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August 28, 2020 – Ki Teitzei

Shabbat Message from Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg

Parashat Ki Teitze

Deuteronomy 21:10-23:7

In this week’s parashah, Ki Teitze, we find 74 mitzvot (commandments).  This is the largest number found in one parashah.   These mitzvot concern family relations, obligations both moral and legal toward our neighbors, and rules about social and financial responsibility.   These sound simple and straightforward enough, however if taken literally, there are some questionable mitzvot in this parashah, at least questionable to our 2020 understanding of life and the world we live in.  For example, in this parashah parents are able to take their disrespectful son to be stoned to death by the elders, a husband who grows tired of his wife can declare that she wasn’t a virgin and her parents have to go through an ordeal to prove him wrong,  as well as laws pertaining to the inheritance of the firstborn son of a man with two wives and the firstborn son is the son of the unloved wife – the Torah makes sure he is not overlooked or left out of an inheritance because of his mother; as I said, there are some bizarre laws in this parashah, especially if we try to understand them in a literal sense.

It would be so easy to look at some of the mitzvot in this parashah and throw one’s hands in the air and say, “This doesn’t speak to me so I want nothing to do with it,” instead of sitting with it, studying it, and digging into the commentaries and discussions of our ancient and modern rabbis to understand it a little differently.  How often do we find ourselves turning away from something because at first glance, first hearing, first whatever. . . we write it off because it doesn’t speak to us?   And yet, when we do that, how often might we be missing out on learning a little bit more about something or developing our own understanding of something?

This is what I love and appreciate about Judaism, that Torah and Torah study aren’t meant to tell us one thing, or give us “the” answer.  Judaism insists that Torah isn’t a stagnant, ancient document, but rather a living document that being “revealed” to us and speaks to us in every generation.   How?  By not accepting the literal understanding of the words in front of us and instead engaging with the words, studying them, and asking questions like “Why does this mitzvah exist?  What might have been happening in the world at that time?  What can this teach us in today’s world?”    Judaism insists that we are meant to engage with Torah.

We are three weeks away from Rosh Hashanah.  During this month of Elul, our tradition call on us to do the work of teshuvah, the work of return.  This Shabbat, I challenge you to “return to Torah.”  If you have a Hebrew bible at home or a book of Torah, I challenge you to take it off your shelf, open up to this parashah, and read it.  Delve into the mitzvot and consider your own understanding of them.  Think about, “Why were these given as mitzvot?  How might they have helped the social order of the Israelite community?  How might they help the social order in 2020, in both the Jewish community and the greater world?”

May each of us, during these weeks of teshuvah, find ourselves returning to Torah and challenging ourselves to find meaning and beauty in its words.

“It is a Tree of Life to all who hold onto it.”

Shabbat Shalom!