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Law

From Collective Memory to National Identity

A litany of laws. A multitude of mitzvot. According to Maimonides, Ki Teitzei contains 72 of the 613 commandments in the Torah — the most commandments in any one Torah portion. As the time for the Israelites’ transition into the Land draws ever nearer, God and Moses continue to prepare the people for sovereignty and self-government. In addition to laws that cover rules and regulations within the Israelite community, this portion also includes two passages that dictate the relationship between the people of Israel and neighboring entities. 

D'var Torah By: 
Biblical Laws About the Treatment of Women
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Suzanne Singer

Parashat Ki Teitzei contains more mitzvot (commandments) than any other portion, and the emphasis is on justice and human dignity, especially for the most vulnerable in our society: the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger — and women. At first glance, it may not seem that protecting women is the Torah’s agenda. Rather, the text reveals how women are clearly treated as objects, as men’s possessions.

Experiencing Torah Through Reckless Abandon in the Wilderness

Israel's declaration of independence states that the Land of Israel is the birthplace of the Jewish people. There is another point of view, expressed in this portion, Chukat, which indicates that the people's birthplace is in the wilderness.

 

D'var Torah By: 
Why Moses Is Denied Entry Into the Promised Land

Miriam dies and the wellspring of water (Torah?) dries up. This can be read as simply a sequence of events: Miriam died and also there was no more water. TheTalmud says that the people had acces to water because of Miriam's merrit. When she passed, their access to water dried up. What followed was a tragic turn of events, when Moses disobeyed God and hit the rock to obtain water, thus cancelling his right to enter the Promised Land.

A Continuity of Law that Values the Needs of the Community

The word for “and” in Hebrew is not a separate word: it is a one-letter prefix, the letter vav. Sometimes it is translated as and, other times it is best translated as “but”; sometimes, vav is a participle that doesn’t need to be translated. In the opening sentence of Parashat Mishpatimthe translation used in the Reform Movement’s Chumash discounts the vav that is attached to first word, v'eileh, "these" or "and these."

D'var Torah By: 
Laws that Unify the People
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Adam Bellows

As Rabbi Greenvald points out, the letter, vav, at the beginning of a Hebrew word can mean both “and” and “but.” It is astounding that one prefix can mean two disparate things. ...  The first word of Mishpatim is v'eileh, which can be translated as "these" or as "and these."

Ethical Existence Is in the Details

Through a web of seemingly disjointed scenarios, the Book of Deuteronomy is filled with large and small methodologies for preserving the possibility of ethical behavior even in the worst contexts.... Reading the Torah portion Ki Teitzei demands facing a battery of situations in which the average human being might not behave ethically, even in the smallest detail of life, and yet prescribes a way to be ethical nonetheless

D'var Torah By: 
Good Self-Care Makes for Good Fences
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Ariel Naveh

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, Moses continues his final speech to the Israelites, laying out an ethical code for our relationships with each other, with the world around us, and with God. Essentially, Moses mandates us to be good to each other, and good to God’s Creation. 

Grappling with Death and the Need to Mourn

“The whole community knew that Aaron had breathed his last” (Numbers 20:29). ... Parashat Chukat is in the middle of the Book of Numbers, and its narrative spans 38 of the 40 years in the wilderness. It is also full of death, and the human struggle to comprehend it.

D'var Torah By: 
Evolving Traditions Around Death and Mourning
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

Our emotional responses to death and loss, discussed so beautifully by Rabbi Grushcow in her d’var Torah on Parashat Chukat, are as varied as we are, and therefore evolve as sensibilities change. But not all changes truly meet our inner needs.

Finding the Richness and the Glory in God’s Ways

Freedom is an ideal for humanity that we constantly strive to reach.To be truly free is to possess the human power to choose to live by the rules that bind us. The rules that bind us should, at best, hold us fast to principles and ethics that lead us to our greatest human potential. In B’har, we find the famous verse, “You shall proclaim release (liberty) throughout the land for all its inhabitants” (Leviticus 25:10). For Jews, the rules that bind us are Torah.

D'var Torah By: 
Freedom Within and Freedom From
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi David A. Lipper

Yasher koach to my colleague, Rabbi David Lyon, on his insightful comments on this week’s parashah, B’har/B’chukotai. I believe he begins to explore the distinction between the ideas of “freedom within” and “freedom from.” It is here where I believe that Judaism embraces the latter ethic as a driving force in making sacred and informed decisions. The great sage Maimonides taught that all is foreseen, yet freewill is given (see Mishneh Torah, Hilchot T’shuvah, chapter 5). Leviticus and especially the last few chapters, lays out for us the opportunities and challenges we have to choose to live a sacred life.

Learning from the Imperfection of Religion

Parashat Mishpatim offers a myriad of rules to guide us in how to treat other individuals and nations. It makes us wonder: Why is it easier to think and behave humanely when we consider individuals rather than nations? 

D'var Torah By: 
The All-Encompassing Nature of Responsibility
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Megan Brudney

Some of our instincts will easily align with our sacred texts; some will (and indeed should) be in stark contrast with our canon. Yet beyond the wrestling, it is important to note that there is also a reckoning — a moment of accountability for the action we ultimately choose to take. A good example is offered in Parashat Mishpatim, in Exodus 21. Here, we find a section concerning damages incurred by both people and animals: what might happen, who is held responsible, and what restitution is owed.

When a Debtor Does Not Repay

Ki Teitzei has a treasury of Jewish legal and ethical literature, including a discussion of lenders and debtors. When a debt is not repaid, the lender is forbidden from entering the debtor's home without permission to retrieve the security. The rule poses challenges both for lenders and debtors.

D'var Torah By: 
Compassion and Communication
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Kim Ettlinger

Ki Teitzei urges us to consider the legal and ethical responsibilities of both lenders and debtors. Debtors need to take responsibility for their commitments and not borrow beyond their means. Lenders need to show compassion and refrain from shaming debtors. 

Living in the Golden Mean

Parashat Chukat opens with the law of the parah adumah — the red heifer. It is a classic example of a commandment for which the Torah offers no explanation. How are we to understand and grapple with laws such as this that we do not understand? Perhaps we need to start not with the question, why, but with the question, why not.

D'var Torah By: 
Empathy for the Refugee at Border Crossings
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Ann Landowne

In Parashat Chukat we are reminded of the difficulties that our ancestors encountered during their passage through the wilderness. We learn that Miriam has died (Numbers 20:1) and Moses has little time to mourn. Immediately he must deal with the thirsty Israelites clamoring for water and complaining about their fate. In our tradition, the Exodus from Egypt has solidified our strong identification with the stranger and their need for protection. Here in Chukat, this story of wandering in the wilderness also increases our empathy for the refugee, separated from family, desperate and in need of assistance. It is hard for us to imagine what they have experienced on their journey but our Torah teaches us to let them in.

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