For the week ending 2 September 2017 / 11 Elul 5777

Parshat Ki Tetzei

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 returned. 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 amitzvah 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.



“A perfect and honest measure” (25:15)

G-d’s imprimatur is Truth. In Hebrew, the word for “truth” — emet — consists of the first, the last and the middle letters of the Alef Bet. Truth is unmalleable, unswerving from the beginning to the end.

Not so in contemporary society.

In 2016, after much discussion, debate, and research, the word elected to be Oxford Dictionary's Word of the Year was “post-truth” — an adjective defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.

Our society has given up on the truth. It doesn’t believe in an absolute truth, and in its stead it has replaced truth with the demand for “respect”. Seeing as truth doesn’t exist, by definition, your beliefs have an equal validity to mine. Thus you are obliged to respect and give place to my “truth” — seeing as it is as true or untrue as your “truth”.

A case in point is the metamorphosis of the word “narrative”.

“Narrative” means a story. It’s been misappropriated from the world of fiction.

Narrative has replaced the truth. For example, now we have an Israeli narrative and a Palestinian narrative. Implicitly, the use of the word “narrative” in this sort of way denies the existence of a third possibility – the Truth.

When I was growing up, if you wanted to call someone lighthearted and carefree, you said that he was “gay”. In the shifting quicksands of political correctness “gay” has been hijacked to sanitize what the Torah denounces as an abomination – “toe’vah”. Deviance becomes lighthearted and carefree. What a triumph for the spin-doctors!

Oh, and there’s another Brave New Word: Spin Doctors, meaning “liars”.

All the following nouns want to attach themselves to truth, but they all mean lies: poetic truth, parallel truth, nuanced truth, imaginative truth, virtual truth, alternative reality, strategic misrepresentations, creative enhancement, non-full disclosure, selective disclosure, augmented reality, nearly true, almost true, counterfactual statements, fact-based information…

Present day synonyms for the verb “to lie” include: to enrich the truth, to enhance the truth, to embroider the truth, to massage the truth, to tell more than the truth, to bend the truth, to soften the truth, to shade the truth, to shave the truth, to make things clearer than the truth, to be lenient with honesty.

Such are the shifting sands of reality and its linguistic mirages that plague our modern world.

Happy are we who know that there is something called “emet”! Truth. Happy are we who have “a perfect and honest measure” of the world.

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