Weekly Reading Insights:
Ki Tetzei 5779



Overview of the Weekly Reading

To be read on Shabbat Ki Teitzei, 14 Elul 5779/Sep.14, 2019

Torah: Deut. 21:10-25:18
Haftorah: Isaiah 54:1-10 (5th of the Seven Haftorahs of Consolation)
Pirkei Avot:  Chapter 1,2

Ki Teitzei is the 6th Reading out of 11 in Deuteronomy and it contains 5856 letters, in 1582 words, in 110 verses

Much of Ki Teitzei is a series of laws. The first describes the process of converting and marrying women captives of war from other nations. Next are the laws of a firstborn son's inheritance, the punishment of a rebellious son, burial of a hanged sinner, returning lost articles, helping a Jew's fallen animal to stand and return its load, the prohibition to wear clothes of the opposite gender, removing a mother bird before taking her eggs or young, and placing a guard rail on the roof of a building. This is followed by the prohibition of planting together different plant species, plowing with different animal species under one yoke, and wearing a garment of linen and wool. Male Jews are commanded to wear tzitzit (fringes) on four cornered garments. Next are the laws of the defamed wife-accused of false virginity or infidelity-and the consequences when the accusation is proven true or false. Laws regarding betrothal, rape, incest, bastardry, and marriage to converts from certain nations are also listed. The Jews are commanded to be modest even at war, both sexually and when relieving themselves. Jews are forbidden to return runaway slaves (who came to Israel from elsewhere) to their masters. The Jews are forbidden to be promiscuous, and to deduct interest from other Jews. They are also required to fulfill vows on time, allow employees to eat from produce they are working with, and are explained the laws of divorce and remarriage. A bridegroom is not allowed to be drafted; a millstone may not be used as security for a loan; and a kidnapper's punishment is described. The Jews are reminded to be careful about laws of leprosy, how to take security for loans, and to pay wages on time. Certain close relatives may not testify against each other; widows and orphans must be treated properly; forgotten harvested produce must be left in the field for the needy; flogging by court order must be exact; and animals may not be muzzled when treading grain. When a man dies leaving his wife childless, his brother or closest kinsman is commanded to marry her. The laws of such a case are described as well as a situation where the relative chooses not to marry the widow. Next is the law concerning a woman who became involved in an assault on her husband. The Jews are reminded to be honest in their weights and measures, and to remember how Amalek attacked the Jews when we went out of Egypt.

An Essay from
Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, Director of Ascent

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When a speaker changes from one subject to another, it is only natural to ask why. We can ask the same question regarding the Torah, G-d's way of communicating to the world in general, and, in particular, to His people. Why are two different subjects juxtaposed?

We find this situation at the end of this week's Torah portion, Ki Teitzei. First there are the verses discussing honesty in business. The Torah tells us (Devarim 25:13-16), "You must not keep in your pocket a (smaller weight) stone (for selling) and a (larger weight) stone (for buying). Or a (larger) ephah (volume measure) and a (smaller) ephah (volume measure)." The next verses are (Devarim 25:17-19), "Remember what Amalek did to you, how they attacked your stragglers by surprise when you were faint…".

Tosfot (a collection of major Talmudic commentaries spanning the 11th to 14th centuries) in Kiddushin 33b, V'ayma, addresses this issue. Tosfot quotes the Midrash (a collection of 1,500-2,000-year-old traditional explanations and commentary on the Torah), that when the Jewish people act sinfully in business, they bring Amalek, our eternal enemy. In other words, the reason the verses are side by side is to warn us of the consequences of sinning in business - that we will bring ourselves to a situation of war.

The connection here between sinning in business and attracting our enemy, Amalek, is not obvious. What is the explanation learned from the inner dimension of the Torah?

When dealing with a basically moral and Jewishly-aware person, we are all familiar with how our evil inclination works to get us to sin. Rarely does it come and convince us to totally rebel against G-d. Rather, it usually starts with something small and seemingly innocuous. Like, I am just going to cheat a tiny little bit. Jump one red light, cut a line, overcharge just this one time. In ancient times this was done by using a weighing stone in one's favor. A person could think, "Everyone does it, no one will ever notice, and the extra income will be so good." In other words, of course I agree that a person must behave according to the Code of Jewish Law. But if I just do something little (seemingly of no consequence) there will be no great damage.

Part of the logic of the evil inclination would tell us to also have, of course, a stone of accurate weight in our possession. One is not going to cheat everyone, G-d forbid, only certain people, at certain times. And anyway, of course this is not really how I behave all the time, it is just something temporary. So I need to have two stones.

The result is a very common occurrence. A person can have two different standards (in Hebrew the word for "measure", mida, can also be translated as "standard"). Our evil inclination, which is also G-d's prosecutor, claims that our spiritual moral compass has taken a vacation. We have one standard for the needs (or perspective) of the soul, and one standard for the needs of the body. When it comes to the soul the standard is exact, according to the requirements of Jewish law. We know exactly what is the right thing to do. But, when it comes to the standard for the body and our physical needs, we convince ourselves that we are allowed to be more flexible, to bend according to the "ways of the world".

This is what it means that because of standards ("weights and measures") we bring on Amalek. Amalek does not only refer to our eternal external enemy. Amalek also refers to our eternal internal enemy. The numerical value of the word Amalek in Hebrew is 240, the same value as the Hebrew word safek)) doubt. Our evil inclination never tells us to drop all our Jewish practice. Rather it convinces us to move on to more and more negative behaviours by first instilling doubts in our mind. When a person starts to be lenient with the laws of honesty in business and creates two conflicting standards in themselves, they cause an internal war, an Amalek inside themselves, about what is the right way to behave. Should I act according to the needs of my soul and be strict, or should I act according to the needs of my body and the physical world. As we all know, often the internal war is worse than the external war.

The only way to safeguard ourselves from this internal war is to be careful in weights, measures and standards, in business, from the very start. What does that mean? That every action a person takes should only be with a "full and righteous" weight, only and always according to the standards of the Torah.
(Translated and adapted from the Lubavitcher Rebbe's Likkutei Sichos (Collected Talks). Volume 27, page 551)

Rabbi Zusha Wilyamow sky was called the Lubavitcher Rebbe's "partisan", not only because he survived the Second World War as part of the underground, but also because he was a faithful helper to the Rebbe. He would go to newly-married brides and grooms and enigmatically tell them, "If you want peace outside, you will have a war inside. But if you want peace inside, you will have war outside".

His son Levi would explain. "Peace outside" means family harmony, in Hebrew, shalom bayit. If you want shalom bayit (external peace), you are going to have to accept that you are not always going to get what you want, that you are not always going to be happy internally. To achieve harmony, you must compromise. In other words - "war inside". If what is important to you is personal peace, internal tranquility and no conflicts, then you are going to have to accept "war outside"; be ready to disagree with everyone

Shabbat Shalom and shana tova u'metuka (a good and sweet new year), Shaul

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For last year's essay by Rabbi Leiter on this week's Reading, see the archive.


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Holy Zohar, Holy Ari, Mystic Classics, Chasidic Masters, Contemporary Kabbalists, and more,
click to Ki Teitzei

one sample:

Mystical Classics
Brotherly Souls

From the teachings of Rabbi Bachya ben Asher

"It shall be that the firstborn which she shall bear shall succeed to the name of his dead brother"

The institution of the levirate marriage discussed in this Torah portion is of great value to the soul of the departed, for the soul of the new infant will replace that of the departed brother. A soul derives added enjoyment when allowed to re-incarnate as a member of the family it had once belonged to.

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