Friday, August 16, 2013

Shabbat Ki Teitze: A Parsha of Transitions

Below is the Dvar Torah for Ki Teitze that appeared in this week's Washington Jewish Week newspaper.
I'd attach a link but only subscribers can read it on line:) Enjoy!

Shabbat Ki Teitze: A Parsha of Transitions

The High Holidays are coming. We are in the month of Elul, a time of introspection, of searching our souls to see what actions we have done in the past year that have “missed the mark” and therefore need to be changed for the coming year. As we dig deep and think about forgiveness between ourselves and others, ourselves and God, and perhaps most difficult of all, ask it of ourselves; we prepare for these tasks by reading the Torah portions and the special Haftarot of Consolation that lead to the Days of Awe.

Though difficult to see at first, Parashat Ki Teitze, fits into this pattern of helping us with our “Elul” work. Review this list of topics from the Parasha and see what patterns/messages you are able to discern:  treatment of female captives of war; inheritance rights of firstborn males;  punishment of an insubordinate son; treatment of the body of an executed criminal; how to deal with lost property; humane treatment of animals; safe building practices; not wearing clothing of the opposite sex; prohibition of combining wool and linen; tassels on garments; true accusations; issues of marital and sexual misconduct including adultery, rape and forbidden relationships; asylum for escaped slaves; sanctity of a military camp; lending at interest; the role of prostitution among Israelites; rules regarding eating another’s unharvested crops; consequences of kidnapping; rules concerning leprosy; guidelines for creditors; requirement for timely payment of wages; gleanings for the poor; caring for strangers, orphans and widows; limits of flogging; not muzzling a threshing ox; Levirate marriage; improper intervention in a fight; honest weights and measures. (section heading thanks to Etz Hayim chumash)

An impressive list! There doesn’t appear to be an apparent rhythm to its flow, yet I have gained great Elul insight from this Parasha. We are reminded that as human beings we are not the only sentient beings on this planet. Those of us who qualify as the haves are reminded quite bluntly of the have nots, what our responsibility is to them, and that our positions could change at any moment. We are reminded that as Jews we live in relationship to one another and that we have communal responsibilities – legal, financial, judicial, military. We are reminded that as Jews are not the only people on this planet and that we have to live in community with others as well. We are reminded that for every “thing” that we can explain, there are many “things” that we cannot explain – whether they come in the form of natural events, commandments, or inspiration from within.

Then we read the final verses. We come off this roller coaster ride of perspectives and reminders. We’ve been put in our places. We are ready to work on forgiveness to one and all. And we read the following lines (Deut 25: 17-19):

17. Remember what Amalek did to you by the way, when you came forth out of Egypt;
18. How he met you by the way, and struck [קָרְךָ] at your rear, all who were feeble behind you, when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God.
19. Therefore it shall be, when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around, in the land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance to possess, that you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget it.

Confused? We are ready to forgive. To work on our shortcomings, to be better citizens, to accept consequences. We all remember Amalek and how they basically fought dirty. Is that enough to contradict the meta message of the Parasha that we’ve just received and be told to blot out the memory of Amalek? Apparently yes.

According to Midrash it all revolves on the use of the קָרְךָ korcha in verse 18 as the hebrew word in the phrase “struck at your rear.” The word korcha shares the same root at the hebrew word for cold, kar.  When the Israelites left Egyptian slavery were happy, confident, enthusiastic. Perhaps the Amalek’s real sin was acting as a bucket of cold water and bringing the Israelites into the real world of disillusionment and danger. Perhaps Amalek brought the Israelites out of their taste of Gan Eden a bit earlier than intended, maybe before they were ready.

Rabbah Arlene Berger is the Education Director of the Chavurah at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue.

1.    Review the list above. What patterns do you find for topics listed in this Parasha? What do they teach you about preparing for the high holidays?
2.    Why does the Torah seem to put rulings about fair treatment of people, animals, Jews, nonJews, men and women all in the Parasha? Which lessons have been well received and which have been ignored?
3.    What lesson have you learned from Amalek? Did they steal a bit of Gan Eden from our ancestors?

Any thoughts or comments?

Shabbat Shalom -
Rabbah Arlene