For the week ending 25 August 2018 / 14 Elul 5778

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.


I Know It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll

“When you go out to war against your enemies...and you will capture its captivity.” (21:10)

Educational psychologists recognize the wisdom of our Sages in Pirkei Avot: Elisha ben Avuya says, “One who learns as a child is like ink on new paper, and one who learns when he is old is like ink written on paper which has been erased.”

However hard one tries to erase the writing of one’s youth, there will always be a residual grayness on the paper of the mind.

How I wish my bekiut (breadth of knowledge) in Torah was as clear as my recall of the lyrics of “Bridge Over Troubled Water”!

A young fellow had started learning at a ba’al teshuva Yeshiva and came to Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt”l with a question: “Rebbe, I was once a national violin virtuoso. Is it permissible for me to continue playing?”

“No”, said Rav Wolbe. “It is not permissible. It’s obligatory. I give you a beracha (blessing) that one day, playing the violin will no longer fulfill your highest spiritual aspirations. Only Tosefot will be able to do that. Until that moment you are obliged to continue playing the violin.”

The yetzer hara (negative inclination) is a spring — if we bear down on it too hard we will find it springs back at us with twice the force.

All spiritual growth is incremental. Grasping at Angels” leads to a peremptory and painful fall.

“When you go out to war against your enemies...and you will capture its captivity.”

Rashi says: The Torah is speaking here only in response to the yetzer hara."

The yetzer hara is a person's greatest enemy. The only way to 'capture' its 'captivity' — to re-'capture' for ourselves our independence from its domination — is with stealth and patience, as Rashi goes on to describe.

Similarly, it says in last week's Torah portion: “When you go out to the battle against your enemy, and you see horse and chariot, a people more numerous than you, you shall not fear them, for the L-rd your G-d is with you…” (13:7)

Seven verses after this exhortation the Torah says: “Who is the man who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house, and let him not melt the heart of his fellows, like his heart.”

Didn’t the Torah just tell him not to fear because G-d is with him? Where is his faith? Where is his bitachon? Where is his stiff upper lip?

The Torah mandates the ideal, but it also understands human nature.

Although as a younger person I had a successful career in the music business, I never played in a band. And so it was that I put up signs around Ohr Somayach for “The Ohrchestra – Ohr Somayach’s own electric band.” The lishma (altruistic) side of the band was to give those students who needed an outlet for their musical talents a forum. The flip side was that I wanted to pick up an axe (guitar) and bang out some old chords that were banging around in the brain.

I seriously doubt that the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Nota Schiller, will be booking Carnegie Hall in the near future for “The Ohrchestra,” but it certainly allows some young (and not-so-young) aspiring talmidei chachamim to let down more than their peyot.

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