Torah Weekly

For the week ending 2 September 2006 / 9 Elul 5766

Parshat Ki Teitze

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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The Torah describes the only permissible way a woman captured in battle may be married. If a man marries two wives, and the less-favored wife bears a firstborn son, this son's right to inherit a double portion is protected against the father's desire to favor the child of the favored wife. The penalty for a rebellious son, who will inevitably degenerate into a monstrous criminal, is stoning. A body must not be left on the gallows overnight, because it had housed a holy soul. Lost property must be return. Men are forbidden from wearing women's clothing and vice versa. A mother bird may not be taken together with her eggs. A fence must be built around the roof of a house. It is forbidden to plant a mixture of seeds, to plow with an ox and a donkey together, or to combine wool and linen in a garment. A four-cornered garment must have twisted threads tzitzit on its corners. Laws regarding illicit relationships are detailed. When Israel goes to war, the camp must be governed by rules of spiritual purity. An escaped slave must not be returned to his master.

Taking interest for lending to a Jew is forbidden. Bnei Yisrael are not to make vows. A worker may eat of the fruit he is harvesting. Divorce and marriage are legislated. For the first year of marriage, a husband is exempt from the army and stays home to make rejoice with his wife. Tools of labor may not be impounded, as this prevents the debtor from earning a living. The penalty for kidnapping for profit is death. Removal of the signs of the disease tzara'at is forbidden. Even for an overdue loan, the creditor must return the collateral daily if the debtor needs it. Workers' pay must not be delayed. The guilty may not be subjugated by punishing an innocent relative. Because of their vulnerability, converts and orphans have special rights of protection. The poor are to have a portion of the harvest. A court may impose lashes. An ox must not be muzzled while threshing. It is a mitzvah for a man to marry his brother's widow if the deceased left no offspring. Weights and measures must be accurate and used honestly. The parsha concludes with the mitzvah to erase the name of Amalek, for, in spite of knowing about the Exodus, they ambushed the Jewish People.


From The Heart

“He doesn’t listen to our voices…” (21:20)

I recently had the privilege of attending a lecture by one of the great Torah leaders of our generation. In anticipation, I wondered what he would say, what heights of spirituality would he convey, what lofty ideas and profound insights? When he rose to address us, he spoke in the simplest words one could imagine. There was absolutely nothing he said that I had not heard, in one way or another, from many, many, other speakers. What made his address so powerful, however, was not what he said, but who he was.

Apparently, the Chafetz Chaim was far from being a brilliant demagogue. He would stand at the bima and begin his address quietly: “Shiru lo! Zamru lo! Sing to Him! Chant to Him!” Everyone would be transfixed by his simple recitation of this one line of a Psalm. The impact of his words came not from his intellectual brilliance nor his oratorical skills, it came from the fact that when he said, “Sing to Him!” it was clear to everyone that the Chafetz Chaim was referring to a Reality whose existence was more self-evident than his own.

Another story tells of a young man who had started to break Shabbat and was brought to the home of the sage. The Chafetz Chaim took one of this young man’s hands gently between his own. Then he began to cry and whispered, “Shabbas… Shabbas…” The young man fled the room in tears. For the rest of his life he kept Shabbat faithfully. Many years later he described how the Chafetz Chaim’s tears burned the skin on his hand until he could bear no more.

To the best of my knowledge the Chafetz Chaim’s tears contained no sulfuric acid nor were his tears boiled in a kettle hidden up his sleeve.

“He doesn’t listen to our voices…”

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 71) derives from this verse that the Torah exonerates a rebellious son who has even one deaf parent. The law of the wayward son simply does not apply to this boy.

Ostensibly, this is difficult to understand: The Torah says that the son “doesn’t listen to our voices.” If anyone was deaf, it sounds like the son – not the parents.

A person cannot influence others unless he himself is a paradigm of those virtues that he seeks to instill. He cannot rebuke, censure, or inspire, unless he himself is the very picture of the person he is exhorting his listeners to be.

If one of the parents of the wayward son was “deaf” — if he, or she, did not hearken to that same level of ethical behavior that was being demanded of the son — the son could not be blamed for his delinquent behavior, since only words that come from the heart penetrate the heart.

It’s not what you say — it’s who you are.

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