she is. Let’s not let our brothers and sisters around the world wait that long. Instead, let us seize the opportunity provided by this week’s parashah to reflect on the myriad forms gender expression can take, and to celebrate those incredibly satisfying moments when our outward appearances reveal our true authentic selves.

    1 Deuteronomy 22:5.
    2 Babylonian Talmud, Nazir 59a.
    3 Rashi on Deuteronomy 22:5.
    4 Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 696:8.
    5 “Hijras/Transgender Women in India: HIV, Human Rights and Social Exclusion,” United Nations Development Programme, December 2010.
    6 “Police Violence Against Activists in Bangalore on October 20, 2008,” Human Rights Watch, 28 October 2008.
    7 Anna Leach, “106-year-old Transgender Woman Speaks at Burma’s First IDAHO,” Gay Star News, 18 May 2012.

  14. Wendy

    From Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies

    Living Hand to Mouth

    Rabbi Cheryl Peretz

    Torah Reading: Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19
    Haftarah Reading: Isaiah 54:1-10

    Long before discussions of labor law and corporate ethics emerged as topics for discussion in secular society, the Torah established a model for discussing the concepts of equity and fairness between employees and their employers, introducing employment principles regarding work agreement, fair wages, fair treatment, and the tenor of the overall relationship between employer and employee as topics of public debate. One such principle, for example, is found in this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tetze: “You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer, whether a fellow countryman or stranger in one of the communities of your land. You must pay him his wages on the same day, before the sun sets, for he is needy and urgently depends on it; else he will cry to God against you and you will incur guilt” (Deuteronomy 24:14-15).

    The Mishnah BavaMetzia 9:2 explains that while the Torah’s pronouncements are designed to create the fairest and most reasonable earning environment for day laborers, the requirements to pay on time may also refer to any previously agreed-upon pay period-be it daily, weekly, monthly, or at some other predetermined interval. Moreover, the justification for this substantial liberalization of biblical law derives directly from the reason the Torah itself gives regarding its own strictness with respect to the treatment of day laborer. The Torah specifically explains that one should presume that day laborers live hand-to-mouth and are thus totally reliant on the wages they earn daily to cover their most immediate expenses, even the purchase of food for their families. Because we understand that, without their daily wages, such workers and their families will be unable even to eat, we must exert ourselves maximally to provide them with the money they have already earned.

    Practically speaking, it is mandated that, regardless of the specific pay period agreed upon at the time of employment, employers have an obligation to pay the wages of their employees at the appropriate time without undue delay. An employer who purposefully withholds payment, according to Maimonides (at MT Hilkhot Sekhirut 11:2), is classified as an osheik (an extortionist) and may be considered to be breaking as many as five different biblical commandments concurrently.

    All this makes total sense when we consider the worker who is “poor” and whose wages really are needed in the moment for food, but does this mean it would not apply to a case where the employee fails to demonstrate financial need or when it is known that the employee has other means of livelihood and is not poor? Should workers have to demonstrate financial need to insure their on-time payment? In other words, if the halakhah finds the wherewithal to permit the relaxation of the Torah’s daily payment schedule if the employee does not demand it, then why should it be so wrong to delay payment in cases where employees do not urgently need their daily (or weekly, or monthly) wages to buy food for their families?

    This exact question is asked in the Talmud at BT Bava Metzia 112a: “Why does a worker ascend upon a ladder, suspend himself from a tree, and place himself at risk, if not for his wage?…One who withholds the pay of a worker, it is as if he has taken his spirit from him.” In other words, the timely payment of wages, therefore, is about more than just financial neediness and it is a feeling that is universal to all who are part of productive work in our society. It is also about the worker’s commitment to his or her job; it is about his or her spirit, his or her sense of self-worth and purpose. And, it is about his or her morale and feelings towards the job.

    Each of us has a universal right to feel the meaning of our work and to experience it in ways that help us mark our own contributions. Without it, we are all poor and just as the wages cannot be stolen from us, neither can that be! May we in our world continue to find ways to hold ourselves accountable for regular payment of these wages making us richer, more fulfilled, and more motivated to keep working!

    Shabbat Shalom.

  15. Wendy

    From Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan

    Ki Tetze
    Careful Hearing (5772/2102)

    Towards the end of the Biblical book named after him, Job has a direct encounter with God. All of his questions fade away, and he says: “In the past, I heard about You with my ears; but now I see you with my eyes” (42:5).

    Years ago, I had heard from one relative that some others did not value family relationships, and that these flawed values led to unethical behavior. This old report colored every subsequent thing I heard about these relatives. In every story, I imagined their questionable motives. But just a few weeks ago, I saw these “questionable” people in action. They went to extraordinary lengths to stay connected with us during our own time of mourning. In the past I had only heard the subjective reports of others; now I have seen with my own eyes.

    The Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan) says that one person’s habit of speaking lashon hara affects not only how they speak, but also how others hear. Confession: I am not always careful when I hear emotionally charged reports. Instead of recognizing them as the by-product of negative interactions in need of healing, I sometimes accept them as facts. Alternatively, I should sympathize, decide whether it is appropriate to inquire into the details, and encourage the speaker to reach out towards healing.

    Parshat Ki Tetze says: motza sefatecha tishmor – be careful with speech. (23:34) Paired with that should be the instruction, “be careful with your hearing.” When you recognize the inner processes behind your own damaging reports, you can free your speech from negativity. At the same time, you come to understand others, and free your hearing from prejudice.

    Why Save a Bird? (5765/2005)

    “If you chance upon a bird’s nest, do not take the mother together with the young. Let the mother go, in order that you may have a long life.” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 22:6-7)

    Talmud (Berachot 33b) teaches that we should not try to understand the reason for this commandment. Mitzvot are not expressions of human values, but come from a higher source. Not surprisingly, some of our greatest scholars ignored the Talmud’s advice.

    A story is told that Elisha Ben Abuyah, a teacher of some of the greatest Talmudic sages, saw a child perform this mitzvah and still die young. Shattered by this failure of justice, Elisha Ben Abuyah became an atheist.

    Maimonides (Rambam) said that this commandment expresses God’s nature in a way we can understand and emulate. Biologically, animals care about their offspring. No mother bird wants to see her children stolen. God has compassion for non-human life and insists that we share it.

    Nachmanides (Ramban) thought this commandment spoke specifically to the human need for ethical values. Though we must kill to eat, we should always limit our cruelty. And although we are permitted to eat a single animal, we must not wipe out a species.

    None of these teachings is complete or perfect. But each offers an important principle for the self-reflective month of Ellul. Recognize that our own understanding is limited. Ask questions. Demand justice. Be aware that the entire world is alive. Increase compassion. Protect other species. Monitor our own ethical growth.

  16. Wendy

    From Rabbi James Stone Goodman

    O holy Shabbes inspiration Ki Teitzei

    Here’s a tough one: what about stoning a rebellious kid?

    When a man has a son who is stubborn, and a rebel one who does not listen to
    the voice of his father or the voice of his mother –

    and they discipline him and he still does not listen to them
    then his father and his mother are to grab him
    and drag him to the town elders
    in the gates of his place –

    and they are to say to the town elders
    our son is stubborn and a rebel
    he does not listen to our voice
    he is a glutton and a drunkard

    then all the men of the town are to pelt him with stones
    so that he dies [what?!]
    so shall you burn the evil out of your midst [oh – my – G*d]

    and all Israel will hear and be awed. [Deut 21:18 ff.]

    I don’t believe this for a minute. This is like threatening your kid with Juvenile Detention. Who actually got sent to Juvie?

    The Rabbis said: the stoning of a son who is stubborn and a rebel never happened and never will happen. Why then was this law written in the Torah?
    It was put in the Torah so we can study it and receive reward for our study. [BT Sanhedrin 71a].

    Meaning — we should talk about it because there may have been a time, there may be a time to come, when you want to strangle your kid. You gotta talk about it. Think it through, turn it and turn it for what it means.

    Lousy good-for-nothing kid, so-and-so ungrateful no-count lowlife kid –
    talk it through, think about it, let the heat dissipate.

    The Talmud continues: Rabbi Yonatan said, you are wrong. It did happen.
    I saw one [kid who was stoned to death] and sat on his grave. [Sanhedrin 71a]

    If we thought we were out of this story with our sophisticated sensibility, our enlightened parenting intact, consider this picture of Rabbi Yonatan sitting on a grave — back to the verse, the end specifically: all Israel will hear and be awed.

    Rabbi Yonatan: Look — I don’t know whose grave I was sitting on, but the point is when my kid hears about it, he and all Israel will be awed, moved — look I’m trying to run a household here.

    We don’t really act this way but we do resort to lesser strategies once in a while. We get frustrated; our kids aren’t behaving the way we would have them behave,
    parenting is not the sophisticated set of clever strategies the books recommend,
    family peace is not the way we intended it: HEY IT’S NOT HAPPENING THE WAY IT WAS SUPPOSED TO –

    Give me a break here. My version of existence — my children, my family –
    let the rest of Israel hear it and set their houses in order. We’re doing the best we can, what we are reaching for is a way to return.

    Ki Teitzei — when you leave — ya-tza — the room for leaving. When we leave our expectations over the great messes that our lives have become, when we cease to compare the what-it-is to the what-we-wanted or the-way-it-was-supposed-to-be, when we leave Ki Teitzei behind all the supposed-to’s of our existence: our kids — supposed to behave this way, our husbands our wives — supposed to act this way, ourselves — supposed to enjoy our lives this way.

    When we ki teitze, when we leave — if we leave — our expectations where they belong: in a shoebox under the bed, then are we free to deal creatively with life, with our children, our families, the way they are, not the way they are supposed to be.

    The way they are: the great what-it-is. We have ki teitzei’d, we have left the supposed-to-be and have entered the holy way-it-is; now we are free to be alive to life in its complexity, its messiness, independent of our effort to manage, cajole, contain.

    We are alive to life as it presents itself to us; not as we would have had it.

    We are now truly co-creators with G*d in the full catastrophe of existence, as Zorba and the Buddhists say, and free.

    Forgive us O holy G*d our lofty strategies and less lofty strategies. We are all learning, studying the world so we may receive the merits.

    We’re doing the best we can.

    jsg, usa

  17. Wendy

    From Rav DovBer Pinson

    Week’s Energy for Parshas Ki Teitzei

    Identifying with our Perfection
    Rav DovBer Pinson
    This week’s Torah reading opens with the theme of the protocols of battle.
    “When you will go out to battle with your enemy, and Hashem will deliver the enemy to your hands…”
    While the verse is translated as ‘with your enemy’, the word used is ‘al,’ upon or above, your enemy.
    “When you will go out to battle above your enemy.”
    We go out to battle with the premise that we are going to be victorious.
    Namely, ‘I am already above the enemy and will certainly emerge the victor.’
    This portion is read in the month of Elul, the month associated with the letter Yud. In this month we prepare for the high holy days by dealing with our past and accounting for our previous deeds.
    We do battle, as it were, with our deepest insecurities, negativities and challenges
    In dealing with our life’s challenges, we have two choices. Either the challenging situation is controlling you or you are above the problem and controlling it.
    When you go out to do battle you are already above the challenge and know that you will overcome.
    We go into the month of Elul, as if into a battle. The letter Yud, which is the letter of Elul, represents the spark of perfection, the Divine that is at our very essence. We know with our full hearts that we are tzaddikim. We are righteous and perfect at our core.
    When we look back at things that were done that were not aligned with this reality – we say to ourselves – ‘this was not appropriate behavior for a tzaddik.’ Knowing, that when we will be fully aligned with our essential spark of goodness that is our true self, our actions, speech and thoughts will also be perfectly in sync and appropriate to the person that we really are.
    The Energy of the Week
    Identifying with our Perfection
    This week’s energy allows us to strongly identify with, and connect to, the spark of Divinity that is at the core of our existence.
    Through recognizing our essence as perfect, we will overcome our challenges by simply aligning our present behaviors with the goodness that is at our core.
    When you think of yourself this week, try to strip away the externals and connect with your essence.
    Recognize that this essential spark, which is the essence of ‘you,’ is completely pure and unblemished.
    When you feel badly about a past misdeed, recognize it for what it is – a mistake – for in a reality where you are connected to your essence, such a thing would not have been possible.
    When you make choices this week, or work to overcome a challenge, connect to the ‘yud’ of your self, and make the choice from that place.

  18. Roberta Wall

    When have I gone “out to battle against enemies”- when I judge others- when Iblame others– this parsha is reminding me to lech lecha- return t omyself- see the beauty in me that is underneath my judgments of another- it may be my yearning for justice or love or warmth or safety–I return to myself and what is precious to me instead of going out and blaming others. I purify my judgments by transforming them into the qualities that give me life and love.

  19. Wendy


    When you go out to war upon your enemies… and capture from them captives (21:10)

    Also from one’s spiritual enemies one must “capture captives.” Anything negative in man or in the world can be exploited for the good, if one can derive a lesson from it in the service of the Creator.
    (Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov)
    I learned seven things from the thief: 1) What he does, he keeps to himself. 2) He is willing to take risks to attain his goal. 3) He does not distinguish between ‘major’ and ‘minor’ things, but takes equally exacting care of each and every detail. 4) He invests great effort in what he does. 5) He is swift. 6) He is always optimistic. 7) If at first he fails, he is back time and again for another try.
    (Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli)

  20. Aryae Post author

    Reb Avraham Greenbaum

    The “beautiful captive” as a symbol

    The “beautiful captive” who is the subject of the first law in this portion may be seen as the embodiment of beautiful and alluring aspects of the wider materialistic world that surrounds us. We may desire to “capture” them and bring them inside our homes and incorporate them into our lives in the hope that we may enjoy them while still keeping them under control so as not allow them to deflect us from our true purpose of serving the One God. However, the rabbis urged great caution, teaching that such “marriages” may lead to disastrous consequences, as when things go sour (symbolized in the domestic strife and hatred and the rebellious child that are the subjects of the ensuing verses in this section, Deuteronomy 21:14-21).

    In our times, one of the ways the “enemy” can invade our homes and penetrate our very minds and hearts is through the television, newspapers and magazines, and Internet – which expose us to all the allure of the surrounding world inside our very living rooms, consciously or unconsciously influencing our minds, thoughts, feelings and opinions in all areas of life.

    Teachings for daily life

    The rabbis enumerated a total of 72 separate commandments given to Israel in our present portion of KI SEITZEI. The earlier portions in Deuteronomy contain many laws relating to the prohibition of idolatry, the Temple, festivals, judiciary, kingship and government. In marked contrast, almost all of the commandments in KI SEITZEI relate to the lives of ordinary men and women in the home, at work, in business, in marriage, raising children and dealing with all kinds of matters that come up in everyday life – from returning lost property (Deut. 22:1-3) to standards of dress (ibid. v. 5) and general safety (ibid. v. 8).

    Some of the specifics in the laws in this portion may appear to relate to an agrarian world that has largely gone by for those concentrated in today’s mammoth urban agglomerations, where it is most unlikely to find someone’s lost ox or lamb (Deut. 22:1) or to be picking grapes in their vineyard (23:25).

    Yet while cast in terms of life in the ancient Biblical world, many of these laws have important applications even in our slick, sophisticated modern world, which suffers too much from cases of adultery, rape and seduction (Deut. 22:13-29), kidnapping (Deut. 24:7), physical assault (Deut. ch 25 v 3 & 11-12) and other evils. The Torah forbids exploiting wage-laborers and other poor people or delaying payment of their wages (Deut. 24:14-15). It forbids creditors from confiscating vital possessions from defaulting debtors (Deut. 24:10-13). On the contrary, the Torah teaches that we must keep in mind the needs of the poor and underprivileged even as we reap the gains we have earned through our own efforts (Deut. 24:19-21). We must be scrupulously honest at work and in business, and the weights and measures we use in buying and selling must be accurate (Deut. 25:13-16). If we are prohibited from employing “double standards” in business, the same must surely apply to the standards with which we “measure” and judge people’s behavior. It is wrong to apply stricter standards to those we dislike and more lenient standards to those we favor.

    Each area of life presents its own challenges, with opportunities to follow the Torah in the way we respond or fall into possible pitfalls if we follow the promptings of the evil inclination. In strengthening ourselves in the daily war against the evil inclination, we must exercise the greatest caution in who or what we admit inside our own homes and within the inner sanctum of our minds and hearts lest we allow negative influences to hold sway over us and deprive us of the rewards that come from following the path of God in our lives.

  21. Aryae Post author

    Reb Sholom Brodt

    …The Chassidic commentators explain that going to war with “your enemies,” also refers to our personal struggles with our Evil Inclination, the Yetzer Hara. The Torah promises, that as long as you will go to war with your evil inclination, “Hashem your G-d will put them in your hand and you will capture his captives.”

    The Pshischer Rebbe says that in the Talmud [Kiddushin 30b] we find that the Rabbis taught: If it were not for Hashem’s help, we would not be able to overcome our evil inclination…. Chassidut also teaches that the best way to battle the Yetzer Hara is with light and joy – “for a little light dispels much darkness”!

    Amalek’s Weapon: Doubt

    In the following excerpt from Reb Shlomo’s teachings we learn about the dangers of ‘doubt’. When going to war, when going to battle with the Yetzer Hara, we must have self-confidence and complete trust in Hashem that He will indeed help us. In the last portion of our parsha, we are commanded to always Remember and never forget what Amalek did to us; and we are instructed to completely wipe out all traces of Amalek…. The ‘gimattria’ numerical value of ‘Amalek’ equals the numerical value of ‘safek’ – doubt.

    Reb Shlomo:

    Obviously I cannot conquer the world for G-d, because I’m not so sure yet if there is one G-d. I’m not 100% sure that Shabbos is really necessary. I can learn Torah for 200 years but deep, deep, deep inside, inside there is one little corner left, in which I doubt if the Torah, really – [if] every word is from heaven.

    And remember what our holy Rabbis tell us, Amalek is numerically, “safek” (doubt). Amalek doesn’t say anything bad about G-d. He just says, “Are you sure?” You know the greatest evil is not that voice that tells me, “Step in a limousine Friday night and go to a discotheque.” That’s a cute little retail evil. We’re talking about wholesale evil.

    Wholesale evil doesn’t tell me anything [about] what to do. Wholesale evil just comes and says, are you positive? You are a thinking person, right? You have a PhD in logic. Aren’t you overdoing it? You are too serious about it. [That’s] Amalek!

    If the inside isn’t fixed yet, if I have my doubts deep inside, then you know what it is, I have trouble keeping Shabbos. And then [if/when] I turn you onto Shabbos… What kind of Shabbos am I turning you onto? That, every Friday night you have to struggle to keep Shabbos? [If that’s the case, it is] because you received Shabbos from somebody who’s also a little Amalek, he’s not sure if it’s Shabbos, right?

    And you know how you conquer Eretz Israel, how do you conquer the world? When it’s clear to you that the world is really longing… The world is longing for the deepest, deepest depths. But again, let it be clear to you, if you’re full of doubts, you won’t get it.
    You know why the miraglim [the spies] didn’t see it? Because inside… If you remember, because sadly enough, because we made the Golden Calf, [and here I want to share something with you], you know what Amalek did to us? I’ll tell you what Amalek did to us. Because…

    Let me ask you the deepest question in the world. Why didn’t the whole world come to Mount Sinai? G-d invited the whole world to come! Do you know why? Because we met Amalek on the way to Mount Sinai, and if you remember, Amalek cooled off the whole world.

    And you know what Amalek did to us? Because there was one little ‘billionthell’ of a shade of a doubt left. So the whole world didn’t come. And because the whole world didn’t come, we made the Golden Calf. Because, if the whole world would have come, we wouldn’t have made the Golden Calf. And because the whole world didn’t come, we didn’t go into Eretz Yisrael. ———

    And I just want you to know one thing. You know my beautiful friends, where is anger coming from? You know where anger is coming from? [From being] (when I am) torn apart with doubt. When my inside is clear, nothing really bothers me. Everybody knows that Esav [the progenitor of Amalek] is the master of anger. Esav is the master of Amalek.”

  22. Wendy

    From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

    Big pink Brandywines
    rippled and bulging
    anchor the ends of plants
    now twisted and blackened.

    Every week might be the last
    for this embarrassment of riches,
    sungolds like coins
    in my green paper basket.

    I pull up leggy purple beans
    and strip them bare.
    Basil stains my nails
    and scents my fingertips.

    And always the injunction
    to leave some in the rows
    for the fifty other families
    who step lightly

    on these fields, allowing
    the hidden earthworms
    to build soil tilth
    in their mysterious ways.

    When you reap the harvest in your field and overlook a sheaf in the field, do not turn back to get it; it shall go to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow — in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings. — Genesis 24:19

    Deep in this week’s portion comes this exhortation to leave a portion of the harvest in the fields for gleaners. Reading it, I immediately think of the kind of harvest in which I’m blessed to participate — the weekly ritual of picking some of the more labor-intensive crops at Caretaker Farm, our beloved CSA.

    There’s an awareness that we’re sharing the farm not only with all of the other families who join as members but also with the creatures of the natural world. Our compost scraps feed the animals and enrich the soil; the soil is home to underground organisms that shape its character; the character of the soil gives rise to the next year’s produce.

    In the plainest sense, this verse from our Torah portion is talking about the need to ensure that food is available for those who hunger. But on a deeper level, I see this verse as a reminder that the abundance we receive doesn’t belong to us. We didn’t create it, and we’re not entitled to keep all of it. It’s incumbent on us to make sure there’s enough to go around. Enough food and clean water, enough security, enough roads and schools and social services that “the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow” — immigrants, those who have no one to protect their rights, those who have experienced loss — receive what they need. If we do that, God will bless us in all that we do

  23. Wendy

    From Rabbi Simon Jacobson


    We live in the age of unity. “Synthesis,” “integration,” “cohesion” and similar catchwords have come to dominate virtually every area of human endeavor, from business to art, from scientific theory to personal relationships.

    No doubt, all this harmony is a good thing. But at times, something within us resists the call to break down yet another boundary, to erase yet another distinction. Something within us protests that certain things just don’t mix, that the combination of two very different realities will often result in a hybrid that is neither here nor there, rendered useless or worse by its inherent contradictions.

    This is the essence of the Torah’s kilayim laws, which are a series of prohibitions against the intermixing of certain breeds and species. While the Torah is obviously in favor of unity and harmony—indeed, its stated function is “to bring peace into the world”[1] and reveal the underlying oneness of a reality created by the One G-d—the Torah is also the guardian of the boundaries which G-d established in His creation.[2] The Torah’s concept of “peace” is not the indiscriminate melding of the diverse components of G-d’s world, but a regulated integration in which boundaries are respected and the individual qualities of the integrated entities are preserved.

    These are two principles to which most everyone will ascribe: the pursuit of unity and the preservation of individuality. The question is always in the particulars—in the who, what, when, where and how of life. Hence the Torah’s function as the harbinger of “peace in the world.” The Torah describes itself as G-d’s “blueprint for creation”[3]—a master plan which details and delineates the manner in which the various components of creation were designed by their Creator to interact and unite. The Torah tells us which entities should be joined together and which should be held apart; it instructs us if, when, and how a given element or force in creation should be integrated into our lives.

    Specifically, the Torah’s kilayim laws forbid the hybridization of certain species of plants and animals. Three of these laws are enumerated in the 22nd chapter of Deuteronomy:

    You shall not sow your vineyard with diverse seeds…. You shall not plow with an ox and an ass together. You shall not wear shaatnez, [a garment fashioned of] wool and linen together.[4]

    Three Breeds of Hybrid
    While the three prohibitions in the above verses all relate to the intermixing of species, each represents a different type of “hybridization.”

    The first law, which forbids the sowing of grain in a vineyard, is the most extreme form of kilayim among the three. When different plant species are planted in close proximity to each other, their roots intermingle and each derives nourishment from the other. The result is a true hybrid—a plant that has integrated into itself the characteristics of another species. The grape or kernel of grain might not be externally distinguishable from a “normal” grape or kernel, but it has been intrinsically altered, its taste, texture and other qualities affected by the fact that it shared soil and nurture with a different species. This places it in the same class as another form of kilayim (legislated elsewhere in the Torah[5])—the prohibition to breed a hybrid animal by mating two different species to each other.

    In contrast, yoking an ox and an ass to the same plow alters neither the ox nor the ass. Here, the “hybridization” is not in the species themselves, but in their action. A certain effect has been produced (i.e., a field has been plowed) that is the result of the combined actions of two species.

    The third form of kilayim—the prohibition against wearing a garment made of wool and linen (“shaatnez”) —falls somewhere between the first two types. On the one hand, a tangible entity—the garment—has been created which is itself a combination of two different species. In this sense, the shaatnez garment resembles the hybrid plant produced by mixed sowing. On the other hand, unlike the hybrid plant, whose every fiber and cell has been altered, the wool and linen fibers remain distinct entities within the garment, which can conceivably be disassembled. In this sense, it resembles the second form of kilayim, in which a certain action or effect (in this case, the protection and comfort which the wearer derives from the garment) is jointly produced by two species which themselves remain distinct from each other.

    Two Definitions of Shaatnez
    Halachic literature records a difference of opinion between two great interpreters of Torah law, Rashi[6] and Rabbeinu Tam,[7] in regard to the specifics of the shaatnez prohibition. According to Rashi, a garment is shaatnez only if one mixed the raw wool and linen together, combed them together, spun them together, and wove the cloth out of the “hybrid” thread. According to Rabbeinu Tam, a garment is also considered kilayim if each species was combed, spun and woven into cloth individually, and then stitched together as a single garment.[8]

    The reasoning behind these two opinions can be explained as deriving from the two vantage points on shaatnez described above. According to Rashi, the prohibition against mixing wool and linen is more closely related to “kilayim of the vineyard.” In other words, the garment itself is regarded as the mixed entity, as being neither wool nor linen but a hybrid “species” comprised of two incompatible elements. Since Rashi sees this as the basis of the prohibition, a garment is kilayim only when it most resembles a hybrid species—i.e., when it is thoroughly integrated to the point of indistinguishability. Merely stitching together wool and linen fabrics does not make a “hybrid.”

    Rabbeinu Tam, on the other hand, sees the law of shaatnez as more closely related to the prohibition to plow with an ox and an ass together—that is, to benefit from the combined actions of two incompatible species. According to this, the shaatnez garment is no more a “hybrid” than a yoked pair of animals; rather, the essence of the prohibition is that by wearing the garment, the person enjoys the combined effect of two spiritually incompatible materials. So according to Rabbeinu Tam, the degree to which the wool and linen have been blended in the garment-making process is irrelevant, since what makes the garment kilayim is not the intermixing itself, but the fact that wool and linen jointly perform a certain function—specifically, the function of a garment.[9]

    This latter approach (that of Rabbeinu Tam) also explains a certain curiosity in the law of shaatnez: unlike other forms of kilayim, where it is forbidden to create the hybrid entity (as in the prohibition to plant grain and vines together or to mate two species of animals), the laws of shaatnez only forbid the wearing, but not the making, of the mixed garment.[10]

    On the face of it, it would seem that the shaatnez garment is an even more extreme form of hybridization than the other forms of kilayim, and ought to be proscribed by stricter, rather than more lenient, laws. The other forms of kilayim involve the intermixing of different plant species or different animal species; in the case of shaatnez, a plant product (linen) is mixed with an animal product (wool). This seems an even more severe violation of the boundaries of creation. Why, then, is the prohibition against shaatnez limited to the wearing of the mixed garment, while the actual creation of this hybrid entity is permitted?

    But the very “severity” of shaatnez is the reason for its seeming leniency. Because wool and linen are so different, they cannot be truly combined, no matter how tightly they are intertwined. Two plants can be grafted to form a third, hybrid species; two animals can be interbred to make a third, mongrel breed. But a plant and an animal cannot be interbred; the only type of kilayim possible in such a combination is the “joint action” type. So until the garment is actually worn, no intermixing has taken place; the two elements are simply coexisting side by side. It is only when the wool and linen fibers act together as a garment[11] that the conflicting forces contained in these two elements clash, disrupting the “peace”—the subtle balance of mutuality and distinctiveness—which Torah endeavors to implement in the world.

    The Envelopment of Man
    The Kabbalists tell us that the Torah is comprised of a body and a soul. The body of Torah is halachah, the laws and regulations which govern our physical lives; the soul of Torah is its so-called mystical element, which instructs the inner life of the soul. And just as in the human body each organ and cell is vitalized by its corresponding “organ” or “cell” within the soul, so, too, every detail and sub-detail of Torah law has its corresponding “mystical” significance in the soul of Torah.

    The same applies to the particulars of the laws of kilayim discussed above: each has its corresponding application in the life of the soul.

    As we have elaborated on another occasion,[12] the “miniature universe that is man”[13] consists, like its macrocosmic counterpart, of four “kingdoms”: a mineral or “inanimate” kingdom, a plant kingdom, an animal kingdom and a human kingdom. The “plant kingdom” within the human being are the emotions of the heart, while the “animal kingdom” in man is the intellect. It is in this context that we might understand the spiritual application of the laws of kilayim detailed above.

    As a rule, a person should aspire toward an integration and synthesis of the many facets of his emotional and intellectual faculties. But as is the case with the physical universe, there are exceptions to this rule. The various forms of plant kilayim represent those particular traits of the heart whose combination is disruptive, rather than conducive, to emotional harmony. The various forms of animal kilayim represent similar untenable “cross-breedings” in the realm of mind. And the law of shaatnez warns against a certain disruptive union of mind and heart.

    But precisely because the mind and heart are so different from each other, the laws warning against their “hybridization” are less constricting. In the case of mixed feelings or cross-wired thought-processes, there is the ever-present danger in the creation of a hybrid—a third “species” which blurs the differences between its progenitors and commingles their qualities in undesirable ways. In the case of the very different realms of mind and heart, however, no such “interbreeding” is possible. So as a rule, the synthesis of mind and heart (no easy task for polarized man) is a positive endeavor.

    There is one context, however, in which intellect and feeling must be kept distinct and apart. Kabbalistic teaching distinguishes between two areas of life: internal (penimi) and encompassing (makkif). Experiences and activities which are absorbed and digested by the person in a controlled manner are regarded as “internal”; experiences and activities which overwhelm the person so that he becomes wholly immersed and absorbed within them are termed “encompassing.” In the terminology of Kabbalah, “food” is a metaphor for internalized phenomena, while “garments” is the metaphor for encompassing realities.

    An “encompassing” experience can be intellectual or emotional, but it cannot be both. By definition, it is total, all-embracing and one-dimensional. The entire point of such an experience is that the person approaches it without inhibition or equivocation, allowing himself to become totally enveloped within it; that he relates to the truth which it represents in its quintessential simplicity, instead of trying to “capture” it and quantify it with his faculties, as he does in the case of his “internal” endeavors. One cannot relate to an “encompassing” experience in a complex, multi-faceted way; one can only surrender to its pristine simplicity and its singular truth.

    Spiritual shaatnez is the attempt to make a “garment” from an admixture of intellect and feeling. There is nothing intrinsically negative in such a composite per se—indeed, the attainment of a synthesis of mind and heart is one of the highest, if most difficult, achievements of man. But such a composite cannot be used as a garment. In all that regards our “encompassing” endeavors, our intellectual and emotional avenues of connection must each be pursued individually, without attempting to combine the “wool” and “linen” of our souls.

    Based on the Rebbe’s talks on various occasions[14]

  24. Wendy

    From Rav Kook

    Ki Teitzei: Free Will versus Causality

    The Torah commands us to set up a guardrail (ma’akeh) to prevent people from falling off the roof. A straightforward mitzvah, if there ever was one. Nonetheless, a deeper look into this mitzvah leads us to a complex philosophical topic. To what extent are events pre-determined, and to what extent do we have free will? To what degree are we responsible for our actions?

    ‘The One Who Is Falling’

    “When you build a new house, you must place a guardrail around your roof. Do not allow a dangerous situation in your house, for the one who is falling could fall from it” (Deut. 22:8).

    The language in the verse is awkward. What does it mean, “the one who is falling”? Is not the Torah warning against a possible future event? Or has he already started to fall? The Talmud (Shabbat 32a) explains as follows:

    “This person [who fell] was predestined to fall since the six days of Creation. That is why the verse refers to him as ‘the one who is falling.’ Reward is brought about through a person of merit, while punishment is brought about through a person of guilt.”

    This Talmudic statement needs to be examined. If the one who fell was supposed to fall anyway, why should I bother with the guardrail? He would have fallen anyway! Where do free will and personal responsibility enter the picture?

    Two Systems Governing the Universe

    When we witness the phenomenon of cause and effect in the world, we are lead to ponder the extent of our personal freedom to act versus underlying, pre-ordained causes. It is important to note that, while free will assumes complete freedom of action, this does not negate the possibility of requisite causes.

    We recognize in the economic and political spheres that, despite freedom of personal initiative, there exist overall factors that may neutralize any such attempts at change. For example, the initiative to setup a high-tech company in a backward, third-world country may fail due to lack of infrastructure and skilled labor, political corruption, etc. This is also true in the moral and spiritual realms. We have complete freedom of action and choice, but other underlying factors may negate the actual outcome of our actions. Even when great changes occur, they too may be simply part of the overall divine plan.

    In some cases, the discerning eye will detect the effects of actions of free choice, while in others, we see the footprints of pre-ordained causes. In fact, both of these systems — freedom of choice and causality — are tools by which the universe is governed. Together they achieve the overall universal goal, as it says in Isaiah 16:5, “With kindness and truth, the throne will be established.”

    Means and Ends

    We may divide all activity into means and ends. (In specific instances, however, this distinction may not be obvious, as an action may be a means in one aspect and a goal in another.) Means do not make a permanent impression on the world on their own accord; their significance is due to what they cause. Means relate primarily to the power of free choice. There exist a variety of means that may lead to a particular end; if a goal is not attained through one medium, it will be achieved by another. Ultimate ends, on the other hand, relate to pre-ordained causes.

    Now we can understand better the Talmudic principle, “Reward is brought about through those with merit, and punishment through the guilty.” This is the ‘magical’ connection between the two systems, freedom and causality. Through the act of free will by some individual — the means — the appropriate pre-ordained goal, be it reward or punishment, is achieved. In the case of the guardrail, it is the free will of the house-owner, who failed to erect a ma’akeh, that led to the punishment of the one predestined to fall.

    (Gold from the Land of Israel, pp. 329-331. Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. III, p. 172)

    Copyright © 2006 by Chanan Morrison

  25. Wendy

    From Melissa Carpenter

    Ki Teitzei : Clothing and Respect

    Do not watch an ox or a lamb belonging to your brother (fellow man) going astray, and hide yourself from them; you shall certainly return them to your brother. And if your brother is not in your vicinity, and you do not know him, then you will take it into the middle of your house, and it will stay with you until your brother comes inquiring about it, and then you will return it to him. And thus you will do for his donkey, and thus you will do for his clothing, and thus you will do for any lost item of your brother’s that goes astray and that you find. You shall not dare to hide. (Deuteronomy/Devarim 22:1-3)

    simlah (also salmah) = clothing, garment, a cloth

    This week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitzei (When you go out), uses the word simlah four times. The first time occurs in the rules for a soldier who brings home a beautiful war captive to be one of his wives. She must shave her head, grow her nails, discard the simlah of her captivity, and weep for her parents for a full month before the marriage can be completed. This procedure considers the needs of the poor captive, but it also considers the soldier’s view of her. During her month of mourning he will probably come to see her as a human being, rather than merely a sex object. Discarding the clothing of her captivity is important because when a woman wears a captive’s garment, she is seen as a captive. Without this covering, she can be seen as a person.

    The second use of simlah is in the rules for returning lost property, translated above. I’ll get back to that. First I want to glance at the third use of the word simlah, in Deuteronomy/Devarim 22:5: … and a powerful man shall not put on the clothing of a woman. Setting aside later arguments about cross-dressing, homosexuality, and Canaanite mythology, the underlying message here seems to be that it’s wrong to appear to be something you’re not. Your outer appearance, how you come across in public, should be consistent with who you really are.

    The fourth use of the word simlah (this time spelled salmah, but scholars agree the two words are the same) is in the instructions about security for a loan (Deuteronomy/Devarim 24:12). A poor person has nothing to pledge but a cloth (the best translation of simlah in this context). Therefore the lender must return the pledge every sunset, so the borrower has something to sleep in. Extending this idea, we could say it’s wrong to leave anyone exposed (to cold, or to damp, or to social hazards) when they are unconscious, i.e. unable to act for themselves. Whatever they may owe us, we owe them a protective covering; every human being is entitled to that much care and dignity.

    Now, back to the passage about lost property I translated at the beginning of this blog. If someone loses a simlah, we are obligated to return it. If we can’t return it immediately, we must keep it safe until the owner appears. We must not hide, pretending we don’t see the lost clothing.

    As with the beautiful captive or the strong man, clothing defines a person’s appearance to others. We cannot look directly at someone’s inner self; we can only look at the outer covering: the way someone appears in public, their reputation. And as with the security for a loan, the outer covering also protects a person from exposure to social dangers.

    So if people we know lose their reputations, we are obligated to protect them from further dangerous exposure. How? Perhaps by avoiding slander and gossip, and by gently correcting other people’s impressions. If people we don’t know lose their reputations, we must still take personal responsibility; we must defend their good names and discourage gossip. We must allow all people human dignity during the time it takes them to recover and redeem themselves.

    What a challenge! But if we choose an ethical path, we dare not hide from it.

  26. Wendy

    From Rabbi Miles Krassen

    Ki Teitzei (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19)

    When you take the initiative in dealing with the unique challenges that your soul needs to confront, Be-ing who G-ds you places the challenge within your power… (Devarim 21:10).

    The Or Gedalyahu reminds us of the teaching: without the Holy One’s help, no one would be able to overcome their challenges. (B.T. Kiddushin 30b).

    Everything that exists in the realm of time and space depends completely and at all times on the Ground of Be-ing that is beyond time and space. As the Zohar teaches, if the artisan who fashions all the vessels would withdraw its presence for even a moment, the entire manifest display of all worlds and their contents would cease to exist. Everything is dependent for its very existence on the unknowable and inconceivable Eyn Sof and nothing is capable of acting in a manner that is truly independent of divine agency. Nevertheless, here within time and space each individual’s holy soul is slowly awakening, mysteriously evolving as each person plays its part in the sacred process of realizing and revealing the divinity that is concealed within manifestation.

    In order for this process to unfold within time and space, humans have to gradually develop souls that have the capacity to consciously serve their divine source. Toward that end, every being is confronted with challenges and obstacles in life which offer opportunities for evolving consciousness. Among the most perplexing mysteries in a non-dual world are those challenging experiences that inevitably test our present limits

    In the Torah, the paradigm for this essential element in the soul’s evolution is the secret of the Golden Calf.

    The Children of Israel resorted to this constructed, external, dualistic image, when they were unable to deal with the challenge of the extended absence of Moshe, their direct link to Divine Presence. What makes this moment so powerful is the fact that the souls of Israel had previously ascended to the ultimate experience in which I Am was revealed to them on Mt. Sinai. They already knew the Only One through direct revelation. So how could they fall back so far as to construct and worship a Golden Calf? Indeed, the rabbis teach us: the truth is that Israel was not worthy of that act. They only did it so that we would learn the practice of teshuvah. (B.T., Avodah Zara 4a).

    The great medieval French commentator, Rashi, notes here that the Israelites were by that time highly evolved. They were indeed capable of overcoming their inner challenges, but what happened occurred by divine decree. In other words, even the most highly evolved souls undergo experiences that constitute serious, even overwhelming, challenges. The more we evolve and gain greater knowledge of that One, the more we are graced by the presence of divine aid in our lives. However, whenever we are ready for further evolution, that flow of divine aid is concealed and the soul finds itself in a situation where it is confronted by serious opposition.

    From this paradigmatic experience of the Children of Israel, we learn the practice of teshuvah, the need and possibility of returning ourselves to alignment with our divine source and to the condition in which we can again receive directly the flow of divine aid. In this way, we can continue to evolve as conscious agents of the One.

    According to our sacred calendar, the Israelites did teshuvah for forty days: the entire month of Elul and the ten days of teshuvah from Rosh Ha-Shanah until Yom Kippur. As a result, they were able to bring down a second Torah, written by Moshe’s own hand. Paradoxically, this second Torah is even more evolved than the first, because it includes an “oral” Torah that is present in this world in proportion to the prayers and spiritual evolution of human beings, and not only as a divine gift.

    The mystery of the power of teshuvah is hinted in the letters of the name of the month Elul, alef lamed vav lamed, which are the first letters of the verse, Ani Le-dodi Ve-dodi Li. (I go to my Beloved and my Beloved comes to me.) (Song of Songs 6:3). Ani Le-dodi: Through my teshuvah, prayer, and tzedakah (support of righteous causes) during the month of Elul, I make the effort to reach my Beloved. Ve-dodi Li: and my Beloved comes to me on Rosh Ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur.

    Thus, during Elul, the month of divine favor, we always read the parashah which begins When you take the initiative in dealing with the unique challenges which your soul needs to confront, Be-ing who G-ds you places the challenge within your power… (Devarim 21:10).

    In this verse, the Torah uses the term, milchamah, which literally means “war,” but the sages have already taught us that the verse refers to the inner struggle that all souls must encounter in order to achieve integration. In confronting our own challenges, which are unique to each person’s soul and experience, it is necessary to seize the initiative, to go out and deal consciously with these “enemies,” before they become too much for us.

    The Holy Kohen, Rabbi Ya’akov Yosef of Polnoy, transmits a deep teaching in the name of the Ba’al Shem Tov concerning this “war.” The Ba’al Shem Tov taught that there are essentially three possible responses whenever one is tested. To illustrate this, he told the following story.

    A king once wanted to test the faith and love of his subjects. So he chose one of his closest servants, dressed him up as a great king and sent him out to declare war against his subjects. When the servant appearing as king met the first group and declared war, they immediately prepared themselves for the battle. When he came to the second group, they said “Since he is such a great king, why should we fight?” Finally, the faux king traveled farther until he came to a town of sages. The sages inquired deeply, until they were able to see through the disguise. (Sefer Toledot Ya’aqov Yosef, Va-yaqhel, see Sefer Ba’al Shem Tov, Bereishit, 141).

    The meaning is that serious challenges that confront us are essentially tests of our faith in the non-dual nature of reality and our love and devotion to the divine source. Whenever we face these tests, there are basically three ways of responding. The two conventional responses are either to be overwhelmed by the challenge and to capitulate without a fight or to attempt to combat the problem with the rigidity of “fight or flight” mode. Although both of these conventional responses may be the best that we can do at certain stages in our development, neither will aid us very much in our conscious quest to further evolve. The third mode of dealing with such tests is the way of the wise, who have cultivated judges and executors (see previous parashah). In this way, one neither avoids nor rushes into combat, but sees through and dissolves the shell of separation from Divine Presence with the gnostic eye of faith.

    In viewing our problems in this way, the shell of opposition becomes transparent and we can see through the disguise that is concealing the divine spark from us at that moment. From this more evolved perspective, we may now recognize the sparks of a deeper teaching shining through the shells of the letters at the beginning of our parashah.

    When you break out of the conventional way of relating to your challenges as a war, Be-ing who G-ds you places Herself in your hands, and you can redeem the spark of Shekhinah that was held captive within your unique challenge. (Devarim 21:10).

    You will then be able to recognize the beauty of the Shekhinah even within her captivity and your passion will be aroused to liberate Her and merge with Her. (Devarim 21:11).

    Invite Her into the depths of your soul, where she can reveal Her true nature and rid Herself of the fangs of judgment. (Devarim 21:12).

    Once She has removed the disguise of Her captivity, let her dwell deep within you, arousing tears of teshuvah for the entire month of Elul, and then in the month of Tishri, you may fully merge with Her, in the way that consecrated lovers know they are One. (Devarim 21:13).

    May we all be blessed to recognize our unique challenges

    As opportunities to liberate sparks of Shekhinah.

    May rescuing captive sparks become our passion.

    May their liberation melt our Hearts

    With holy tears of teshuvah for the whole month of Elul

    That we may unite with our Beloved on Rosh Ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur.


    Rabbi Moshe Aharon Ladizhyner
    (aka Rabbi Miles Krassen)

  27. Wendy

    ~ Rabbi Shefa Gold’s Torah Journeys ~

    Ki Tetze

    (When You’ll Go Out)

    DEUTERONOMY 21:10 – 25:19

    Ki Tetze consists of a series of laws concerning family relations, acts of kindness and propriety, equity, and moral behavior.


    ACCORDING TO MOSES MAIMONIDES, there are 72 mitzvot in this portion. A mitzvah is literally a “commandment” from God, but it can also be understood as an opportunity for “connection,” an opening to holiness. (The Aramaic form of this root means “to connect.”)
    When we receive a mitzvah as a pathway to holiness, and then step onto that path, we have the opportunity of bringing blessing into the world through our actions. When we perform these actions with heightened awareness and clear intention, simple acts of everyday living can have a transformative impact on both inner character and outer universe.
    When we dedicate the energy of living to the wholeness and holiness of Creation, our lives become a source of blessing.

    KI TETZE IS A DIVERSE COLLECTION of social, ethical, legal, and ritual laws. Through these mitzvot it is possible to cultivate the qualities of clarity, stability, wholeness, kindness, compassion, generosity, honesty, and justice. The blessing comes through us when we integrate those qualities and begin expressing them through our every word, thought and interaction. But first we must receive the deeper meaning and power of a mitzvah, take it personally and learn to apply its principles to our real, everyday lives.
    With these words, “When you go out to battle against your enemies,” Ki Tetze begins by acknowledging the struggle. It’s much easier to be a decent human being when you are at peace… but there is a battle to be waged and that battle will try our decency, challenge our integrity and put every good intention to the test.


    THE FIRST TEST of Ki Tetze comes not from losing the battle, but from winning it. The very first commandment of Ki Tetze warns us that when we win that battle and bring away the spoils of war, we will try to acquire the beautiful woman who has become our captive. We will want to own her. And when the lust and delight for new acquisition has waned we may be tempted to sell her.
    The commandment of Ki Tetze replaces the subjugation and acquisition of the captive woman with the requirement to establish a binding relationship with her, to know her as “Thou” rather than use her as “It.” To know our captive “Thou,” we are commanded to take her into our home, and let her be stripped of all the outer trappings of seduction. Her hair and nails are cut, the clothes of captivity are put aside, and she must be given a month to set her own heart in order.
    Only after witnessing the simplified essence and subjective reality of our captive bride may we “come in to her,” and live in sanctified relationship.

    AS I TAKE THIS COMMANDMENT UPON MYSELF, I ask, “What is the victory that leaves me vulnerable to the forces of my own lust and greed?” As I take this commandment upon myself, I ask, “Where is the pathway to holiness?”

    I GREW UP in a land of shopping malls surrounded by advertisements, inundated by commercials. No matter how we hide from the mainstream culture or create alternatives to the norms, consumerism is the de facto religion of the land. Though it may seem that this religion might open us to the beauty, peace, and satisfaction of acquiring and owning material wealth, in actuality consumerism sets us at war with the material world. Because of our addictions and insatiable desires for “MORE,” we are in almost constant battle with ourselves over how much is enough. This battle affects our relationship to beauty, wealth and the Earth itself. Consumerism degrades our relationship to all we see or touch in the world, because it teaches us that rather than just enjoy this beauty, we must try to acquire, own, and subjugate everything for our own use. We are conditioned to reach for the next thing, rather than taking the time to appreciate, honor, and celebrate what is already in our hands.
    My world becomes a “captive bride” whose seduction lies in the fact that I have battled to own her; she is mine, to use, keep or sell. When my world is a “captive bride,” then the Earth and all her riches become commodities. That which is beyond price becomes nearly invisible. When everything in our lives becomes a thing that is to be grasped or appropriated for our own use and pleasure… then the ungraspable, unnameable, indefinable (in other words – God) ceases to exist for us. When my world is a “captive bride” I stop noticing the “spaces” between things where the mysterious force of relationship exerts its power, forming the connective web of Life. When my world is a “captive bride” then I am a slave to desires and aversions but true Love eludes me. Ki Tetze challenges us to acknowledge the destructive nature of this relationship and to transform it into one of loving mutuality. This is the pathway to holiness.

    WHEN I LOOK AT MY OWN RELATIONSHIP to the “things” that I accumulate, I am reminded that the Hebrew name for Deuteronomy, D’varim, also means “things.” Though I take exquisite delight in the things of my life, I also feel that I am in an almost constant battle with clutter. If I don’t stay vigilant, it feels as if I will be buried in piles of paper or get lost in the things that I cannot manage to put in their proper place. One voice inside keeps saying that if only I would be more organized then the battle with clutter could be won. Another voice whispers that perhaps the problem is deeper and the solution more radical.
    Ki Tetze challenges us to re-examine the very foundation of our relationship to the world. It says that as we transform our perception of the world-as-“Captive-Bride” to the World-as-Beloved-Manifestation-of-God, the path to holiness opens up before us.
    “The Promised Land is a state of mind,” says a favorite reggae song.1 The commandments of Deuteronomy are preparing us to enter that state of mind where milk and honey flow from the nurturing, simple and sweet relationship that we establish with all of Life.

    1 “Promised Land” by Majek Fashek, on his 1997 Rainmaker album.

    For Guidelines for Practice please click link to website.


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