Parashat Ki Teitzei is one of the richest in the whole Torah. It is full of some truly remarkable laws and ethical principles. It also contains its fair share of “huh?” moments.That is what makes it a perfect microcosm for the whole Torah and then entire body of Jewish religious commentary. I’ve written about and commented on any number of these before. Cross-dressing, obligations to neighbors, remembering/blotting out Amalek, parapets, gleaning (for both the land owner and the forager,) the exclusion of eunuchs and those with crushed testes, parents and recalcitrant children, respect and dignity even for the body of one who is executed, shooing away the mother bird, not mixing seed, fringes, fair grounds for divorce, Ammonites & Moabites bad – Egyptians and Edomites sort of OK (hmm, wasn’t Ruth a Moabite?), mamzers, protection for fugitive slaves, be fair to your workers and to the widow and orphan, limits to the extent of punishment and protecting the dignity of the punished, poop outside the camp and bury it, you can charge interest to non-Jews but not to other Jews, levirate marriage, (discovered) adultery results in capital punishment for both the married man and the married woman involved, to protect her husband a woman may not grab an opposing man’s testicles in a fight, use honest weights and measures, do not put parents to death for the crimes of their children (and vice versa,) wear fringes, no wearing of shatnez. Lost property (if you haven’t read any of the many versions of “The Torah, The Gold Watch, and Everything” I’ve posted over the years, please do.) Plus a few more. A lot of these are laws and commandments which we can point to with pride. Some of them, not so much.
Isn’t that just like the rest of the Torah? You get the good with the bad, the “that makes sense” with the “huh?” You get chok (a law with no obvious underpinning) and mishpat (a law with obvious or logical underpinnings.) In all honesty, when I am trying to explain to folks how the Torah is replete with things which make us smile and things with make us cringe, parashat Ki Teitzei is an example I often offer.
The very opening verses of the parasha are a microcosm of Torah in and of themselves. At least in term of modern sensibilities, they are a mixed bag. We are told to be understanding and patient with a captive woman to whom we take a fancy, and if we marry and after the trial period decide we don’t like her, she becomes a free woman and cannot be enslaved. How nice. However, at the very heart of this is the fact that a man could simply force a captive enemy woman to be his lover and wife.
There’s that favorite of parents everywhere that enables them to have a wayward child stoned to death! yeah, we can point to that with pride. Not.
There’s even two genuine head-scratchers in the parasha. The first is the commandment about shooing away the mother from the next before taking the eggs or the fledglings. The second is the whole remember/forget Amalek business. There are no other head-scratchers like those anywhere else in the Torah, right? Here’s that deed to the Brooklyn Bridge I promised to sell you.
There are times when reading the Torah is like the old “besides that how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?” Now don’t get me wrong – on the whole I do believe the good in the Torah outweighs the negative. However, that is not license to simply ignore it.
Recently, Rabbi Block, head of the CCAR, wrote in Tablet Magazine of his decision to cancel his subscription to the NY Times because of the anti-Israel bias in the coverage of the recent Gaza conflict that had finally gotten to be too much for even him. In the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, Rob Eshman wrote a rebuttal suggesting there may be a more Jewish response. He asked, in one among his five points, if boycotting everything that offends us is the solution. Do we reject the whole of Torah because of the more troubling verses? Shouldn’t we argue with the Torah? Some would argue that is certainly what our tradition teaches us.
Rabbi Block does make a compelling case about the perceived bias in NY Times coverage of the recent conflict in Gaza. Like him, despite have very left leanings, I, too, was troubled by coverage in the NY Times (and elsewhere.) Nevertheless, spurred by Rob Eshman’s questions, I have to ask myself if I can justify boycotting the NY Times anymore than I can justify boycotting the Torah for the objectionable (from my perspective) content it contains. My conclusion (at least for now) is that I must argue and engage.
Thank you, parashat Ki Tetzei, for some of the truly remarkable and uplifting commandments and ethical concepts you contain. Thank you just as much for the troubling bits, that allow me to be, as we often suggest the meaning of the word, to be Yisrael, one of those who struggles with G”d.
Al kol eileh, al kol eileh,
Shmor nah li Eili hatov
Al hadvash v’al ha’okets
Al hamar v’hamatok.
©2014 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha:
Ki Teitzei 5773 – Be True To Who You Are
Ki Teitzei 5772 – The Torah, the Gold Watch, and Another Retelling
Ki Teitzei 5771 – Metaphorical Parapets
Ki Tetzei 5769 – The Choice of Memory
Ki Tetzei 5767 – Honoring Inconsistency
Ki Teitzei 5766-B’Shetzef Ketzef
Ki Tetze 5764/5-The Torah, The Gold Watch, and The Rest of the Story
Ki Tetze 5757,9,60,63–The Torah, The Gold Watch, & Everything
Ki Tetze 5758–Exclude Me
Ki Tetze 5762–One Standard