Thursday, August 28, 2014

Torah Readings for Saturday, September 6, 2014 Ki Taytzay

Torah Readings for Saturday, September 6, 2014

Ki Taytzay (When you will go out)
21:10-25:19 Devarim (Deuteronomy)

Ki Taytzay is the sixth sedrah in the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy).  It takes its name from the first two Hebrew words in the first sentence of the sedrah.  “When you will go out (Ki Taytzay) to war against your enemies.…” (21:10)  The sedrah begins and ends on a note of warfare.  The first lines of the sedrah are rules for dealing with a beautiful woman who is taken prisoner during war.  The last lines of the sedrah deal with the Amalekites, the ancient enemy who made war against the Israelites as they moved towards the Promised Land.  In a book thick with laws, Ki Taytzay is the sedrah thickest with laws.  According to Maimonides, Ki Taytzay contains 72 of the 613 commandments.  Furthermore, other of its pronouncements, which are not included among the 613 commandments, follows the same command-like formula.  As is our custom, the commandments found in Ki Taytzay are listed sequentially below (see Themes).  Different commentators have attempted to group the commandments in this sedrah by topic.  The following grouping is just one of many possibilities.  The categories are broader than those you might find elsewhere, but the purpose was to find as much commonality as possible.  The numbering on the left refers to the commandment as identified in the master list below.  This sedrah is challenging because it contains no narrative and because it contains such a long list of laws, some of which seem disconnected.  Once again, think of Moshe speaking to the Israelites for the last time.  It is as if he is trying to remind them of all the rules that they must follow since he will not be there to fill in the gaps in just a few short weeks when he dies and they cross the Jordan without him.  One of the real challenges for the modern reader is to take these laws and see how we can make them a meaningful part of daily existence.

Categories
War:
532-535              A captive woman;
556-567             Latrines;
581-582               Military exemptions for grooms;
603-605             Remember Amalek.

Family:
552                     Marriage before cohabitation;
553-554                False accusation of adultery;
557-558               Rapist and marriage;
559                         Prohibited marriage;
560                         Mamzer;
561-564                 Prohibition against Moabites, et al;
565                         Emission;
579                         Divorce;
580                         Remarriage;
589                         Punish children for parents;
597-599                 Childless widows;
600-601                 Female interference in disputes.

Justice System:
535-536               Capital punishment and corpses;
                            Dispose of a corpse;
555                      Death for a false witness;
556                      Absolution for violations under duress;
584                         Kidnapping;
594-595                 Lashing a criminal.

Commerce:
538-539                 Returning lost objects;
546-547                 Building a guardrail;
572-573                 Ban on interest;
602                       Honest weights and measures.

Social Justice:
540-541                  Raising fallen animals;
544-545                  The bird’s nest;
568-569                Runaway slaves;
574-575                  Promptly carrying out vows;
576-578                  Workers eating in the vineyards where they labor;
583                        Ban on necessary utensils as collateral;
585-587                   Rules about taking a pledge;
588                           Prompt payment of workers;
590-593                   Protecting the weak;
595-596                  Prohibitions against muzzling animals.

Sex/Idolatry:
542-543                    Prohibition on wearing clothing of the opposite sex;
570                            Prohibition against Jews as prostitutes;
571                            Banned donations.

Mixing:
548-549                    Sowing seeds;
550                         Yoking animals;
551                            Wool and linen.

Different sages and writers have chosen to emphasize different aspects of the commandments in the sedrah.  Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson focuses on the commandments concerning divorce.  He “analyses the concept of divorce” and then cleverly shifts it to discuss the concept of unity with God, which is the essence of the universe.  Rabbi Weisblum centers his comments around the commandment regarding chasing the mother bird away from her nest.  He sees the law as teaching the concepts of acceptance, compassion and “measure for measure.”  Rabbi Telushkin puts special emphasis on the commandments dealing with First Born Sons (21:15, 17), Humane Treatment of Animals (22:6-7, 10; 25:5), Building a Safe Roof (22:8), Shatnez (22:11), Mamzer (23:3), Rape (22:25), Charging Interest (23:20-21) and Divorce (24:1).  There is too much material to cover in one guide such as this.  Not only is there a torrent of law, but each law begets interpretation, which leads to many ways of fulfilling the intent of the law.

Themes
Commandments
532.  Procedures regarding a beautiful woman taken captive during a war including the delineation of her rights during the first month of captivity (21:10-14).
533.  The prohibition against selling such a woman as a slave (21:10-14).
534.  The prohibition against turning such a woman into a slave after having been sexually intimate with her (21:10-14).
535.  The commandment to execute one guilty of a capital offense (21:22-23).
536.  The commandment against letting the corpse of a hanged criminal remain on the gallows overnight since you must bury him the same day (21:22-23).
537.  The obligation to promptly bury a criminal after his execution (21:23).
538.  The obligation to return a lost object to its owner (22:1).
539.  The obligation not to pretend that one has not seen the lost object (22:1).
540.  The prohibition against ignoring a fallen animal’s suffering (22:4).
541.  The obligation to help the owner raise a fallen animal (22:4).
542.  The prohibition against women wearing male apparel (22:5).
543.  The prohibition again men donning women’s clothing (22:5).
544.  The prohibition against taking a mother bird with its young in a nest (22:6).
545.  The obligation to send the mother bird away when one wishes to seize her young (22:6).
546.  The obligation to build a guardrail on one’s own roof (22:8).
547.  The obligation to avoid leaving anything about that could cause serious injury (22:8).
548.  The prohibition against sowing together mixed seeds (22:9).
549.  The prohibition against eating produce resulting from the planting of mixed seeds (22:9).
550.  The prohibition against yoking together two different kinds of animals (22:10).
551.  The prohibition against wearing clothes that contains both wool and linen (22:11).
552.  The obligation to marry a woman before living with her (22:13).
553.  The commandment establishing that a woman whose husband falsely accuses her of adultery can insist that he never divorce her (22:13-19).
554.  The commandment that a husband who lodges such a false accusation is never permitted to divorce his wife (22:13-19).
555.  The commandment that those who commit a capital crime are to be executed (22:14).
556.  The prohibition against punishing a person who is forced to commit a sin against his or her will (22:25-26).
557.  The commandment that a rapist is obligated marry his victim if she so desires (22:28-29).
558.  The prohibition against the rapist ever divorcing the victim of the rape (22:28-29).
559.  The commandment excluding from the Jewish community for the purpose of marriage a man who is sexually mutilated (23:2).
560.   The commandment classifying a Jewish child resulting from an adulterous or incestuous union as mamzer and as forbidden to marry any other Jew except another mamzer (23:3).
561.  The prohibition against Ammonites and Moabites ever becoming Hebrews (23:4-10).
562.  The prohibition against concerning oneself with the well-being of Ammonites and Moabites (23:4-10).
563.  The prohibition against hating Edomites and Egyptians (23:4-10).
564.  The positive stipulation that Edomites and Egyptians can be admitted into the Israelite community in the third generation (23:4-10).
565.  The prohibition against a man who is ritually unclean remaining in the Israelite camp (23:11).
566.  The commandment to maintain sanitary conditions within the Israelite army by using a latrine outside the camp (23:13-14).
567.  The commandment requiring soldiers to carry an implement with which to dig and cover a latrine (23:14).
568.  The prohibition against returning a runaway slave to his master when he comes to live among the Israelites (23:16-17).
569.  The prohibition against oppressing an ex-slave when he comes to live among the Israelites (23:16-17).
570.  The prohibition against an Israelite man or woman becoming a prostitute (23:18).
571.  The specification forbidding offerings to the sanctuary donations that are unacceptable (23:19).
572.  The prohibition against taking interest on a loan to an Israelite (23:20-21).
573.  The permission to take interest from a loan to a non-Israelite (23:20-21).
574.  The obligation to promptly carry out a vow (23:22).
575.  The commandment to fulfill what one has said one will do (23:24).
576.  The permission to a worker to eat what he can take with his hands while working in a vineyard or field (23:25-26).
577.  The prohibition against loading food in a vessel and taking it away while working in a vineyard or a field (23:25-26).
578.  The prohibition against stopping work in order to eat from the crops of one’s employer (23:25-26).
579.  The obligation of a man divorcing his wife to issue her a legally binding bill of divorce (24:1).
580.  The prohibition against remarrying one’s former wife, if she has married another since the divorce (24:2-4).
581.  The right of a groom not to be drafted into the army for a year after his marriage (24:5).
582.  The responsibility of a groom to make his bride happy in this first year (24:5).
583.  The prohibition against taking as collateral for a loan a utensil needed by the borrower to prepare food (24:6).
584.  The community’s obligation to execute a kidnapper who enslaved or sold into slavery a fellow Israelite (24:7).
585.  The prohibition against entering the borrower’s house to take the pledge (24:10-13).
586.  The prohibition against sleeping in a pledged garment (24:10-13).
587.  The obligation to return the pledge, if it is a garment, to the borrower when he needs it (24:10-13).
588.  The obligation to pay a hired day worker promptly (24:14-15).
589.  A prohibition against punishing children for their parents’ sins or parents for those of their children (24:16).
590-591. The obligation to treat justly society’s weakest members (24:17).
592-593. The specifications of responsibility toward society’s weakest members (24:19).
594. The commandment to lash those convicted of doing evil (25:2-3).
595. The prohibition against degrading a criminal by administering too many lashes (25:2-3).
596. The prohibition against muzzling an animal working in a field (25:4).
597. The commandment to a deceased husband’s brother to marry a “yevamah” in what is known as a levirate marriage (25:5-10).
598.  The commandment to treat the firstborn son of a levirate marriage as the son of the dead man (25:5-10).
599.  The specification of the procedure to be enacted if the brother-in-law refuses to marry the widow (25:5-10).
600.  The commandment to punish a woman who uses impermissible and obscene means to help her husband (25:11).
601.  The commandment to show no mercy to a woman who uses impermissible and obscene means to help her husband (25:11).
602.  The prohibition against ever possessing, let alone using, dishonest weights and measures (25:13-16).
603.  The commandment to remember the evil Amalek did to Israel in the desert (25:17-19).
604.  The commandment to wipe out Amalek (25:17-19).
605.  The commandment not to forget the evil Amalek did to Israel (25:17-19).
Biblical Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin (as edited by this author)

The Oral Law
The sedrah provides several instances of the Oral Law softening or making the Written Law more accessible and/or more reasonable.  For example, the injunction concerning the man with crushed testes was interpreted to mean only those who had intentionally mutilated themselves.  Such behavior was often associated with pagan rituals.  The death penalty connected with the rebellious son was probably never carried out, in part, because the Rabbis made imposition of the sentence so difficult.  The commandment certainly gives support to the concept of the traditional family unit i.e., a mother and a father.  Both parents had to come together and both parents had to condemn the child.  This is in keeping with the verses in Shoftim about needing two witnesses in a capital case.  It is also in keeping with the concept that both parents, together, are responsible for raising a child.  This may fly in the face of modern American values, but this may be one of those examples of “being a separate or holy people.”  The commandment about building a guardrail around the roof has been interpreted as an injunction to maintain your property and possessions in a way that is calculated to protect others from injury.

Now let’s see what it would be like to create a little modern Halakah of our own.  Of course only sages can create real Halakah.  The attempt here is to see how these ancient laws might be applied to modern situations.  After all, that is how much of the Oral Law seems to have developed.  The two situations are my own invention and are in no way related to any actual situation of which I am aware here in Cedar Rapids.  Let’s take a situation and see what guidance the laws in the sedrah might provide.  A synagogue is having a fundraiser.  A known drug dealer wants to make a contribution.  Should you accept?  Probably not since Devarim 23:19 has been interpreted to mean that money derived from illegal activities should not be accepted as charitable contributions.  Now let’s make it a little tougher.  A stockbroker convinces his clients to buy stocks that he appears to know were of dubious value.  He makes big profits on the commissions.  The stocks prove to be a worthless investment and his customers are wiped out.  Based on what we have read in the Torah why should or shouldn’t the synagogue accept a contribution from the stockbroker?  (Ed. Note: This last example came after Michael Milken, but before Bernie Madoff.)

A Jewish man marries, has a son and then gets a divorce.  The man marries for a second time and has a son by the second wife.  Should he be able to reduce his child support payments to help support the child from the second marriage?  When the child from the first marriage graduates high school, child support stops.  The child goes to his father and tells him he wants to go to college and needs financial help.  Should the father be able to reject the request because he needs the money to support the son from the second marriage?  We no longer have polygamy.  Could a liberal interpretation of the laws concerning the first-born son of the unloved wife provide us with guidance?  Or should we say that since the since the sedrah talks about laws pertaining to divorce (21:15-17) and does not mention this issue, the laws concerning the first born son are not applicable?

Chukim
When we read in an earlier sedrah about the laws pertaining to the Red Heifer, we were introduced to the concept of Chukim - those ordinances that we obey even though we really do not understand the reason for their existence.  The prohibition against mixing wool and linen is another example of this.

Remembrance of Amalek
“Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you were leaving from Egypt.  How he happened upon you on the way and he killed all the weaklings among you at your rear, while you were faint and exhausted, and he did not fear God.  It shall be that when the Lord your God let you rest from all your enemies all around in the land that the Lord your God gives to you as an inheritance to take possession of it; you are to erase the memory of Amalek from beneath the heavens.  Do not forget.” (25:17-19).  This is the Third of the Six Remembrances.  It refers to the attack by the Amalekites described in the Chapter 17 of Shemot (Exodus).  This is the longest of the Six Remembrances and the text gives very specific reasons for remembering the event.  The commandments about remembering the Amalekites have given rise to at least two rituals.  One is this daily recitation describing the event.  The second is Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat before Purim.  The reading from the second Torah scroll on that day is Devarim 25:17-19.  According to tradition, Haman was descended from the Amalekites.  Part of what made the attack so evil was that the Amalekites took advantage of the Israelites’ weakened condition and attacked those who were most vulnerable - the stragglers at the rear of the line of march.  The hidden “remembrance” is that the Jewish people should never be weak in their faith because that weakness makes us vulnerable to external evildoers and internal inclinations to do evil.  Furthermore the Jewish people can show the strength of their faith by aiding the weak and helpless which means following the laws of social justice described in this sedrah.  There is an apparent contradiction in the language of this Remembrance.  The Israelites are told to “remember” but part of the remembering includes “blotting out the memory of Amalek.”  The “blotting out” is to occur once the Israelites have entered the Promised Land.  This act of “blotting out” may refer to the physical destruction of the Amalekites and all of their material wealth.  This interpretation provides an even stronger explanation for Samuel’s anger with Saul when he not only did not kill the King of the Amalekites but also claimed that he spared their flocks to use them as an offering to the Lord.

Remembrance of Miriam
“Remember that which the Lord your God did to Miriam on the way when you were leaving from Egypt.”  (24:9) is the fifth of the Six Remembrances.  It refers to an event described at the beginning of Chapter 12 in Bamidbar (Numbers) when Miriam and Aaron spoke out against their brother Moshe.  Miriam was guilty of “lashon hora” or evil speech and she was punished with a skin affliction.  Obviously we are supposed to remember that if as a great a person as Miriam can speak “lashon hora” than we all must be careful about what we say.  So why doesn’t the text command us to remember what Miriam did so that we will not do it?  Why does it command us to remember God’s response to what Miriam did?  The punishment for her deed was leprosy.  This meant that Miriam had to be put out of the camp for seven days.  In other words, the real punishment was public humiliation.  Also, the people had to stop for seven days until Miriam was cleansed.  In other words, she slowed the move to the Promised Land; something she had not intended when she spoke out against Moshe.  We are to remember what “God did” - the Punishment - so we will remember that evil speech which is often meant to humiliate others actually leads to our own humiliation.  Furthermore, evil speech - of which gossip and slander are only two examples - can have consequences far beyond the speakers’ wildest imagination.  As they used to say out on the prairie, keep your words sweet.  You may have to eat them some day.

Devarim, Ruth and Henry VIII
This week’s sedrah contains the rules about the Levirate Marriage.  This is the marriage between the widow and the brother of her deceased husband who is called the “levir” which is the root of the word Levirate.  This type of marriage was designed to ensure that the deceased name would not be “blotted out” which meant, among other things, that his property would not go somebody not directly related to him.  As demonstrated in the story of Judah and Tamar, the custom of the Levirate Marriage must have been an ancient one.  Once again, there is a difference between the world before the giving of the Torah and after the giving of the Torah.  For it is only after Sinai that a method of release came into existence.   This sedrah provides for this ceremony of release, which is called halitsah.  With so many other laws, why waste time on this one, which is not even operative among Reform and Conservative Jews?  The simple answer is that this law figured in at least two events of far-reaching consequence.  First, in the Book of Ruth, Ploni Almoni, had to renounce his claim to Elimelech’s property before Boaz and Ruth could marry.  Their marriage ultimately resulted in the birth of King David.  Secondly, Henry VIII, the marrying king of England, married his brother’s widow.  When he later decided to get rid of her so he could marry Ann Boleyn, Henry contended that the law of the Levirate Marriage under which he had married his first wife was a violation of Canon Law.  The Catholic Church did not agree with Henry’s views on the Levirate Marriage, creating the break between Canterbury and Rome that shaped so much of history down to modern times.

The Beautiful Woman
Why does the text talk about the “beautiful woman?”  Why not just talk about “a woman?”  Was a woman who was not beautiful to be treated differently?  According to Rashi, the enemies of the Israelites would take special pain to make their women as physically appealing as possible so that they might tempt the Israelite warriors and lead them away from God.  (Remember what happened at Baal-Peor.)  Hence, any woman who would be seized would be viewed as a “beautiful woman.”  It seems to be more a term of art than an actual physical description of the woman.

J-Date and Ki Taytzay
There are numerous laws in this sedrah concerning the treatment of women.  In the culture of the Bible, dating was an unknown concept.  Certainly on-line and speed dating would be totally foreign concepts to our ancient forefathers and mothers.  However, the Torah does offer guidelines for those who look beyond the plain meaning.  Women, even foreign women taken as spoils of war, were to be treated with respect.  This means that women regardless of how you make their acquaintance are to be treated with respect and sensitivity.  They are not disposable items or toys.  Regardless of how a woman may see herself or view her relationships, the Torah sets a standard of behavior for men that would make them all gentlemen.

Civil Disobedience
The Torah has survived because it is a living document, not just the dead hand from the past.  Look at the injunctions concerning runaway slaves and then decide how a Jew should have reacted just before the Civil War when the Federal Fugitive Slave Act was the law of the land.  The Federal Fugitive Slave Act required people to return “runaway slaves” to their owners.

Mourning Customs
The female captive is to spend the first thirty days mourning her father and mother.  The first thirty days after the death of a loved one are special period called the Shloshim.  The corpse of a criminal is to be buried on the day of his death.  Jewish custom is to bury as soon after death as is practicable; on the same day if possible.  The period of mourning cannot begin until after the burial has taken place.

Social Justice
When you read the Prophets, you will find them drawing on many of the concepts presented in this sedrah as they pertain to treating the needy.  The prophets specifically seem to quote these verses as they take future generations of Israelites to task for seizing the pledge and for “sleeping in the pledge.”  The similarities in message and language would seem to provide further support for the antiquity of the Torah.

Getting Involved
We are reminded over and over again that part of being Jewish to be responsible for what goes on the world.  We first see that in Bereshit with the classic question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  We see it again in this sedrah at the end of 22:3 where the last phrase is translated as “you may not hide yourself” or more colloquially as “you may not remain indifferent.”

Business Ethics
Based on the readings in Devarim, the ideal economic society was one of subsistence farmers, herdsmen, artisans and the attendant commercial activities necessary to support them.  The accumulation of great wealth was not a virtue and poverty was to be a temporary thing.  Workers were to be paid promptly (24: 14-15).  Since you were not supposed to even own dishonest weights, let alone use them, business dealings were not only to be proper, they were to be beyond reproach.  Obviously, the modern business community would do well to follow the examples set out in the Torah since it really covers everything from paying your workers what they have earned (including not cheating them out of their pensions and benefits) to not “cooking the books” when providing information to investors and regulators.  The issue of loans and interests has led to some confusion.  Loans to a fellow Israelite were not seen as a commercial matter.  Loans were made to those in need.  Therefore you never took basic utensils or garments from the needy.  (This might be seen as the forerunner of the modern Homestead or Credit Rights’ Laws.)  You never entered a person’s home to claim the pledged item.  (This might be seen as the forerunner of those laws prohibiting harassing phone calls and visits from bill collectors.)  Loans, whether of money or things, were to be repaid, but no interest was to be charged.  After all, it would be wrong to benefit from the misfortune of others.  At the same time, it was acceptable to charge interest to non-Israelites because the assumption was that they had entered the land for business purposes and if they needed a loan it was for a commercial venture designed to make money.  This is not a double standard.  The innumerable laws commanding the Israelites to treat strangers with kindness and decency provide ample evidence of the decent way in which Jews were to treat non-Jews.  In fact, it is considered worse to cheat a non-Jew than it is to cheat a fellow Jew.  If a Jew cheats a non-Jew, the non-Jew assumes that all Jews are unethical and that their God is a God who supports evil.  As the Jewish commercial class grew during the days of the Second Temple, it became necessary for Jews to lend money to one another for strictly business purposes.  The Rabbis could not abrogate the Torah laws about interest.  So they created a legal fiction that in essence made the lender a “silent partner” in the business that was guaranteed a return on his investment.  The image of the Jewish moneylender is a canard perpetrated by the ignorant and the anti-Semitic.  Last but not least, according to some commentators, the first question asked of a person at the time of Ultimate Judgment is, “How did you conduct your business?”  Being pious in the synagogue is one thing; the challenge is to carry that piety into the world in which we work.  This Torah portion provides us with a guide how to accomplish that difficult goal.

Labor Law
There has been a great deal “noise” about the meatpacking operation in Postville.  Regardless of the loopholes slick lawyers might try to find under the U.S. legal system, the Torah is pretty straight forward in how employers are to treat their workers.  “You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer, whether a fellow countryman or a 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 in need and urgently depends on it…” (Devarim 22:14 & 15).

Free Will
Chapter 22:25-26 in Devarim talks about rape.  But the underlying meaning of the verses is that you cannot punish anybody for committing sins against his or her will.  On the other hand, this would also infer that when duress is absent people are capable of, and responsible for, making their own choices.  The sedrah also contains laws concerning the right of inheritance of the first-born (21:15-17).  While this may be the law, we know that in the cases of Isaac, Jacob, Moshe, King David and King Solomon, to name but a few examples, somebody other than the first born got the prize.  Furthermore, the make-up of the Rabbinic Academies and the line of scholars and sages are proof that merit, not birth order, is what counts the most.  The message would seem to be that the law may guarantee certain benefits to the first-born, but what people do with their lives is something over which they must exercise control.

The Ox and the Donkey
The prohibition against yoking an ox and donkey together when plowing has given rise to several interesting amplifications and/or explanations of the rule.  Some see it as part of a whole series of laws prohibiting “unnatural combinations.”  Rashi interprets it to mean that animals of different species should never be joined together “for any kind of work.”  Rabbi Telushkin sees it as part of a whole series of Biblical injunctions relating to kindness toward animals.  People are allowed to use animals, but they are not allowed to abuse them.  While animals are not at the same level as people, abusing them makes it easier for some to abuse their fellow human beings.  Rabbi Artson sees it as a lesson about personal development.  The ox and the donkey are not to be yoked together because they move at different speeds and have different levels of endurance.  By the same token, each individual develops at a different speed and has different strengths and weaknesses.  Just as we would not expect an ox and donkey to move in the same manner, so should we expect children to not develop in exactly the same manner?  The trick to parenting (or adult group dynamics for that matter) is acknowledging the uniqueness of the individual, allowing him or her to develop at his or her own pace, while still conforming to group norms.  One simple sentence and so many lessons - and people wonder why the Torah is read over and over and over again.

Mamzer
Contrary to popular misconception, the term “mamzer” (23:3) does not refer to a child “born out of wedlock.”  Rather it refers to a child born out a forbidden union i.e., incest or adultery.  This stringent pronunciation would seem to run counter to the statement we find later in the sedrah that children are not to be punished for the sins of their parents (24:16).  There are those who contend that the intention of the law is not to punish the child, but to provide an extremely strong incentive for people not to engage in illicit sexual relationships.  Regardless whom you believe authored the Torah, He or they knew that the “flesh is weak especially where matters of the flesh are concerned.”  The family unit was of such great importance that it apparently was felt that this strong admonition would keep people from engaging in a momentarily pleasurable act that could have far-reaching destructive consequences.  Various sages have been struck by the stringency of the command and the seemingly unfair burden it places on the “innocent” child.  Over the centuries, Rabbis have developed a variety of “legal fictions” designed to mitigate the impact on the child.  The Conservative Movement has gone so far as to adopt “evidentiary procedures to render this rule inoperative, because it penalizes children for the sins of their parents” which is contrary to 24:16.

Ki Taytzay and Assimilation
Ki Taytzay is filled with laws designed to protect workers, those without fathers and the strangers in your midst as well as injunctions to keep honest business records.  These laws in Ki Taytzay deal with issues that were once summarized under the title of Social Justice.  In fact there was a time that many American Jews thought that Social Justice was a substitute for Judaism or all that there was to Judaism.  Moshe Ktsav, the President of Israel, writes in I Am Jewish, “Social Justice and concern for the weak are cornerstones of Judaism and of Torah of Israel…for the Jewish People to live successfully in its historical homeland, it must take care of the weak, the orphan.”  He continues that “charity is equal to all the commandments of the Torah, which is why the State of Israel as a Jewish democratic country, is also an advanced welfare state, confronting social needs.”  Of course it is “convenient” to espouse the doctrines of Social Justice when you are weak, powerless or marginalized and need this protection yourself.  This sedrah raises the question as to how American Jews are doing now that they are the judges, the business moguls and media magnates.  Leo Botstein writes in I Am Jewish that “American Jews have become complacent, lazy, and unengaged with learning and public service….  Jews have become too allied with a narrow conservative view of social justice and have broken with a traditional historical alliance with the poor and the oppressed against the entrenched vested interests in government and the marketplace.”  If Ktsav is right, the laws of Ki Taytzay are critical to the survival of the State of Israel and the Jewish People.  But if Botstein is even only partially right, then American Jewry has turned its back on Ki Taytzay and faces the worst kind of assimilation; not the assimilation of intermarriage or those other bogeyman Jewish leaders like to talk about but the assimilation of being like everybody else in the dimensions of social morality and ethics.

Best offer
“You shall not have…alternate weights, larger and smaller.  You must have completely honest weights and completely honest measures.”  These words from chapter 25 of Devarim have been interpreted in many ways including the need to deal fairly, to give value for value, and measure for measure.  In a town beyond the Carpathian Mountains, a man went to buy a horse.  His son came along so he could learn the ways of business and bargaining.  When the two of them got to the stable, the father asked to see the owner.  The father asked to see his finest horse.  The stable owner brought a fine looking stallion.  The father inspected the beast, slowly checking it legs, its teeth, etc.  Satisfied that this was indeed a fine specimen, the father turned to the stable owner and said, “I am interested in buying the horse.  I know how much money I have in my purse and am prepared to pay any amount you name as long as it does not exceed that amount.  So, tell me, what is your best price for this steed?”  The stable owner thought for a moment and then quoted a certain number of rubles.  The father stood there silent, fingering the coins and bills in his purse.  Silence filled the air.  Sensing that he was about to lose the sale, the stableman called another number; a number smaller than the first number.  As soon as he heard the figure, the father grabbed his son’s hand, turned and walked away.  The son was stunned.  How, he asked his father, could he turn down such a bargain?  In fact, if he had remained silent the son was sure he could have gotten an even better price.  The father nodded in agreement.  But he reminded his son that he had asked for the best price in the first place.  His silence was not a bargaining ploy.  He was just trying to think of how he would explain to his wife how he had bought such an expensive horse.  If the man offers “an alternative” (i.e., alternate weights and measures) who knew what the real condition of the horse might be?  Of course the advice was not free.  Instead of riding home in style, the son paid the price of having to walk all the way home.  Possibly on the walk home the son might have asked his father to explain the meaning of the aphorism, “sometimes free is too expensive.”

Honest Weights, Honest Measures and Israel’s Final Redemption
How important is it that we use only honest and weights measures?  The Author or authors of the Bible must have considered it extremely important.  When the prophet Ezekiel described the conditions for Israel’s final redemption and the vision of the re-built Temple, he said explicitly “You shall have just balances, and a just ephah and a just bath.” (45:10)  He then went on to describe exactly what those measures should be.  In other words, honesty in business and commercial dealings are a critical part of the final redemption and the arrival of the messianic era.

Elul - The Days of Awe - 72
Pity the poor Jew.  He is but a few days into Elul.  He hears the sound of the Shofar each morning reminding him of the coming of the “Days of Awe.”  He yearns for Teshuvah.  He seeks to assure his Master that this time he will turn and return for real - no half way measures this time.  And then boom - the second sedrah of Elul confronts him with seventy two laws.  Maimonides himself counted them up.  Seventy two laws!  You’ve got to be kidding.  There is no way.  The Jew is lost; the return is impossible.  But wait the seventy-two commands are not a barrier; they are a beacon of hope.  For what is seventy two except Chai times four?  Who knows four?  Four are the number of the matriarchs, the first women of the Jewish people.  What do we seek at this time of the year?  We seek God’s mercy.  And is not God’s mercy connected with the Shechinah; what the mystics consider the “feminine side of God.”  Instead of despair the Jew is filled with hope.  If he breaks down seventy two they are not a barrier to keep him from returning, they are sign of hope that with God’s mercy he shall be able to return.  The secret came in being able to break the number seventy two down into its components.  That is also the path to Teshuvah.  Do not despair and say that since I cannot do all seventy two I will do none.  Take it step at a time; one commandment at a time and like stones they will become a pathway to that which you seek.

Haftarah
54:1-10 Isaiah

The Man/The Book:  The prophetic portion is attributed to the Isaiah of the Exile, a personage who lived in the sixth century B.C.E.  His was a vision of hope and redemption.  Unfortunately, we know nothing of the personal life of this person other than that he was alive at the time of Cyrus the Great.

The Message:  This is reputed to be the shortest haftarah of the year.  Not only is it a mere ten sentences, but the sentences are short ones as well.  During the year, these first ten verses are the introductory part of the Haftarah for the sedrah of Noah.  The prophet uses a marriage motif to describe the relationship between God and the Israelites.  In images reminiscent of Hosea and Gomer, Israel is the wayward wife and God is the long-suffering, forgiving spouse.  God was angry because Israel had forsaken Him for others.  But now He would bring her “home” in love, filling her tent with children.  This is a haftarah of reassurance.  God reassures the Israelites by promising everlasting kindness.  He promises to never rebuke the Israelites again just as He promised Noah that He would never flood the earth again.  While mountains may move and hills may be shaken, God will never take his loyalty from the Children of Israel.  If this is a statement of unconditional divine love, then the challenge is to explain these statements in light of the destruction of the Second Temple and the exile that followed.

Theme-Link:  According to traditionalists, the link is not between the sedrah and haftarah.  The link is with the calendar.  This is the fifth of the Seven Haftarot of Consolation which we began reading on the Shabbat after Tisha B’Av and will finish on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah.  However, one cannot help but notice that the haftarah uses the Husband and Wife Motif while the sedrah includes marriage and divorce.  Is this a coincidence or a secondary message from the sages who compiled the readings?  The connection between Isaiah and Lechah Dodi that we saw in last week’s haftarah continues in this week’s reading.  The seventh verse of the hymn welcoming the Sabbath Queen begins with words from Isaiah 54:4 “Do not be ashamed, do not feel humiliated.”  The ninth verse begins with words from Isaiah 54:3, “Rightward and leftward, you shall spread out mightily.”  While this hymn is commonly viewed as a welcoming ode to the Sabbath Queen, it contains a strong message concerning the redemption of the Jewish people.  According to Etz Yosef as cited in the Artscroll Siddur, these words from Isaiah in verse nine are meant to convey that at the end of the exile, the rightful heirs to Jerusalem, the Jewish people, will overcome their enemies regardless of where they come from  (rightward or leftward).

Copyright; September, 2014; Mitchell A. Levin