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Parashat Ki Tetze – 74 Laws for Individuals

We are coming to the end of the Torah! The portion of Ki Tetze is the sixth Sidrah in Deuteronomy, the fifth and last book of the Torah. There are only five Sidrot left in Deuteronomy, and then we begin again from Genesis. I have stated earlier that the entire book of Deuteronomy spans only 37 days, ending with the death of Moses our Teacher.

This week’s portion is Part 3 of Moses’s Second Discourse, taught and spoken by Moses to the Israelites in Moab as they are about to enter the Promised Land.

We should remember that the Torah contains many kinds of narratives: history, including genealogy; sacrificial practices; architecture; a very small dose of prayer; and many, many laws. The Rabbis of the Talmud and beyond count all the laws in the Torah to number 613. According to the numeric equivalent of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet (Alef=1; Bet=2, and so on through Tof=400), the 613 laws have been referred to as 613: Taryag Mitzvot. The 613 laws can be classified in several different ways: positive laws (Do something)-248; negative laws (Don’t do something)-365. Some laws can only be observed in the Land of Israel. Some laws are no longer relevant in our time. Hukim are laws for which there are no rational explanations-Kashrut, or the laws of the Red Heifer, for example. Mishpatim are laws that can be deduced from logic: Do not murder; Do not steal.

Of the 613 Laws in the Torah, a very large total of 74 are found in the portion of Ki Tetze. The only other Torah portion that has as large a number of laws is Mishpatim, in the book of Exodus. From the Etz Hayim Torah (p. 1112), “These laws (in Ki Tetze) deal with matters regarding individuals, their families, and their neighbors, in contrast to the preceding laws, which concern public officials and the nation as a whole.” There is a very important section of laws dealing with the well-being of women.

The Sidrah begins with a law relating to a woman captured during a war. After she has been cleaned and purified, she is allowed to become the wife of the victorious soldier (21:10-13). During this polygamous time, the man who has two wives must treat the son of his unloved wife justly if he is the first-born (21:15-17). There is a strong prohibition against a woman wearing a man’s clothes, and a man wearing woman’s clothes (22:5). We learn about several domestic laws regarding lost animals. Moses teaches the Israelites the prohibition against mixing crops, seeds, plow animals, or threads in garments taken from different crops (22:9-11).

We are taught a major discussion of marital and sexual misconduct (22:13-29). The Israelites are instructed not to lend money with high interest charges (23:20). Moses commands the Israelites to remember the punishment of leprosy that G-d Almighty inflicted on his older sister, Miriam, for unjust and false accusations (24:8-9). We learn about the procedures involving a Levirate marriage: if a childless married man dies, his brother is commanded to take his place, and resultant sons will be considered as the descendants of the deceased. There is a procedure for the release from this predicament if the surviving brother is unwilling to carry out his legal responsibility (25:5-10).

The Sidrah ends with a command to remember the evil brought on the Israelites by the tribe of Amalek in the desert. “Do not forget to blot out the memory of Amalek.”(25:17-19). Haman, the villain of the Purim story, is considered to be from this tribe. These Torah verses are read again on the Shabbat preceding the holiday of Purim.

In our time, the contemporary denominations of Judaism-Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, and other movements, continue to discuss and teach which laws are relevant and for what reasons. In the Reform Movement, many traditional laws that had been abandoned in the nineteenth century have been restored to vital and active Jewish practice, both ritual and ethical, in the 20th and 21st centuries. Parashat Ki Tetze is the source of so many rituals, as well as moral and ethical standards that define our Jewish identities. It is therefore worthy of our examination and concentrated study.

We are getting closer to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Our traditional understanding of High Holy Day practices and rituals will be re-imagined because of the need for social distancing during these difficult times. Our wonderful adult choir, Shir KI, has now completed our audio and video recording for our “virtual presentation” of the famous Lewandowski Psalm 150. The digital materials are now in the hands of our producer, and we eagerly await the finished product. We pray that you, our beloved congregants, will be elevated and inspired by our virtual music.

Shabbat Shalom from all the Tilman’s to all our KI members and friends!

Hazzan David F. Tilman

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