Category Archives: Ki Tetze

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

Competitive Comparisons

Tzvi Ilan ben Gita Update: Fantastic progress! He’s walking (with assistance) and talking (with some difficulty). He is doing intensive rehabilitation and we look forward to more progress every day. Keep the prayers going.

Deuteronomy Hizkuni: Ki Tetze

Competitive Comparisons

There is something healthy about pitting oneself against an opponent, striving, pushing to reach one’s potential, and via the competition reaching new heights of personal performance.

On the other hand, there is always the danger of comparisons, of feeling better or worse than someone as a result of the competition. The Bible repeatedly compares the performance of people (see Kings, where each descendent of King David is held to his standard of devotion). However the Torah does seem to draw the line when there is a major difference between who is being compared.

Amongst the plethora of commandments in Deuteronomy, there is at least one that looks out for inter-species relationships and potential competition:

“Thou shalt not plow with an ox and a donkey together.”

Deuteronomy 22:10

Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) gives a number of reasons as to why God should care and legislate such a particular commandment.

One of Hizkuni’s reasons is that God wants to spare the feelings of the donkey. One cannot compare the strength of an ox to the strength of a donkey. To have them work side by side, doing the same work, plowing the same field, would embarrass the donkey. In order to spare the feelings of the donkey or any other weaker animal, the Rabbis legislated that animals of different species shall not plow, pull or otherwise work together.

The Torah recognizes that not all animals are created equal and situations which highlight the difference to the detriment of one of the parties need to be avoided. For creatures that just don’t have the inborn capability to compete with each other, it is plainly unfair to stand them side by side.

However in areas where we are equal or closely so, it seems it is fair game to ask, “If he can do it, why can’t I?”

May we only engage in healthy competition – and win.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To my children starting their school year. Go get ‘em.

Death, Taxes and the Vow-breaker

Death, Taxes and the Vow-breaker

“He who promises more than he is able to perform, is false to himself; and he who does not perform what he has promised, is a traitor to his friend.”

George Shelley

“False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil.”

Plato (427 BC – 347 BC), Dialogues, Phaedo

“But in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790), Letter to Jean Baptiste Le Roy (1789)

What’s the connection between a false person, death and taxes?

Besides the common desire to avoid all three, the false person, the dying man and the tax-payer all end up paying their bill, one way or another.

The Grim Reaper and the Taxman are notoriously implacable pursuers; however God is apparently also relentless with the vow-breaker.

“When you make a vow to Hashem, your God, you shall not be late in paying it, for Hashem, your God, will demand it of you, and there will be a sin in you.”

Deuteronomy 23:22

Rabbi Ovadia Sforno explains that if a man says that he will contribute something, and is then negligent in fulfilling his word, God will make sure that the item or money he promised will be taken away from him, and will somehow make it to the proper end user. The negligent man will not be credited, even though he is now objectively poorer and the charitable intention has been fulfilled by divine intervention. Furthermore, his negligence will be considered a sin by God.

I guess God doesn’t like having to go through the extra “effort” of getting the man’s word fulfilled, or appreciates the person’s attitude (“I didn’t mean it”, “I didn’t really promise”, “It’s not like it’s in writing”).

Remember the two rules of a good politician:

  1. Keep all your promises.
  2. Don’t promise anything.

If we give our word, we should always be able to keep it.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To my parents on their anniversary today. People of their word, while being highly charitable with their time, spirit and resources.