Torah Portion: Ki tetze (When You Go Out) Devarim Deut. 21:10-25:19

HafTorah: Isaiah 54:1-10

This week we look at “Ki Tetze or in English, when you go out. As you read this Torah section you will notice many commandments covering all areas of life. Some seem to have little or no relevance to our life today. However I would like us to look at several to see what we might be able to glean from them spiritually.

Take for example Deut. 22:8. It talks of putting a guard rail around your roof so one does not accidently fall off. So why even bother to contemplate this in our present day world? None of us have flat roofs on our houses where this might even be applicable. So we look a little deeper. Think of when you bought a new car or a new house. They were spic and span, perfect but as time goes on we forget to change the oil on time or let trash accumulate on the floor. We don’t cut the grass or paint as we should. Our initial zeal has waned and our resolve to keep the car or house looking beautiful has become lax and they get run down. We forgot, we got busy with life and let it go.

Think of these guardrails as G-d’s word. If we stay focused on spiritual things rather than those pressures of life we will be able to not fall off the roof. Our guardrails will keep us focused. When we come to a new chapter in our life we can approach it with a clear spiritual framework, which will keep us from ending up in the hospital (spiritually speaking).

In my question this week I asked you to think about Amalek and why G-d singled them out for such harsh punishment. In D’Varim (Deut.) 25:17-19 Israel is told to obliterate the memory of them from under the heavens. This is much harsher than how G-d tells Israel to relate to Egypt, a nation who had enslaved the people for hundreds of years, put hard labor on their backs and tried to kill all the sons born to Israel. And yet G-d tells Israel not to hate them in Deut. 23:8. So why is Amalek so terrible?

Let us look at the verse and focus on a couple of Hebrew words. One word is “kerach”. In our English translation it says in verse 18, “he met you on the way.” The word we read as met is this word kerach. It comes from the root meaning to freeze or cool off. In modern Hebrew it is the word for ice. So Amalek had come out and cooled Israel off. In Shemot (Exodus)17 we read the story of the attack. Israel had just crossed the sea and had seen the hand of G-d at work for them. They meet Amalek and they say, “Is G-d among us or not?” Amalek sensed their doubt and took advantage to cool them off. Has your zeal ever been cooled off? Have you ever wondered is G-d among us or not? The other Hebrew word in this verse is, “zanav.” This word means the tail end. Amalek cooled them off and then took the stragglers. When we get cool in our faith we make a ready target for satan. We begin to doubt. Is G-d with me or not? And it is easy to be misled. So this is what G-d really wants us to blot out doubt or a casual faith. We are to be on guard, to not lag behind but to keep the guardrails up. That will keep us on the right way and not be picked off because of the cooling of our faith.

“Do not hate an Egyptian because you were a stranger in his land.” How are we to understand this commandment? We know he did not want them to forget what happened in Egypt. Passover is the yearly remembering of the time in Egypt. This memory is passed on from generation to generation. So what is going on here? Moses is telling the people to be free you have to let go of hate. Moses is telling them that if they continue to hate the Egyptians they are still bound by the chains of slavery. They would be bound by the past, not by physical chains but by emotional chains.

Moses is saying you must live with the past but not in the past. If we are held captive by anger against our former tormentor we are captive still. If we let them define who we are we are not free of them. So why even remember, forgive and forget. The reason for remembering is so we will not subject others to what we experienced. Moses tells them to remember so their society will be different. He commands them to never subject a brother to hard labor. They were to give him rest on the Sabbath and let them go free every seventh year. The same applies to us. We learn from our past but here we see that G-d has more for us than repeating our past. The Israelites knew what it felt like to be a victim therefore they were to be different. They were not to live a life ruled by the past. Moses was telling the people to remember but not to preserve hate. They were to conquer it by recalling how it felt to be a victim. Remember, not to live in the past but to prevent a repetition of it. What we are to recall is the pain of being a victim but not the hate or anger you felt toward your persecutors. Moses is teaching then that they are not to deny the past but they can use it to learn to live differently. Perhaps this is why he tells the Israelites in Shemot (Exodus) 3:21-22 to plunder the Egyptians when they leave. Our past needs closure as also shown in D’Varim (Deut) 15:12-15. We must put closure on those things or people who held us captive. We have to be able to see some value in what we experienced. Then we can put down hate and anger. There must be some act of symbolic closure with the past. Justice may never come but hate and anger must not be allowed to rule our lives or we will still live as slaves in Egypt.