Ki Tetze 5783
Deut. 21:10 – 25:19
By Rabbi Baht Weiss
If you see your fellow’s ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it, you must take it back to your fellow. If your fellow doesn’t live near you or you do not know him, you shall bring it home and it shall remain with you until your fellow claims it, then you shall give it back to him. You shall do the same with his donkey, and the same with his garment, and so too shall you do with anything your fellow loses and you must not remain indifferent. – Deuteronomy 22:1-3
When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not bring blood guilt on your house if anyone should fall from it. -Deuteronomy 22:8
Ki Teitzei contains 72 mitzvot, commandments. Most of them discuss ethical values on the social structure of the community, some that feel outdated to our modern sensibilities—like laws against cross dressing and for the protocol for finding out that a wife is (gasp) not in fact, a virgin.
While I refrain on commenting on those commandments, the verses that I shared above, are some of my favorites of the 72 commandments found in this Torah portion. What impresses me about these mitzvot, is they are not just concerned with commandments bein adam la’makom-between individuals (ourselves) and God but also deal with mitzvot bein adam le-havero, the relationship between an individual and his/her kinsman.
We are often so busy trying to make sure we do the right things for our own lives; —the choices that offer us the best outcomes, benefit our families, win us favor with God, that these verses remind us of our communal responsibility to look beyond our own self-interest and to be more conscience of how our actions affect others.
The idea that when we find something that does not belong to us—we have a responsibility to return it—it’s more than a nice thing to do—it is an expectation. The Torah teaches us that we are not supposed to withhold a worker’s pay, because they may depend on it. (I am the one rooting for Larry David in Curb your Enthusiasm who is always appalled when people do not repay their debts. While it might be socially awkward to ask to be paid back for a loan, Larry should not even have to ask!)
I like that these laws are proactive—when you build a house—you must build a railing that protects others—you are to anticipate the safety and needs of others. We had a safety training here at Beth Ami last week—to me, this is like building a parapet—we realize we have a responsibility to do all we can to ensure the safety of those who wish to pray, learn, or congregate in our spaces.
In this month of Elul, as we approach the High Holy Days, we know that on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we do not just stand before God but we are also charged to deal with our interpersonal relationships. As Maimonides tells us “For transgressions against God and Man—God forgives, but for transgressions bein adam l’havero—between individuals—that us to up rectify.
Caring about one another’s property, working to keep one another safe in a community and caring for the collective well-being is an important Jewish value. The Talmud teaches-Kol Aravim Zeh b’Zeh—All of Israel is responsible for one another.
Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson points out that a religious Jew is called observant. He suggests, “Perhaps we need to open our eyes, to observe the ways in which we can each take better care of each other and secure each other’s health and safety more completely. When we look out for each other, our observance is something beautiful.” In this way, each of us can be more “observant” Jews.