TORAH SUMMARY – KI TETZEI, AUGUST 21, 2010, DEV. 21:10 – 25:19 – p. 1112
Our Torah reading today is awesome in every sense of the word. It covers more mitzvoth than any other parashah, ranging from day-to-day transactions like not cheating someone in business dealings, to shooing away a mother bird from her nest if it is our intention to gather up and take away her eggs or fledglings, so that we sensitize our hearts to feel compassion for all creatures.
The parashah outlines laws concerning individual sexual and marital relationships, family laws about inheritance and raising difficult children, and guidelines requiring communities to take care of those who have fallen on tough economic times.
Many of the laws in the parashah are the subject of volumes of Talmudic debate. For example, the law about stoning a ben sorer u’moreh, “wayward and defiant” son, in the first aliyah, according to the interpretation of the Rabbis, never happened – and they defined the parameters of a ben sorer u’moreh, to make sure that this extreme measure of child abuse would never happen in the future. This week’s Torah portion provides many, many examples of how our understanding of the words of Torah, reflected in the practice of Judaism evolves over time.
A very worthwhile pursuit would be to trace the development of many of many of the laws in today’s Torah portion. Examine those laws which when taken literally, you do not agree. Perhaps you would research the law that on its face seems to prohibit hybrids or the law that seems to apply the death penalty to an engaged woman who is raped in a city because she didn’t cry out.
You may be relieved to see that the Rabbis, interpreting our most sacred text centuries after it took its final form, were troubled by many of these laws. You may be surprised that many of these laws continue to be redefined today. You many come to either admire our tradition of change or become frustrated with the pace at which that change occurs. In any event, you will most likely emerge with the understanding that Judaism’s long history of wrestling with the Torah is rarely won by the narrow construction of the fundamentalists.
Some of the most beautiful and poignant ethical rules about compassion – toward animals and human beings – are expressed in Ki Tetzei. We are not permitted to exploit our power in relationship to another person. We may not abuse a needy and destitute worker. We do not charge our relatives or our neighbors interest on loans that they need to survive.
Finally, we are to remember that certain human beings throughout eternity, symbolized as “Amalek,” can be unconscionably cruel. Perhaps we are reminded of this so that we do not become prey for cruelty, — perhaps it is repeated so that we, ourselves, do not commit acts of cruelty.
Rabbi Aviva Berg
[Haftorah summary to be added shortly]