The Hebrew Scriptures are not readily or easily understood by native English speakers, we post a weekly addition to regular Torah commentary. "Cutting to the Root" is intended to promote an understanding of the complexity of the Hebrew language and thereby gain a richer and deeper understanding of the Scriptures. It is our goal that these notes will teach tolerance and understanding.Please visit our web site at www.shefaisrael.com
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Parashat Ki Titze
Haftara: Isaiah 54:1 – 10
Reading Date: 13th August 2008 – 13th Elul 5768
The parasha of Ki Teitzei ("When you go out") contains a significant portion of the Torah's laws: no less than 74 mitzvot (out of a total of 613) have been counted by the halachic authorities as deriving from our parasha. The first of these is the law of the "beautiful captive woman":
When you go out to war on your enemies, YHVH your G-d shall deliver them into your hands, and you shall capture from them captives.
If you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and you desire her, you may take [her] for yourself as a wife. You shall bring her into your home, and she shall shave her head and let her nails grow. And she shall remove the garment of her captivity from upon herself, and stay in your house, and weep for her father and her mother for a full month. After that, you may be intimate with her and possess her, and she will be a wife for you.
And it will be, if you do not desire her, then you shall send her away wherever she wishes, but you shall not sell her for money. You shall not keep her as a servant, because you have afflicted her.
This law is followed by two others -- the law forbidding giving precedence to the son of a favorite wife:
If a man has two wives, one beloved and another despised, and they bear him sons, the beloved one and the despised one, and the firstborn son is from the despised one.
Then it will be, on the day he bequeaths his property to his sons, he may not give the son of the beloved [wife] birthright precedence over the son of the despised [wife] who is the firstborn. Rather, he must acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the despised [wife], and give him a double share in all that he possesses, because he [this firstborn son] is the first of his strength; the birthright is his.
-- and the law of the "wayward and rebellious son":
If a man has a wayward and rebellious son who does not obey his father or his mother, and they chasten him, and [he still] does not listen to them,
his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city, and to the gate of his place. And they shall say to the elders of his city, "This son of ours is wayward and rebellious; he does not obey us; [he is] a glutton and a drunkard."
And all the men of his city shall pelt him with stones, and he shall die, and you shall eradicate the evil from amongst you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.
This is followed by laws legislating the dignity of the dead and the obligation to bring a body to prompt burial, the mitzvah to care for and return a lost object (if the owner can provide identifying signs), and the duty to help lift up a fellow's beast of burden that is "fallen on the road."
Also: "A woman shall not wear a man's articles, nor shall a man put on a woman's garment; for all that do so are an abomination to YHVH."
Sending Off the Mother Bird
If a bird's nest chances before you on the road, in any tree or on the ground, and [it contains] fledglings or eggs, and the mother bird is sitting upon the fledglings, or upon the eggs; do not take the mother bird together with the young.
You shall send away the mother, and [then] you may take the young for yourself; that it may be good for you, and that you may prolong your days.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you, or your property, do not cause damage for a fellow: "When you build a new house, you shall make a guard rail for your roof, so that you shall not cause blood [to be spilled] in your house, that the one who falls should fall from it."
Hybrids and Tzitzit
You shall not sow your vineyard with diverse seeds... You shall not plow with an ox and an ass together. You shall not wear a garment of diverse kinds, of wool and linen together.
You shall make for yourself fringes upon the four corners of your garment, with which you cover yourself.
Sexual Crimes and Restrictions
A person who libels his wife, claiming that she was unfaithful to him because he desires to divorce her, is fined a hundred shekels of silver, and he can never divorce her against her will. Adultery (relations between a man and another man's wife) is punishable by death, both for the man and the woman; a woman taken by force, however, is blameless. If a man forces himself on an unmarried woman, he is obligated to marry her (if she so desires) and cannot divorce her "all of his days."
The Torah also specifies a number of forbidden incestuous relationships, as well as a list of persons who are precluded from marrying into the community of Israel (e.g., a bastard). Ammonites and Moabites "shall not enter into the congregation of YHVH, even to their tenth generation," but Egyptians and Edomites who convert are accepted after three generations.
Also in our parasha: regulations to ensure the hygiene and spiritual purity in a military camp; the rule not to return an escaped slave to his master; the exhortation that "there shall be no female prostitute of the daughters of Israel, nor a male prostitute of the sons of Israel"; the prohibition against charging interest on a loan to a fellow man; the obligation to keep one's word and fulfill one's vows; and the commandment to allow an employee working for you in food production to "eat on the job" (later in the parasha, this rule is extended even to animals -- "You shall not muzzle an ox when it is threshing [the grain].")
Divorce and Marriage
When a man takes a wife and is intimate with her, and it happens that she does not find favor in his eyes because he discovers in her an unseemly [moral] matter, and he writes for her a bill of divorce, and places it into her hand, and sends her away from his house,
and she leaves his house and goes and marries another man...
She may not remarry her first husband if she has been married to someone else in the interim.
Many of the laws of marriage are derived from the verses legislating the rules of divorce, which are also followed by the following rule:
When a man has taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business; but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer his wife whom he has taken.
Kidnappers, Debtors, Paymasters
Kidnapping a person to sell him into slavery is a capital crime.
When taking possession of an object as security for the repayment of a loan, certain restrictions apply. It is forbidden to impound the debtor's tools of trade -- such as his millstones -- for then you "take a man's life as security." Also:
When you lend your brother anything, you shall not go into his house to fetch his security. You shall stand outside, and the man who is in your debt shall bring out the security to you.
And if the man is poor, you shall not sleep with his security. You shall return the security to him by sunset, that he may sleep in his own garment and bless you; and it will be counted for you as merit before the Lord, your God.
Pay your employees on time. Day workers must be paid within 12 hours of the conclusion of their workday or work-night (hence a night worker must be paid before sundown) -- "for he is poor, and sets his life upon it; lest he cry against you to YHVH, and it be a sin in you."
Justice and Charity
Fathers shall not be put to death because of sons, nor shall sons be put to death because of fathers; each man shall be put to death for his own transgression.
You shall not pervert the judgment of a stranger or an orphan, and you shall not take a widow's garment as security [for a loan]. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and YHVH your G-d redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this thing.
When you reap your harvest in your field, and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to fetch it. It shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow; so that YHVH your G-d may bless you in all that you do.
Also to be left to the poor are the "gleanings" -- the solitary grapes, olives, etc. that remain on the vine or tree after the larger bunches have been harvested.
The active transgression of a biblical prohibition is punishable by 39 lashes.
If brothers reside together, and one of them dies having no son, the dead man's wife shall not marry an outsider. [Rather,] her husband's brother shall be intimate with her, making her a wife for himself, thus performing the obligation of yibbum (levirate marriage) with her.
And it shall be, that the firstborn which she bears shall succeed in the name of his brother who is dead, that his name shall not be wiped out in Israel.
If yibbum is not performed, the legal bond between the dead man's wife and brother must be released through the ceremony of chalitzah ("removal of the shoe"):
But if the man does not wish to take his brother's wife, the brother's wife shall go up to the gate, to the elders, and say, "My husband's brother has refused to perpetuate his brother's name in Israel; he does not wish to perform the obligation of a husband's brother with me."
Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him, and he shall stand up and say, "I do not wish to take her."
Then his brother's wife shall approach him before the eyes of the elders and remove his shoe from his foot. And she shall spit before his face and answer [him] and say, "Thus shall be done to the man who will not build up his brother's household!" And that family shall be called in Israel, "The family of the one whose shoe was removed."
The last of Ki Teitzei's 74 mitzvot are the commandments to remember the deeds of the most vile of Israel's enemies, the nation of Amalek, and "blot out their remembrance from under the heavens":
You shall remember what Amalek did to you on the way, when you were coming out of Egypt.
How he met you by the way, and cut off all the stragglers at your rear, when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear YHVH.
[Therefore,] it will be, when YHVH your God grants you respite from all your enemies around [you] in the land which the YHVH, your God, gives to you as an inheritance to possess, that you shall obliterate the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the heavens. You shall not forget!
 If you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and you desire her... (21:11)
Sometimes a most holy soul is imprisoned in the depths of the kelipot (the "husks" which conceal G-dliness in our world). Thus it comes to pass that the soldier is attracted to a captive woman, because his soul recognizes the "beauty" imprisoned within her. (This is why the Torah refers to her as a "beautiful woman," even though -- as the Sifri derives from the verse -- the same law applies if one is attracted to a physically ugly woman.) Hence the Torah provides the procedure by which she is to be cleansed of the impurity of the kelipot and "brought into your house" -- included in the community of Israel...
 If you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and you desire her, and take her as your wife... (21:11)
The Torah is speaking only to counter the yetzer ha-ra (evil inclination). For if G-d would not permit her to him, [the soldier] would take her illicitly. [In essence, however, the Torah views this as a negative thing, and] if he marries her, he will ultimately come to despise her, as it says after this, "If a man has [two wives-one beloved and the other despised]..." (verse 15). Moreover, he will ultimately father through her a wayward and rebellious son (see verse 18). For this reason, these [three laws] are juxtaposed.
(Midrash Tanchuma; Rashi)
 For a hanged person is a curse to G-d (21:23)
This is a degradation of the Divine King in whose image man is created, and the Israelites are G-d's children. This is analogous to a case of two identical twin brothers. One became king, while the other was arrested for robbery and hanged. Whoever saw him, would say, "The king is hanging!"
(Talmud, Sanhedrin 46b; Rashi)
 Nachmanides takes a different approach, arguing that there is no contradiction between his explanation and the Talmud's statement. The Talmud objects to explaining the reason for the mitzvah as YTHVH's compassion for the bird or animal; rather, it is to teach us compassion and prevent the trait of cruelty from taking root in our hearts. In the words of the midrash, "the mitzvot were given only to refine the human being." In this connection, Nachmanides also cites the verse (Job 35:6-7), "If you sin, how have you affected Him? If your transgressions multiply, what do you do to Him? If you are righteous, what do you give Him? What can He possibly receive from your hand?" The things that YHVH commands us to do are not anything that He wants or needs, nor are the divine prohibitions things that "bother" Him -- He is above that all. The "reasons" for the mitzvot are the ways that they are beneficial to us, sanctifying our lives and refining our characters.
 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.
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.
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 (which the Torah forbids in Leviticus 19:19)--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 "shaatnez," a garment made of wool and linen--falls somewhere between the other 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.
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 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.
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.
 An Ammonite or a Moabite... even to their tenth generation shall not enter into the congregation of G-d (23:4)
From here we learn that someone who causes a person to sin does worse to him than one who kills him; for one who kills him kills him only in this world, whereas one who leads him to sin removes him from both this world and the world-to-come. Therefore, Edom, who came forth against them with the sword, was not [completely] despised. Similarly Egypt, who drowned them. The Moabites and the Amonites, however, who caused them to sin (with the daughters of Midian -- see Numbers 25), were completely despised.
 If a man takes a wife... and it come to pass that she does not find favor in his eyes, because he has found a matter of unseemliness in her, he should write her a bill of divorce... (24:1)
The School of Shammai rules: A man should not divorce his wife unless he discovers in her an immoral matter...
The School of Hillel rules: [He may divorce her] even if she burnt his meal.
Rabbi Akiva says: Even if he found another more beautiful than she.
 And you forget a sheaf in the field... (24:19)
Certain opportunities and potentials are so lofty that they cannot be accessed by the conscious self; they can only come about "by mistake." An example of this is the mitzvah of shikchah, which can only be fulfilled by forgetting.
(The Chassidic Masters)
Thus if a person drops a sela, and a poor man finds it and is sustained by it, then he [who lost the coin] will be blessed on its account.
 Remember what Amalek did to you... How he met you by the way (25:17-18)
[The Hebrew word, karchah, "he met you," can also mean "he cooled you"; thus the Midrash says:]
What is the incident (of Amalek) comparable to? To a boiling tub of water which no creature was able to enter. Along came one evil-doer and jumped into it. Although he was burned, he cooled it for the others. So, too, when Israel came out of Egypt, and G-d rent the sea before them and drowned the Egyptians within it, their fear fell upon all the nations. But when Amalek came and challenged them, although he received his due from them, he cooled the awe in which they were held by the nations of the world.