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Ki Tetze (When you go out) D’Varim (Deut.) 21:10-25:19

Haftorah Reading: Isaiah 54:1-10

Messianic Scripture  Matthew 5:31-32; Mark 10:2-12, 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-38

This Sabbath we read a Torah portion that contains more commandments than any other portion read during the year. When reading this portion it is tempting to skim over the verses without taking the time to really grasp what they are saying to us.

However, when we take the time to contemplate the verses we can see an overall subject. This subject, how we treat our fellow man, seems to be the dominant message of these commandments. There is a wide range of subjects ranging from a woman taken in battle down to how to deal with interest on a loan.

In every case the message stays the same. We are not to be as other people or nation who do not know our G-d. Each commandment stresses our responsibility to our neighbors or those who live among us. The verses set out rules and regulations that bring us to the point of not having slaves, or when, even in battle, we not acting like animals but rather displaying the attributes of someone created in the image of G-d.

When we look at the situation in Afghanistan today we are repulsed by the actions of the Taliban, as we should be. Their actions are vivid examples of depraved humanity living out life where limits have been removed and people are doing things that break all the laws that should govern a society. We do not see the Biblical laws we are studying this week being applied where the Afghan population that have lost their power are being protected.

Now to my question of the week, what does interest on a loan have to do with how we treat or interact with our fellow man? Our verse is Deut. 23:20. It reads as follows, “You shall not pay interest to your brother, interest of money, interest of food, interest of any matter that could be lent as interest.” In this verse one word or a form of that word, is used five times. This root word is nosheck. It has several meanings. One meaning is interest and the other is bite. We can see the word used as bite in Genesis 49:17 where it talks of a snake biting the heel of a horse. Numbers 21:8-9 describes Moshe holding up the bronze serpent so that anyone bitten by one of the serpents could look up and be healed. In Proverbs 23:32 it speaks of the bite of red wine.

We also see this same root word in the case of interest in Leviticus 25:37, in Exodus 22:25 and Leviticus 25:36. So we can see the same word used to mean two seemingly different things. This causes me to consider how can two things so unrelated be defined by one word? It seems to me to come down to the results of these two things. Interest can cause a burden to the borrower and may drive them further in debt while the bite of a snake can cause harm to a person or animal.

Interest was common among the nations around Israel when Moshe gave this commandment. This interest could be very high. Eventually this caused the development of a rich upper class and a large poor class. G-d intended for Israel to be different. In fact this commandment was to again set Israel apart as a society to be different from their neighbors. 

Ezekiel 22:12  rebukes Jerusalem saying, “In you they take bribes to shed blood, you take interest and profit and make gains of your neighbors by extortion, but Me you have forgotten.” The person who is already poor and cannot live is further taken advantage in an act of extortion. Just as a snake bite may initially make a small wound but it grows to where it can become a serious problem. When we read these verses we must keep in mind that G-d’s plan was to make a holy people or holy nation by giving them these commandments to follow.

We can see the same idea carry through in the Messianic scriptures. Yeshua said in Luke 14:12-14 that this concept of helping extended to inviting poor, lame, crippled and blind people to a dinner instead of family or rich neighbors because they could not repay you. He was making the point we are to help people who cannot repay us. We are not to create a situation where people might feel obligated to reciprocate. When we donate to a building fund we should not do it so our gift or our name would be recognized. Our gift should not draw attention to us or put a person under any obligation toward us. To do so is basically the same as charging interest on a loan where we benefit from what we have done.  G-d’s people must be different than the world. This Torah portion, above all else, teaches us this truth. 

Bless each of you this week.