Parashat Ki tetse
September 16-17, 2016 – 14 Elul 5776
Annual (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19): Etz Hayim p. 1112; Hertz p. 840
Triennial (Deuteronomy 24:14-25:19): Etz Hayim p. 1130; Hertz p. 852
Haftarah (Isaiah 54:1-10, 54:11-55:5): Etz Hayim p. 1138; Hertz p. 857
Extending our Days
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, Conservative Yeshiva Faculty
Of the 74 mitsvot in Parashat Ki Tetse, two have a common element, the phrase – “so that you may have length of days –
לְמַעַן יַאֲרִיכוּ יָמֶיךָ” (22:7 and 25:15). The first is the commandment not to capture a mother bird along with her young (shiluach ha’ken, 22:6-7). The second is the instruction to have honest weights and measures (25:15). Both recall a similar reward promised in the Ten Commandments for one who respects parents (Ex 20:12 and Deut 5:16). There are certain variations in these verses – several promise “that you may prosper” as well, and for two of the three mitsvot the length of days will take place “in the Land your God has promised you,” but the central common point is that these three mitsvot, alone amongst the TaRYaG (613), will lead to “long life.”
How are we to take this? Is the Torah telling us that performance of these mitsvot will enable us “to beat” the actuarial tables? Or is it one of the Torah’s way of saying “this is an important mitsva,” similar to phrases like keneged kulam (“equal to all the other mitsvot”), which the Talmud mentions regarding the study of Torah (Talmud torah) and indeed also for six other mitsvot?
When viewed as a group, it becomes clear that the Torah’s choice of these three mitsvot is not arbitrary or merely coincidence. Each of the three can “extend days” in a real and specific sense. Yet they also relate to larger spheres, the three environments which are necessary for a healthy society and which enable it to continue in the future, “extended days.”
Kivud Av v’Em – the ability of aging and infirm parents to survive and to have quality of life in today’s world is a direct result of the manner in which their children care for them. In this sense the mitsva has very specific and personal benefit, for the children, too, because their children will learn by their parents’ example and will be more likely to fulfill the mitsva for them in the future.
Shiluach Ha’Ken is intended to instill in us a sense of kindness to animals and respect for and sensitivity to the natural world. Even in the 21st century too many people are still indifferent to the damage modern society is doing by eliminating species of plants and animals and by interfering with the planet’s delicate eco-systems.
And just weights and balances are a guarantee against fraud and theft in the business world, and protect the merchant from the anger of clients who would otherwise feel they have been cheated.
But beyond the immediate benefit for those who observe each of these mitsvot, they have larger impact. A healthy society, one that will survive into the future, must have a positive culture of family and attitude towards both young people and the elderly; an awareness of the importance of keeping the natural world in balance and concern for the disastrous consequences of exhausting resources and polluting the air and water around us; and the knowledge that a “market place” infected by improper and immoral commercial practices loses the faith of both the business community and the citizenry as a whole. Societies that want to have “length of days” must pay attention to their conduct in these three areas.
A Vort for Parashat Ki tetse
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty
One who builds a house is to erect a guard rail on the roof (וְעָשִׂיתָ מַעֲקֶה לְגַגֶּךָ, Deut 22:8), to prevent anybody falling. The Sh’L’A (R’ Isaiah Horovitz, 1565 – 1630, Central Europe) said “roof” hints about pride and pretense, that one who reaches high levels should “build a guard rail” protect himself from the fall that haughty behavior can cause. The Toldot Adam, R’ Eliyahu bal Shem (1520-1590), said the letters of “ma’akeh” are initials for hirhurei avera kashimm‘aveira – “bad thoughts are worse than bad deeds.” The “roof” is a metaphor for the brain, the highest human organ, the one that directs our behavior. By fencing out bad thoughts we can prevent bad deeds.
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty
Those who count Mitzvot claim that this Parasha has more Mitzvot than any other in the Torah. Most of the laws are from the sphere of our interactions with other people, for example family laws.
1) The Parasha presents many laws regarding family situations. In 21:15-17 we find a law of inheritance. How is the oldest son treated when it comes to inheritance? What do you think might be the reason for this? What is the complication in the case presented here? Think through the case carefully: Which wife did the man marry first? Why did he marry the second wife? Why is the oldest son the son of the unloved wife?
2) In 22:1-3 we are forbidden to ignore a lost item that belongs to a fellow person. How does the Torah refer to the owner of the lost item? Why do you think that the Torah chose that term? What should we do with the lost item? What might the difficulty be in following that directive?
3) In biblical times eggs were not as available as they are today. If a person came across a bird’s nest with eggs or baby birds, he may take them (22:6-7). However, there is a restriction, what is it? Why do you think that the Torah commanded this? There is an award for keeping this Mitzvah. What is it? Do you think that this is an appropriate reward? Why?
4) When a person harvests in his field or vineyard, he has to leave some behind some (24:19-22). What does he leave behind? Why might he not mind leaving these? Who is it left for? Why do these people need it? What is the reason given by God to help convince us to do this? Why might this convince us?
5) In 25:13-16 we are commanded not to have two of the same measure – one large and one small. Why would a person do that? The Torah uses a rather strong term condemning such behavior (v.16). Why do you think the Torah cares so much about our business practices? What will happen if people are honest in their dealings? Do you think that this is a reward or a result?