Torah Portion: Ki Tetze (When You Go Out) D’varim (Deut) 21-25
Haftorah Reading: Isaiah 54:1-10
This week we read a Torah portion packed with commandments. As you read through this portion you will find most of the commandments have to do with how we treat people as well as how we relate to G-d. To begin, let’s look at the first verse of our reading, Deut. 21:10. “When you go out to war.” How can this apply to us? Look at the first word, “when.” The verse says when we go out to war, not if we go out to war. We go out to war everyday of our lives. Our war is the battle between flesh and spirit, our will verses the will of the Father. So think for a moment. How many battles did you fight just today? Maybe you fought the battle of whether to come here to study G-d’s word or not. We fight battles of fatigue, the daily rush of life, the demands made on us each day by work, family, friends and sometimes even laziness. We face battles each day. The question is how do we deal with those wars? Do we live our days relying on our own will and flesh or do we take our thoughts and flesh captive? II Corinthians 10:5.
We must not forget that we are not in the battle alone. The Spirit of G-d is our defender. G-d is within us to give us the tools to overcome any obstacle that might prevent us doing His will. A kind word even when we are tired or a helping hand even when we are in a rush. These are the battles we face each day. With G-d’s help we can take our flesh captive and move forward by the spirit of G-d as we are called to do.
Going along with this idea of taking every thought captive, let’s look at Deut. 23:7. Israel is told to not hate an Egyptian because they were once strangers in their land. I want us to look at this in light of our own lives. First, it would seem Israel had every right to hate Egypt. They had been slaves there for hundreds of years. Their children had been killed. They had been mistreated. These events seem like valid reasons to hate the Egyptians. Yet here Moshe is telling them not to hate. Notice he did not tell them not to remember. On the contrary, he told them to recite the story each year at Passover so the story would be passed on to future generations. He was telling them, if they wanted to be a free people they were never to forget what it was like to be a slave. He was telling them and us to be free we have to let go of hate. If they continued to hate they would never be free from their years in Egypt. They might be out of Egypt but Egypt would not be out of them. They would still be wearing the chains of slavery. Rather than harbor hate G-d wants us to be free from these feelings. Rather than living each day bound up by hate he wants us to remember how it was in Egypt and learn from it. To not enslave people and to be a society that gives dignity and respect to everyone. We are to help the poor rather than beat them down, to help the widows, the orphans (those that can’t help themselves.). G-d was telling Israel and us to rise above our past, to forgive and not harbor hate. However, G-d does not expect us to forget for by remembering we are always vigilant to not do to others as was done to us.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Martin Luther King. Biblical ethics are based on role reversal, using memory as a moral force. By recalling what it was like to be a victim we do not victimize others. This Torah portion is filled with verses that call us to rise above what we have suffered in the past and to treat others better than we were treated.
Hate and freedom cannot coexist. A free people define themselves by love of G-d, not by hating others. To be free you have to let go of hate. This is a powerful message for each of us and for our country in these days.
Another story from this Torah portion would speak to us about who we are to be in our lives and goes along with what G-d expects from us daily. Deut. 22:6 tells us to not take the mother bird and her babies but to shoo the mother away before taking her eggs or chicks. Strange commandment. What does it matter? You might be interested in knowing this commandment and the one about respecting or honoring our father and mother are both rewarded by long life. What are we to learn here about the mother bird? It should speak to us about being sensitive to people in our daily life. If we are to be sensitive to this mother bird, how much more to the people around us. G-d has extended His grace and mercy towards us even when we may have been pretty unlovely. So must we be to the world around us, to the people we come in contact with each day. May G-d give us the strength to put hate behind us and to be the light of G-d in all our actions each day.