Ki Tetze (When You Go Out) D’Varim (Deut.) 21:10-25:19
Haftorah Readings: Isaiah (Yesh’yahu) 54:1-10
Our Torah portion this week contains more commandments than other portions. It seems like Moshe, knowing his time was limited, was trying to do all he could to prepare these people before they crossed over the Jordan and entered their inheritance. These commandments cover a wide range of subjects starting with how to deal with a captive woman and how to handle a rebellious son.
However, I would like to cover one that might seem to no longer have any value to us in our modern world today. It concerns the laws of inheritance. We read about it in D’Varim/Deut. 21:15-17. Generally, it states that if a man has two wives, one who is loved and one is unloved, and the unloved wife has the first male child, the father must relate to the son of the unloved wife as his first born. As the first born, this son receives a double portion of the father’s wealth.
One interesting fact about the Hebrew word, senuah, used here for the unloved wife, it is normally translated as hate. It has a much stronger meaning than unloved. Immediately we can see where this might cause a tension between individual liberty and the common good. We might say the wealth is the fathers and he can leave it to whomever he pleases. Here this commandment puts limits on the rights of the father.
We can see a good example of the lack of implementing this law in the life of Jacob. His life may have inspired this commandment. In fact, we see the use of love and hate used ten times in Torah. Four of those are in our current portion. Three are used in the life of Jacob concerning his love for Rachel and his attitude toward Leah, Genesis 29:30-31, 29:32-33 and the other is his love for Joseph over his brothers in Genesis 37:4. Both of these situations caused Jacob and his family much grief in the years to come.
We quickly see the impact this had on Leah. In Genesis 29:31-33 we read that the L-rd saw Leah was unloved (hated). He enabled her to conceive Reuben and she said, “Now therefore my husband will love me.” She bore another son, Simeon. As we know nothing changed. Jacob’s feelings toward her did not change and her feeling of being unloved also did not change. This rivalry between these two women continued and carried over into the next generation.
As we all remember Jacob loved Joseph, the son of Rachel, more than his other sons. In Genesis 27:4 we read the reaction of the other sons toward Joseph. Jacob’s preference for Joseph carried through until he was on his death bed and adopted Joseph’s two sons and basically, through that act, gave Joseph a double portion.
Now to the point of all this, love can generate conflict even if no one began with that in mind. Jacob didn’t deliberately decide to love Rachel more. It was just something that happened. Love is a feeling that happens. It usually isn’t planned for. However, to the unloved it can feel like being rejected, left out or unimportant. So when Jacob gave Joseph a double portion rather than giving it to Reuben, the first born son, it unleashed generations of strife. This commandment is a guard against that situation. Remember love is partial, while justice is impartial. Love is for someone specific. Justice is for everyone. It is on this that our country was built. Scripture is telling us here that love can bring personal satisfaction but justice will bring social order.
If Jacob had acted differently toward his wives and children his life and theirs would have turned out differently. We can’t let our life be completely ruled by emotions such as love and hate. Marriages can be destroyed when a person leaves their family because they have “fallen in love” with another person. Justice must balance our emotions. In our own relationships with G-d we expect Him to love us and He does. However, His love is also tempered by justice. He forgives us and restores us but sometimes as a result of our actions we suffer the consequences of our sin. He is also a G-d of justice.
Now, I would like to look at D’Varim/Deut. 22:12. This verse covers the wearing of tassels on the corners of the garment the Israelites wore. Today, these are called tzitzits. I’m sure most of us have seen a Jewish person wearing these. They immediately identify the person as Jewish. As I thought about this this week I wondered why G-d gave this commandment. What was its purpose? It seems to me it may have had at least two purposes. First, it reminded the wearer who they were and as a Jew, how they were expected to live and interact with the world. They also let the observer know who the person was and at least some idea of what they believed.
This brought me to look at us as G-d’s people. When people meet us what impression do we make? Do we look and act pretty much like everyone else or do we give a different impression? I am not advocating we all wear black and walk with our heads down. However, I do believe we sometimes adopt the ways of the world to the extent we appear totally the same. We must remember we are representatives of G-d to the world. We are to be the light of the world. Matthew 5:14.
Many times people’s idea of faith will be built on what they see in you. Because of these reasons we must ask ourselves what choices should I be making with regard to how I act and how I appear? How do I dress? How should I conduct myself? What words do I choose when I speak? All these things really are reflecting who we are and hopefully glorifying G-d 24/7.