Torah Weekly

For the week ending 13 September 2008 / 13 Elul 5768

Parshat Ki Tetzei

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair - www.seasonsofthemoon.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Overview

The Torah describes the only permissible way a woman captured in battle may be married. If a man marries two wives, and the less-favored wife bears a firstborn son, this son's right to inherit a double portion is protected against the father's desire to favor the child of the favored wife. The penalty for a rebellious son, who will inevitably degenerate into a monstrous criminal, is stoning. A body must not be left on the gallows overnight, because it had housed a holy soul. Lost property must be return. Men are forbidden from wearing women's clothing and vice versa. A mother bird may not be taken together with her eggs. A fence must be built around the roof of a house. It is forbidden to plant a mixture of seeds, to plow with an ox and a donkey together, or to combine wool and linen in a garment. A four-cornered garment must have twisted threads tzitzit on its corners. Laws regarding illicit relationships are detailed. When Israel goes to war, the camp must be governed by rules of spiritual purity. An escaped slave must not be returned to his master.

Taking interest for lending to a Jew is forbidden. Bnei Yisrael are not to make vows. A worker may eat of the fruit he is harvesting. Divorce and marriage are legislated. For the first year of marriage, a husband is exempt from the army and stays home to make rejoice with his wife. Tools of labor may not be impounded, as this prevents the debtor from earning a living. The penalty for kidnapping for profit is death. Removal of the signs of the disease tzara'at is forbidden. Even for an overdue loan, the creditor must return the collateral daily if the debtor needs it. Workers' pay must not be delayed. The guilty may not be subjugated by punishing an innocent relative. Because of their vulnerability, converts and orphans have special rights of protection. The poor are to have a portion of the harvest. A court may impose lashes. An ox must not be muzzled while threshing. It is a mitzvah for a man to marry his brother's widow if the deceased left no offspring. Weights and measures must be accurate and used honestly. The parsha concludes with the mitzvah to erase the name of Amalek, for, in spite of knowing about the Exodus, they ambushed the Jewish People.

Insights

Elul and the two lightbulb jokes

“When you go out to war against your enemies…”

Question: “How many West Coast psychotherapists does it take to change a lightbulb?”
Answer: “Only one. But the lightbulb has really got to want to change.”

Maybe the biggest challenge of Elul is that we don’t really want to change. We’re quite happy with who we are, and even if we’re not that happy, we’re not unhappy enough to do something about it, and even if we are unhappy enough, we’ve tried to change so many times before and failed, so why should this time be different?

My Rabbi once told us that before the war in Europe, when the approach of Elul was announced in synagogue the week before Rosh Chodesh, the first of the month, women could be heard sobbing behind the mechitza (partition) at the terrifying prospect of the Day of Judgment – Rosh Hashana. Today, when Elul is announced in shul, we’re more likely to cry from the prospect of having to get up early for Selichot (penitiential prayers) and all the additional praying and intensity of the Days of Awe. Nowadays, we don’t like to be too serious — we want to chill.

So how do you change if you really don’t want to? Well, here’s a little trick. Write a list in your journal called, “Things I don’t want to do.”

Write in it things like: “Check bank account balances” “Paint the living room.” “Say asher yatzar (the blessing after removing waste from the body) with kavana (concentration).

The yetzer hara has a very short attention span. He doesn’t stop you planning things; he only tries to stop you doing things at that very moment.

Once you get something onto that list it’s not the end, but it’s the beginning of the end; once something gets on to that list, eventually it will get done because you sneaked it under the defenses of the yetzer hara and now you can focus on changing it.

So the first lightbulb joke tells us that without a genuine desire and a strategy how to do it we will never get out of the comfortable, but dead, light socket that we’re stuck in.

The second lightbulb joke goes like this:
Question: “How many ba’alei teshuva (returnees to Torah) does it take to change a lightbulb?”
Answer: “…Are we allowed to do that?”

It’s easy to make fun of the seeming obsession of the newly-observant with not doing ‘the wrong thing’ — but those of us who are not FFF (frum-from-Friday) could well take a lesson or two from those who are.

The Mesillat Yesharim (in the section entitled Zehirut/Zeal) describes a basic stratagem in the service of G-d. It’s called “Think!”

“Think! Right now – is this what G-d wants me to be doing?”

There are many things that stop us from thinking: habit, laziness, the agenda of our own desires, and the pressures of modern living. However, if we would stop and think at various points in the day, “Right now is this what G-d wants me to be doing?” or “Are we allowed to do this?” we would find that our connection to G-d would improve dramatically.

The word Teshuva can mean, “return” but it can also mean “answer.” A ba’al teshuva is someone who ‘owns an answer’, and only someone who is prepared to ask the question “Is this what Hashem wants me to be doing?” will “own” the answer.

“When you go out to war against your enemies…”

The greatest enemy is a person’s own negative drive, his yetzer hara.

The Talmud in Tractate Kiddushin says that a person's negative drives grows more powerful every day, and were it not for G-d 's help, he would succumb. Through natural means alone we can never overcome our yetzer hara, and it’s easy to become discouraged from even trying to fight. Therefore the Torah tells us "When you go out to war against your enemies", if only we start to fight, if only we “go out to war”, "Hashem Your G-d will give them into your hand". We will receive Divine assistance to win the battle, as our Sages teach, "Someone who tries to purify himself, gets help from above."

May Elul be the month in which we manage to light up our lives (and not just with two lightbulbs) with such a victory!

  • Source: Based on Torat Moshe

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