Category Archives: Ki Tetze

Elevating Joy (Ki Tetze)

Elevating Joy (Ki Tetze)

To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven. -Johannes A. Gaertner

 

 

The Torah reading of Ki Tetze has a seemingly eclectic grouping of commandments. One of them, a biblical precursor to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulations, states as follows:

When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall from it. – Deuteronomy 22:10

As he typically does, the Berdichever reads deeply into the verse and comes up with some interesting revelations about joy and the ideal form of enjoying joy.

Just as one may experience joy when building a new house, so too, any new joy that one experiences, can be built up, and elevated. It starts with the realization that it all comes from God and we need to demonstrate gratitude to Him.

And just as one might build a parapet on the highest point of the structure, the roof of a house, so too, there is a way to circumscribe and direct our highest emotions of joy to gratitude. The Berdichever explains that the way to connect our joy to its divine provenance is by articulating gratitude; it is by using words of Torah, of prayer, of songs and praises to God.

The Berdichever adds that the power, the force behind the words of praise we use is also God (or God’s name to be more specific) and that in Hebrew, the numerical value of God’s name (26) is identical with the numerical value of “your roof” (26) showing the deep linkage between these concepts. We extend, enhance and elevate our joy by articulating and exhibiting gratitude, using holy words directed to God.

May we always have the state of mind to experience joy and elevate it by being grateful to its ultimate source.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the incoming students of Midreshet Torah V’Avodah and their newly appointed Rosh Bet Midrash, Rabbanit Dr. Tamara Spitz!

We already chose our destiny (Ki Tetze)

 We already chose our destiny (Ki Tetze)

If a man is destined to drown, he will drown even in a spoonful of water. -Yiddish Proverb

In the staccato list of commandments that are given in this week’s Torah reading, there is the extremely sensible commandment to build a fence around your roof. However, the end of the verse is strange, counterintuitive and a bit depressing. It ends with the phrase “for the faller will fall from it.”

Classic interpreters explain that the verse really means “lest someone fall,” meaning it should read: “Build a fence around your roof, lest someone fall from it.” However, Rabbeinu Bechaye on Deuteronomy 22:8 takes the opportunity to discuss some deeper theological issues of free will by reading the verse with its plain meaning of “build a fence around your roof for the faller will fall from it.”

He states that the faller was predestined to fall since “the six days of creation,” but we should not be the agent of his death. In fact, not only was the faller’s unfortunate death predestined, but the faller’s soul knew about it beforehand. Rabbeinu Bechaye quotes the Midrash which explains that before a soul is born into a human body, God shows the soul all of its future life. God shows the soul its birth, parents, family, childhood, all of the ups and downs of life, career, income, accomplishments, disappointments, heartbreaks and challenges as well as the eventual circumstances of its mortal death. And the soul, of its own free will chooses that life. Not only is this true for human beings, but every component of creation chose its material, physical existence when it was still in some spiritual dimension.

Rabbeinu Bechaye continues to explain that despite this pre-destination, besides the fact that the faller (or the victim of any other misfortune) was destined to undergo that event, God still holds us liable for our actions. Meaning, just because (in hindsight) we knew that someone was going to die, does not in any way give us permission to be part of a wrong or unethical act. Yes, he was going to die, but the agent of his death is nonetheless liable.

Apparently, part of the deal in choosing our destiny when we are in the spiritual dimension is that we will have no recollection, no idea whatsoever as to what it is we agreed to. In a sense, our spiritual amnesia is what gives us free will. We are responsible for every decision we make. We are responsible for every act we do. We will pay the price for our mistakes and reap the benefits of what we do correctly. We have to struggle with indecision, with questioning what’s right and what to do. It is a constant ongoing challenge to know what to do, to force ourselves on a daily basis to do the right thing, to be the best version of ourselves.

However, at some fundamental level, not only does God know what we’re going to do and how things will play out, but our own soul knows as well and was a partner in charting that course before we came into this world.

It can take a lifetime to discover one’s destiny and even then, as mortals we may only appreciate it in retrospect, though it was somehow all foretold.

May we always choose correctly and pray that our souls knew what they were doing.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the memory of the Rebbe of the Shomer Emunim, whose yarhzheit was this past week.

The Danger of Good Food

The Danger of Good Food

He who is a slave to his stomach seldom worships God. -Sa’di

One of the more curious commandments in the Torah is that of the Rebellious Son. Chapter 21 of Deuteronomy describes the unusual case of a young man that doesn’t listen to his parents, and after appropriate warning is actually executed by the court for his rebelliousness. The Talmud explains that the case of the Rebellious Son is merely theoretical; that it never happened and never will happen, but rather it is there to teach us some deeper lessons.

Rabbi Hirsch elaborates that the Rebellious Son is presented in order to help us be better parents. One of the curious aspects that doom the Rebellious Son to his fate is actually gluttony. Now there are a whole host of crimes which we know are much worse than merely indulging in ones appetite. Why is gluttony in one so young deserving of a death sentence?

Rabbi Hirsch answers that a home which focuses more on its food than on the spiritual aspect of its lives is one where the children will have little hope for the future. If the priority is the taste and quality of a meal and not the values and ethics instilled in the next generation, oblivion is the likely outcome:

“Of all the possible moral perversions, the Law has chosen as a criterion of completely hopeless corruption the case of a Jewish youth who, having reached adolescence, a time in life when he should enthusiastically embrace every ideal of spirituality and morality, devotes himself to drink and gluttony instead. Herein lies another important hint for both the father and the mother, and also for the spirit to be cultivated in the home where young human souls are to mature toward their moral and spiritual future: If for nothing else but the sake of their children, parents should be careful not to allow “good food and drink” to assume a place of predominance in their home and among the members of their household. Only where spiritual and moral factors are given priority over all other considerations can that atmosphere develop in which young human emotions will be protected from brutalization.”

While consuming good food is certainly enjoyable, when it becomes a focus and priority of our lives, we may fear that our moral compass is confused. Instead, spiritual food for our souls and the souls of our children should be the guiding light in the educational diet of our homes.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To all the excellent cooks who infuse their meals with spirituality.

Returning the Sparks

Returning the Sparks

Force never moves in a straight line, but always in a curve vast as the universe, and therefore eventually returns whence it issued forth, but upon a higher arc, for the universe has progressed since it started. –attributed to “Kabbalah”

sparksThe commandment to return a lost object is legislated in Deuteronomy 22:1. Unsurprisingly, the Sfat Emet takes a mystical view as to a deeper meaning to what Moses is saying.

In 5631 (1871) the Sfat Emet states that every good action we do, that every commandment that we perform, in some fashion is akin to returning a lost object to God. In 5634 (1874) he explains that we are in fact returning divine sparks back to God. Every item in this world and every action taken have within it a divine spark. By having a positive interaction we release the spark from its material bondage and elevate it back to the spiritual realm where it belongs. We are in essence returning to God these divine entities He scattered and hid all around the world for us to find.

But we can only successfully return something to its rightful owner when we understand and acknowledge who that owner is. When we comprehend and accept that God is the source of All, that he is the Creator, the Boss, the Master of the Universe, only then do we have a chance of fulfilling the mission He entrusted to us of finding and freeing these divine sparks.

May we keep encountering and liberating spiritual entities and reuniting them with their proper divine proprietor, God.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Rafi, Ronit, Sarina and Nikki, the outstanding madrichot of Midreshet Torah V’Avodah on an incredible beginning to what is sure to be a divine year.

Ugly Language

Ugly Language

The foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing is a vice so mean and low that every person of sense and character detests and despises it. -George Washington

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One of the most defining characteristics of human beings are their ability to speak. And in a sense, the words we use define us, but not only the words that come out of our mouths, but also the words that we hear, the words that infuse our being. And in that area, like in so many others, we have free choice. We can choose both what to speak and what to hear. There are few situations where we are forced either to say something or to listen to something.

The Baal Haturim on Deuteronomy 23:14 warns about this matter and specifically about “nivul pe”, literally “the disgustingness of the mouth”. He states clearly and simply that if we suddenly find ourselves exposed to foul language, to things that are not appropriate to be spoken, we should simply stick our fingers in our ears or get up and leave.

We would not subject ourselves (or our children) to harmful fumes, substances or dangerous situations. The same is true regarding foul language. It is toxic, corrupting and disgusting. The fact that it is widely used and accepted by the masses does not make it any better. Do not accept it. Do not stand for it. Let it be known that you disapprove. You will be surprised by the positive reactions people will have to this small stand of principle. And if they don’t get it, spend your time with more refined people.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the incoming class of Midreshet and Yeshivat Torah V’Avodah. I expect you will hear many beautiful words from your teachers and administration.

Foolish Friends

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/ki-tetze-foolish-friends/

Netziv Deuteronomy: Ki Tetze

Foolish Friends

 “Don’t approach a goat from the front, a horse from the back, or a fool from any side.” -Yiddish Proverb

Human foolishness comes in all shapes and sizes. No person is completely immune from foolish acts, though most of us generally try to avoid doing or saying things we will later regret. Animals on the other hand function almost exclusively on instinct; there are rarely situations in the course of nature in which an animal would be called foolish.

However, in Jewish law, there is a term, typically used for bulls, called “muad”. Muad translates as either notorious or prone to do damage and is a label assigned to an animal that has proven itself to be dangerous, based on past attempts to gore. The owner of a Muad animal is liable for all damages, while a previously tranquil animal has a lower level of liability for the owner.

Men are in a completely different category. They are always considered dangerous. Man is always considered Muad. He is always prone and responsible for damages that he causes his fellow man. The Netziv on Deuteronomy 24:9 fine-tunes this concept even further and states that a person is Muad, even in sins that he commits against another unintentionally.

Meaning, a person is responsible for the damage caused by a completely innocent act or remark, even if there was no harm intended. This gives us a tremendous level of responsibility for what we do and say. We are still guilty of unintended consequences. We must know better. We must think ahead. We must realize the power we have as humans to affect those around us. It is a serious power.

May we use our human capacities well, with foresight and intelligence and avoid both fools and foolishness.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the conversion class of Montevideo. Good luck on your upcoming tests!

 

 

Foundations for Life

[First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/ki-tetzeh-foundations-for-life/]

Ibn Ezra Deuteronomy: Ki Tetze

Foundations for Life

“If we do not maintain Justice, Justice will not maintain us.” -Francis Bacon

In the period approaching the New Year and Yom Kippur, one may wonder as to the preponderance of concern with Divine Justice. If as we believe, God is also merciful, then why the excessive concern with the aspect of justice? Can’t He just go easy with us and understand that man (whom He created) inevitably sins? How can He demand that everyone behave with integrity, how can He expect everyone to uphold justice in a world filled with deceit and injustice?

Ibn Ezra on Deuteronomy 25:15 explains that justice is not only a Divine attribute but that it is also a requirement of the human condition. Man cannot live long or well without the aspect of justice, of fairness, of evenhandedness as a basic element of his existence.

Ibn Ezra compares justice in man to the foundations of a building. If we chip away at the foundations, the building will eventually collapse. If man erodes his sense of justice, of integrity, of honesty, Ibn Ezra alludes that eventually such a person will also collapse and perhaps that his existence will even end earlier than it might have.

May we stand on guard for the erosion of our principles, may we reinforce the elements of integrity and fairness in our lives and may we prepare ourselves for the upcoming High Holidays so that the structure of our lives may endure and prosper.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the communications team of the Kehila for their heroic and ongoing efforts in preparation of the High Holidays.

In memory of Ivan Porzecanski (Natan ben Rachel ve Rafael), a boy of three, for whom I had the heartbreaking duty of burying. May his family be consoled amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Individual Torah

Ohr Hachayim Deuteronomy: Ki Tetze

Individual Torah

“Never forget that you are one of a kind. Never forget that if there weren’t any need for you in all your uniqueness to be on this earth, you wouldn’t be here in the first place. And never forget, no matter how overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in the world come about. So be that one person.” -Richard Buckminster Fuller

When one finally gets the enormity of what the Torah encompasses, it can be fairly overwhelming: The Bible, Mishna, Talmud, all of their ancient and modern commentaries, Jewish Law, Philosophy, Ethics, History and more. The list is enormous, with more material being added every day. It is no wonder it is called a “sea of Torah” – one can drown by being immersed in so much information.

[The rest of this Torah Insight is at http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/individual-torah/]

The Strength of Silence

 Kli Yakar Deuteronomy: Ki Tetze

The Strength of Silence

“It is no little wisdom for a man to keep himself in silence and in good peace when evil words are spoken to him, and to turn his heart to God and not to be troubled with man’s judgment.” Thomas Kempis

The news, media and our own selves seem to thrive on disparaging remarks. To take one’s enemy, opponent, associate or even loved one a peg down is almost instinctive in many circles. It is constructive criticism, we argue. They deserve it, we explain. Someone needs to point out their weight, or their poor economic policies, or their warped ideologies.

However, a well-prepared victim is not without recourse. Armed with biting comments, the best defense is an aggressive attack. The attacker becomes fair game for a return of well-deserved and now called-for criticism. It can be entertaining watching verbose opponents sparring with each other (the British Parliament a famous example).

The Kli Yakar (23:14) however has an entirely different reaction to a verbal attack. From verses on actual warfare he explains the ideal counter-attack is none other than silence. Silence will stop an attacker’s diatribe in its tracks. There is only so long one can criticize an opponent that is ignoring verbal nonsense. This is not to diminish the harm or wrong that such attacks represent. Ideally one should avoid and not have to put up with such abuse. However, in the reality of being subjected to unwarranted criticism, silence is not only golden, it’s smart.

May we learn to keep our peace, on both the giving and the receiving end.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To all of the schools and teachers that have just completed their first full week back to school. The structure, and the periods of silence and peace it engenders in the home is truly appreciated.

Angelic Paramour Assassin in Training

Deuteronomy Fiction: Ki Tetzeh

Angelic Paramour Assassin in Training

If a man be found lying with a woman married to a husband, then they shall both of them die, the man that lay with the woman, and the woman; so shalt thou put away the evil from Israel.” Deuteronomy 22:22

Now Eli was very old; and he heard all that his sons did unto all Israel, and how that they lay with the women that did service at the door of the tent of meeting.” I Samuel 2:22

“When an earthly court cannot find the sinner guilty, the heavenly court metes out the correct punishment.” Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 37b, Sotah 8b, Ketubot 30a,b).

“I always start with a leaf,” Mitael said as he floated above a white mare and wagon. “It’s become my trademark. Other angels have joined me to watch as I mete out a death sentence, but you’re the first apprentice I’ve had since the ascension of Eli the Priest.”

“I’m honored,” Lomael replied floating nearby beside a large oak. The morning sun shone brightly through him on the reds, yellows and greens of the majestic tree. “I heard the workload increased and the heavenly tribunal ordered additional assassins.”

“Here we go,” Mitael pointed below. A squat blacksmith walked across the dirt courtyard of the large stone house. The house was the largest on the outskirts of Shiloh. The blacksmith carried three heavy mallets of different sizes. “Watch the master at work, Lomael. Each act we do has to be simple, delicate, and undetectable.”

Mitael gestured to a yellow leaf on the oak tree. The leaf descended to the ground, zigzagging gently. Mitael orchestrated the movement of the leaf with his hands. The leaf touched ground exactly under the right foot of the blacksmith as he was stepping down. The blacksmith slipped, sending his three mallets flying. Mitael conducted the heaviest mallet towards the wheel of the parked wagon. The blacksmith fell on his rump. The lightest mallet bounced on his head. The heavy mallet slammed into the wheel of the wagon, knocking out two of the four bolts holding the wheel in place. The mare neighed.

The blacksmith rubbed his head, looked at the offensive leaf, picked up his mallets and continued to a work shed on the other side of the courtyard.

“You always require proper preparation,” Mitael explained. “That is the key to success. It is much harder to improvise all the elements. You must study your subjects, know their surroundings and disturb as little as possible. Our success is measured by leaving doubt. Humans have to fear, but there must always remain the element of doubt.”

Lomael nodded repeatedly as Mitael lectured.

“Now we get to see our subjects in their final act,” Mitael said.

A tall, beautiful woman with lustrous short black hair walked out of the house. A small red silky cloth wrapped her hair, revealing more than it concealed. A light purple dress clung closely to the curves of her body. She walked purposely to the wagon, mounted the open wooden carriage and took hold of the long reins.

“I’ll meet you in Shiloh,” she called to the house, snapped the loose reins and quickly trotted away.

“Maralin,” a deep voice called from the house. “Wait. Let us ride together.”

Maralin was already out of earshot.

“You see, Lomael,” Mitael pointed at the departing Maralin. “She has no patience for her husband. Why is she in such a hurry?”

A brawny man on a brown stallion waited on the right side of the road. As Maralin approached he smiled and matched speeds with her wagon.

“That is the Adulterer,” Mitael pointed. “See how close to her he rides? See how he keeps looking at her body? See how she keeps smiling at him, welcoming his attentions?”

The Husband, a thin man with soft curls, left his house on a grey mare. He spotted Maralin in the distance and galloped to catch up. Maralin and the Adulterer approached the gates of Shiloh.

“Let me demonstrate her immodesty,” Mitael turned his wrist toward her. A sudden gust of wind blew her skirt up. The Adulterer stared at her long legs with a wolfish grin. Maralin smiled back and slowly pushed her dress down. The right wheel of the wagon wobbled. The long reins swayed.

“Soon we will need to improvise,” Mitael said. “The punishment for adultery is strangulation. However no earthly court will find them guilty. The Husband suspects something and rumors have started to flow, but not enough to dissuade Maralin or the Adulterer.”

“So you will cause them to choke?” Lomael asked, rubbing his hands together.

“It will be close enough. Burning and stoning are much easier punishments to cause. Decapitation is the hardest. Decapitation is the biggest challenge.”

Maralin and her paramour entered the city gates. The hooves of their horses clanked loudly on the worn cobblestones. Merchants, artisans and farmers walked across the large plaza buying, selling and carrying their wares. The Husband trotted rapidly through the gates, just a few paces behind Maralin and the Adulterer. The Husband called out: “Maralin! Wait for me!”

“Now’s our chance,” Mitael pointed. An old brick-mason was crossing the plaza ahead of Maralin. He carried half a dozen heavy clay bricks and walked gingerly, favoring his left side. Mitael snapped his fingers and a gust blew. The small red cloth unraveled from Maralin’s hair and flew away in the breeze.

“My head covering!” Maralin exclaimed as she reached out, uselessly clawing at empty air.

A young scribe walking from the opposite direction looked at the red cloth and at Maralin. He did not notice the brick-mason approaching. The scribe bumped shoulders with the brick-mason. The brick-mason was captivated by Maralin’s plight and he didn’t discern the brick sliding from his pile. He kept walking and only a few steps later realized his load was lighter.

Maralin and the Adulterer kept trotting forward. The wheel of Maralin’s wagon hit the brick. The wheel slid off the axle of the wagon. The wagon collapsed to the right sending Maralin, still holding the reins, flying in the air, while her white horse crashed into the Adulterer’s.

Mitael pointed at the confusion of the horses. The reins enwrapped Maralin’s neck. Maralin knocked into the Adulterer. He caught her while still riding and tried to untangle her, but he too became entangled. The end of the rein got caught in the bit of the Adulterer’s horse. The pair fell off the brown horse and held onto each other. They dangled by their necks, knees dragging on the cobblestones between their galloping horses. A mass of brown, white and purple careened through the plaza. They left a thin trail of red from their bleeding knees. The horses, panicking, tried to separate from each other, pulling tighter on the reins around the couple’s necks.

Screams and shrieks filled the stone plaza. Maralin and the Adulterer writhed and convulsed as they tried to claw the suffocating reins off their necks. Finally, when the struggling of the couple stopped, the Adulterer’s horse released its hold upon the reins. Maralin’s horse stopped, free of the pull of the Adulterer’s horse, though still weighed down by the couple on his reins. The pair fell, lying on the floor, enwrapped in one another’s arms.

The Husband jumped off his grey mare and ran to lean over Maralin. A crowd surrounded the trio on the worn cobblestones.

“Maralin! What happened?” the Husband cried as dark red contrasted with Maralin’s purple dress.

“You?” Maralin coughed blood. “You were not worthy of me.”

“What?” the Husband asked with a wild look in his eyes. “But I love you. I always have.”

“I know,” Maralin looked at the Adulterer lying dead in her embrace. “But I don’t love you, and now I die with my lover.” Maralin smiled and then coughed more blood. The smile vanished, replaced by a grimace. And that was how she died.

“Incredible!” Lomael exclaimed. “How did they fall together and confess?”

“I only planned the strangulation,” Mitael coughed. “Their dying in each other’s arms and the confession were unexpected.”

“I don’t understand. How could that happen?” Lomael asked.

“Occasionally God takes a direct interest.”

“I thought that was our job?”

“It is. But sometimes God adds His own details.”

“But why?”

“I don’t know. It’s a great mystery. I think He just likes a good story.”

* * * * * *

Names:

“Mar” = bitter and “Alin” = I will cause someone to lie

“ael” is common angelic suffix.

“Mita” = Death

“Lom” from Lomed = Learner