Tag Archives: Ki Tetzei

Ki Tetzei: Paying Attention

You shall not see your brother’s ox or sheep going astray and ignore them; rather, you should restore them to your brother…

And so you shall do with every lost thing of your brother – you may not remain oblivious –Deut. 22:1-3

When Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch was a young man, he lived in the same house as his father, Rabbi Schneur Zalman. Rabbi DovBer and his family lived in the ground floor apartment, and Rabbi Schneur Zalman lived on the second floor.

One night, while Rabbi DovBer was deeply engrossed in his studies, his youngest child fell out of his cradle. Rabbi DovBer heard nothing. But Rabbi Schneur Zalman, who was also immersed in study in his room on the second floor, heard the infant’s cries. The Rebbe came downstairs, lifted the infant from the floor, soothed his tears, replaced him in the cradle, and rocked him to sleep. Rabbi DovBer remained oblivious throughout it all.

Later, Rabbi Schneur Zalman admonished his son: “No matter how lofty your involvements, you must never fail to hear the cry of a child.”

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“The Cry of a Child”
from the “Once Upon a Chasid” series
Commentary on Torah Portion Ki Tetzei

Where do our priorities lie? What is really important to us? I know it’s certainly possible to be so focused on a task or some study, that you don’t hear the cry of a child or otherwise notice something important, (my brother-in-law once burned his toast to the point of filling the kitchen with smoke because he was engrossed in a newspaper article) but on the other hand, it’s very possible for us to mess up what we think is more important. Some “religious people” tend to think their “religious practice” is more important than the “mundane” responsibilities that surround us. How often do we let opportunities to spend time with our families, help a neighbor fix their fence, or smile at a stranger pass us by because we think we’ve got more important things to do “for God?”

What about this?

Many routine actions that we do every day can be elevated by focusing on more elevated thoughts.

For example, when you go shopping for your family, focus on the fact that you are doing an act of kindness. Or, when you say good morning to someone, focus on the fact that you are giving him a blessing. If someone asks you to pass the salt, realize you are doing an act of kindness.

Focusing in this way will increase your level of joy, and increase your desire to do more good deeds.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Elevate you Mundane Actions, Daily Lift #562”

Rabbi Pliskin teaches us that every thing we do, every action we take, no matter how mundane or ordinary, contains the seeds of holiness just by focusing on how those actions serve others and please God. That means mowing the lawn, taking out the garbage, washing the dishes, and helping to feed a baby are all acts of kindness that are elevated to works of holiness.

Rabbi Tauber takes it one step further by saying that performing a kindness, one that’s as simple as comforting a crying child, is actually more important than studying Torah.

Imagine that.

I’m not saying that we should stop reading our Bibles, cease pondering scholarly commentaries, and abandon our prayers and corporate worship. I am saying that we should stop thinking of those activities as the only way we serve God. We should stop believing that there’s any separation between what we do that is holy and what we do that is common.

“The thing that I really respect about how Jews live is that God is in everything. If you’re really Orthodox, God is not removed from anything. From the bathroom to the bracha [blessing] you make afterwards, you bless Him and you thank Him. Every time you say ‘Baruch ata Hashem,’ you are showing that you believe that He is the King of the Universe!”

-Ari Werth
Quoting Anglican priest Andrew White
from the article “Struggle for the Scrolls”

We tend to think all of our “work” is what we were really put here for, particularly if we’re “religious.” We pay a great deal of attention to creating congregations, attracting people to help the membership grow, networking with other religious people who think like we do, trying to paste and tape together varied and scattered faith groups to form some sort of unity. But in the end, what if our true purpose in life is to comfort a frightened child who fell out of his crib, help him feel secure again, and then watch him fall asleep in your arms?

Whenever you are feeling particularly “religious,” “holy,” or “righteous,” stop whatever you’re doing. Look, listen, pay attention. Are you being oblivious to what God really wants you to do? Are you failing to help your brother find something he lost? What are you missing?

Good Shabbos.

Jesus, the Oral Law, and the Talmud

Moses at SinaiIf a man will have a wayward son, who does not hearken to the voice of his father and the voice of his mother, and they discipline him, but he does not hearken to them; then his father and mother shall grasp him and take him out to the elders of his city and the gates of his place. They shall say to the elders of his city, “This son of ours is wayward and rebellious; he does not hearken to our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.” All the men of his city shall pelt him with stones and he shall die; and you shall remove the evil from your midst; and all Israel shall hear and they shall fear.Deuteronomy 21:18-21 (The Stone Edition Chumash)

This commandment, from yesterday’s Torah Reading Ki Tetzei, is very difficult for us to understand. It’s one of the examples that Christians traditionally point to in explaining why God has removed the law and replaced it with grace. It’s one of the commandments the secular world uses to illustrate the “evil” religion represents and how much better humanistic and “progressive” atheism is in terms of compassion for others, including children and “wayward teens”.

This is also an example of how you can’t just read the Bible, any part of it, without employing some modifying information to help understand what is being taught. After all, even if your son is a total rebel, drunken, disobedient, even a criminal, what mother and father could simply hand him over to the court and, without a trial or any due process, watch him be stoned to death at the gates of their city?

But then, if the Torah as we have the document in our hands today doesn’t present the whole story, and if it didn’t fully explain commandments like this one when they were given in the day of Moses, how can we possibly understand the Bible? Let’s take another example.

He returned and began to teach by the seashore, and a great crowd of people was assembled to him. He went down and sat in a boat in the sea, and all the people stood on the seaside on dry land. He taught them many things with parables, and he said to them as he taught them:

Listen closely: The sower went out to sow seed. As he sowed, some of the seed fell by the road, and the birds of heaven came and ate it. There was some that fell on a rocky place where there was not much soil, and it sprouted quickly because it did not have deep soil. When the sun shone, it was scorched and dried up because it had no root. There was some that fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and crowded it out, and it did not bear fruit. There was some that fell on the good soil, and it bore fruit, coming up and growing. One made thirty times, another sixty, and another a hundred. –Mark 4:1-8 (DHE Gospels)

This is the entire text of the parable that Jesus taught to those listening to him at the lake. In verse 9, we read Jesus saying, “Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear.” If Mark had ended his narrative there and we had no other way to interpret the words of the Master, we might be just as puzzled as Christ’s audience. Even the Master’s closest inner circle of disciples had no idea what he was saying. Sure, you know what Jesus meant when he told the parable, but only because you’ve read his explanation as he related it to his most intimate of disciples:

When he was alone, the men that were with him approached with the twelve and they asked him about the parable. And he said to them:

To you it is given to know the secret of the kingdom of God, but to those outside, everything is in parables, so that they may look closely, but they will not know. They will listen well, but they will not understand, or else they may repent and be forgiven for their sins.

And he said to them:

Do you not know this parable? How will you understand any of the parables? The sower sows the word. Beside the road, these are those in whom the word is sown, but when they hear it, the satan immediately comes and picks up the word that is planted in their heart. Likewise, the ones sown on the rocky places are those who hear the word and they quickly receive it joyfully. But they have no root in them, and they only stand for an hour. After that, when trouble and persecution come on account of the word, they quickly stumble. And these are those sown among the thorns: They are those who hear the word, but the worries of this age and the guile of wealth and other cravings come and crowd out the word, and it does not have fruit. But these are those sown on the good soil: They are those who hear the word and receive it, and they produce fruit. One produced thirty times, another sixty, and another a hundred. –Mark 4:10-20 (DHE Gospels)

I want to emphasize my point here so I’ll quote verse 10 again: “the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables.” Even those who walked and talked with Jesus daily had no idea what he meant when he taught in parables. Only those closest to him were able to ask what he meant and hear his more straightforward explanation. We have the parable and the explanation together only because Mark and the other Gospel writers documented them together decades after these lessons were originally spoken. It would be many centuries before everything was put together as one “New Testament” and centuries more before the Bible was mass-produced and accessible to anyone who wanted to read it (Gutenberg didn’t invent the printing press until around 1440). We take reading the Bible as a unified document for granted today, but in times past, information like parables and their explanations weren’t always available in one book or scroll.

Now let’s get back to the example of the wayward son and his rather ghastly death sentence. If we, like the audience of Jesus, can’t get the full explanation from one place, where else can we go?

The Torah tells us that the Ben Sorer U’Moreh [Wayward and Rebellious Son] is brought to Beis Din [Jewish Court]. If the evidence is upheld, he is put to death, based on the principle “better he should die innocent now, than have to be executed as a guilty party somewhere down the road.”

The rules and circumstances for a Ben Sorer U’Moreh are so complex, specific and narrow that the Talmud in the eighth chapter of Sanhedrin says that there has never been and will never be a Ben Sorer U’Moreh. So then why, in fact, was the entire section written? The Talmud answers that the section was written in order that we might “expound it and receive reward”. In other words, this section was written for the sake of the lessons inherent in it.

The lessons that the Torah wants us to derive from this section are lessons about raising children. The Torah wants to teach us how we should and should not raise a child. It is likely that some grievous mistakes were made in the raising of the Wayward and Rebellious son. The Torah is providing us with clues of what to do and what not to do when raising our sons and daughters.

-Rabbi Yissocher Frand
“Rabbi Frand on Parshas Ki Seitzei”

This may make the Torah seem even more difficult to comprehend. Why would there be a commandment documented by the hand of Moses for the Children of Israel that they were never expected to obey?” Rabbi Frand tells us the commandment had a much deeper intent regarding parenting but where was this intent to be discovered?

He references the Talmud and particularly tractate Sanhedrin 8, but the Talmud didn’t exist in the time of Moses and wouldn’t be recorded in any written form until after the time of Jesus.

But is that exactly true?

Wayward SonAccording to classic Jewish thought, when Moses was on Sinai with God for forty days and forty nights (Exodus 24:18), in addition to imparting the instructions for building the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and its various elements, God also gave Moses the Oral Law or the means by which to interpret the directives listed in the written document, such as the aforementioned commandment regarding wayward sons. However, no list of commandments, written or oral, could possibly cover all contingencies and circumstances as they would arise in the following years and centuries, so God also commanded that a group of Judges be assembled to hear the various cases and complaints as they arose (Numbers 11:24-30). Authority was given to this system of Judges, originally the Sanhedrin but in modern times, the rabbinic Beit Din, to make rulings and judgments regarding the practical application of the written and oral Torah we have with us today.

So in the case of the wayward son, for an ancient Israelite, it wasn’t enough to know the written Torah on how best to deal with the situation. You had to learn and understand its intent via the Oral Law given to Moses at Sinai and interpreted by the ancient Israeli judicial system which also was established by God. Add to this that, as you grew up and were taught the elements of Torah by your parents, teachers, and priests, you would learn that the commandment of wayward children was meant not as a harsh punishment to use against your son should he become a drunken thug, but a lesson in how to parent your children so that they would “hearken” to your voice.

All that is fine and well for the Israelites, but you’re probably asking yourself what all this has to do with Jesus and his parables. What if I were to tell you that Jesus did the same thing: took the Torah and interpreted it? Christians believe he did so, but only in the very limited scope of doing away with the Torah, but I believe that, like Moses, like the Sanhedrin, like the lesser courts there were appointed in the various towns in Israel, and like the individual judges, Jesus also gave oral rulings, laws, and interpretations by the authority given to him by God the Father, the great Ayn Sof, the infinite, unknowable, ultimate, and unique One God.

Now look at this. We have a written Bible, for Jews, the Tanakh, what Christians call the Old Testament. It isn’t sufficient as a guide to provide a means by which Jews can apply the will of God in every possible situation they may encounter in their lives (and by inference, it means Christians may not have all the information we need just by reading the Bible). There are many questions Jews encounter as to how a commandment may or may not fit something that happens to them, such as a son coming home late and drunk. In fact, since situations and interpretations change across the scope of time, the Torah couldn’t possibly tell a 21st century Jewish parent how to deal with this situation in a way that would also meet the needs of a 12th century Jewish parent under similar circumstances. Both the Talmudic rulings and probably the advice of a Rabbi or a Beit Din might be needed.

Jesus did the same thing in the New Testament. The most famous example of him doing so is in the “Sermon on the Mount” (see Matthew 5) but keep in mind, Jesus wasn’t undoing the Torah commandments or giving a radical and “unJewish” meaning to them. If he had done that, he would have completely lost his Jewish audience including all of his closest disciples. The reason anyone in ancient Roman Judea listened to Jesus and followed him; the reason even the Pharisees could not discredit anything he taught, was because everything he taught and interpreted was completely consistent with the Torah of Moses and the intent of God at Sinai.

There’s no way that we can simply toss the Oral tradition, the Talmud, and the rabbinic rulings out the window and proceed as if the Bible were a completely self-sufficient document. The Bible is the firm foundation of the Word of God and the Rock on which we all stand. But it is not like a latest best-selling novel that we can read and digest all by itself without studying and relying on authoritative interpretations. Jesus is the living expression of that Rock (“the Word became flesh”John 1:14). However, Jesus himself must have followed the halakhah or the traditional rulings of Torah observance as understood during the Second Temple period (if he didn’t, all of his followers, including Peter, would have walked away from him, branding him a heretic). Those places where we see him apparently disregarding halakhah, are those points where his authority is giving a better ruling; one more consistent with the original intent of God at Sinai.

Just as Moses, the Sanhedrin, the lesser courts, and the judges and priests of Israel were given authority on earth to interpret Torah and to make rulings and judgments for the people, Jesus was given that authority and more as the Son of God. If we understand Mark 12:28-44 correctly, none of his rulings, judgments, and interpretations contradicted the Torah in any way, although as I mentioned, some of his rulings weren’t entirely consistent with the understanding of the Pharisees and Sadducees. In Jesus, we have a living example of how there can be a written Torah and a set of oral interpretations. This supports the ancient and modern Jewish tradition of having a written Torah, an oral interpretation, as well as later rabbinic rulings which were recorded in the Talmud, and a rabbinic court to interpret Torah and Talmud in individual cases.

Given everything I’ve just said, I’m not supporting that Christians suddenly start trying to live their lives by Jewish standards. Most of what is written in the Torah and Talmud applies only to Jews, but if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I believe Christians can learn much about God, the teachings of Jesus, and the meaning of our lives as disciples of the Master by studying the Jewish texts. If Jesus, in a sense, taught like Moses, like a Judge, like a Priest, and like a Rabbi, then only by learning about and trying to understand the complete system of Jewish teachings and judgments can we even begin to understand the Savior and Messiah we follow and adore.

Talmud StudyLike the ancient Israelite and the commandment of the wayward son, we don’t have all the information we need just by reading a few paragraphs in the Bible. Like the inner disciples of Jesus, we don’t understand the parables of the Master given to the masses without his interpretation of them. As modern Christians, we can’t always know the underlying meaning of the teachings of Christ (even though we currently have a record of his parables and their explanations) without digging a little deeper into how Jesus taught like a Maggid.

Christian, I’m not saying that we must take on board the full yoke of Torah including Talmud and halakhah. Far from it. However, I am saying that while it is not required of us, we can still learn a great deal about Jesus by the study of Judaism, for it is from Judaism that our faith has emerged and it is within Judaism that the heart of the Messiah beats for his people, both those who are the natural branches and those of us who have been grafted in (Romans 11).

As believers, we have no right to judge the Jewish people for following the halakhah, from studying Talmud, from living by the rulings of the sages, and from obedience to the Torah of Moses as understood and interpreted by oral tradition and rabbinic judgments. These rules are not binding on us, but the Jewish people were given a more comprehensive yoke than what has been asked of the Gentile disciples (Acts 15). Yet, as implied by James and the Jerusalem Council, there is still value in learning the Torah among the Gentile disciples because it is that Torah, those Judges, those Prophets, those Disciples of the God of Israel that are the core of Christ’s message and the foundation of who we are as believers in Jesus.

You have heard it said, but there is more than that. A great deal more. Let’s continue to study together and to allow both Christian and Jew to take their specific paths to the gates of God’s Temple.

Note: Quotes from the Gospel of Mark were taken from the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels, Hebrew/English translation adapted and published by Vine of David from the original 1890 text that was produced by Franz Delitzch and supervised of Gustav Dalman.

Ki Teitzei: The Bridegroom is Approaching

Ki TeitzeiThe vast majority of laws relating to Jewish marriage and divorce are derived from verses in the Torah portion Seitzei.

The relationship between husbands and wives is similar to the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people. It thus follows that marriage and divorce as experienced between mortal spouses derives from the “marriage” and the so-called “divorce” between G-d and the Jewish people.

The marriage of G-d and the Jewish people took place when He gave them the Torah, as the Mishnah states: ” ‘The day of His marriage’ — this refers to Mattan Torah. “

The Chassidic Dimension: Ki Seitzei
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
from Likkutei Sichos Vol. IX, pp. 143-150.

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

“But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

“Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

“But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.Matthew 25:1-13

I’m still trying to figure out how God can be married to the Jewish people as a whole while Christ is married to the church. The former is easier for me to comprehend since Judaism as a whole has a relationship with God more so than any individual Jew, based on the Sinai event. Even through there are religious Jews and secular Jews, because each are part of the Jewish whole, regardless of their personal beliefs, God must consider them His “bride”.

Jews are an ethnicity and a community, not just a religion. To be sure, that’s true of other religions, to some extent. Part of what it means to be an Italian, Polish or Irish American is being Catholic, and the Black church is at the core of the African-American community. So Jews are not alone in being partly an ethnic grouping, but community bonds play an unusually prominent role in our religion. I’m a Jew by choice—I converted 50 years ago, and I’m even more satisfied with that choice now than I was a half-century ago. That’s partly because being Jewish is mostly not about beliefs, but about connections with other people, sharing values and a collective destiny. Even for non-observant Jews, Jewish values are embodied in the Torah. Most Jews, unlike most Christians, don’t take the Torah literally, but it’s an exceptional account of the shared history and values of our people. Those values include respect for learning—we’re the “People of the Book”—respect for the individual, and pervasive concern about the fate of the community. It’s not an accident that Jews are among the most generous people in America philanthropically, and not just for Jewish causes; this trait embodies tikkun olam. Sociologically, Jews behave in a way that’s consistent with putting a high value on caring for other people, as well as on respect for learning. Even the atheists among us share those values.

Robert Putnam is the author of Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community and the Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University.
Quoted from Moment Magazine

Compared to Judaism, there really isn’t a “Christian people”. We refer to Christians collectively as “the church” but Christians don’t comprise a people group in the way that Jews do since Judaism transcends the definition of a “religion” and extends to a community, a people, an ethnicity (depending on how you look at it) and a culture. You can be a devoutly religious Jew or your can be a Jew who is an atheist, but you are always a Jew.

By contrast, a Christian is only a Christian because he or she has made a conscious faith decision. A person can decide to become a Christian and they can decide to surrender their faith and become an atheist. There’s no such thing as a secular Christian and once you leave the church, you have given up that identity.

When people describe themselves as Christian, they imply some element of belief. The beliefs may vary, but it would be hard for them to say, “I am a Christian,” if they don’t believe in God. In Judaism, there is a vibrant Jewish community separate from the theological underpinnings of the Torah. You don’t have to believe God made a covenant with our ancestors—where He gave us the land of Israel and commanded us to live by His teachings—to be Jewish.

Jason Rosenhouse is an associate professor of mathematics at James Madison University, writes EvolutionBlog for the Science Blogs network, and is the author of Among the Creationists: Dispatches from the Anti-Evolution Frontline, forthcoming from Oxford University Press.
Quoted from Moment Magazine

Christians are called “believers” because the essential element for being a Christian is belief; the acceptance of a certain set of propositions with an unerring certainty. It has nothing really to do with who you are, where you were born, who your parents are, or even anything that you do in life. You are a Christian because you believe in Christ. A Jew isn’t a Jew because of what he or she believes, a Jew is a Jew because of who they are. Even a religious Jew isn’t really religious because of a set of beliefs but instead is considered “yare Hashem”:

According to Heschel, “Awe rather than faith is the cardinal attitude of the religious Jew. In Biblical language, the religious man is not called ‘believer,’ as he is for example in Islam (mu’min) but yare hashem (one who stands in awe of God).”

Quoted from MyJewishLearning.com

RainbowI think we can argue that God is still “married” to any individual Jew because that Jew is always part of the Jewish whole. Not so a Christian since a Christian can accept or reject their faith at will and it is faith and belief, and nothing else, that defines the Christian. So it seems that a Jew remains part of the tribe regardless and thus is “married” in a way that they cannot be divorced, but not so the Christian.

I know what you’re thinking. God did “divorce” the Jewish people and we have scripture to prove it. We also have this:

“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
In a surge of anger
I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
I will have compassion on you,”
says the LORD your Redeemer. –Isaiah 54:7-8

God continues to address Israel as a corporate entity rather than commenting on the behavior of any individual Jew. God briefly and temporarily divorced all of Israel and He has promised to gather all of Israel to Himself again.

Paul re-enforces this commitment here:

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. –Romans 11:25-26

As much as I try to find one, I can’t discover the solution or reconciliation between the two marriage metaphors: the one involving God and Israel and the one depicting Christ and the church. As I read over what I’ve written, it’s almost as if I’m saying that all Jews merit a place in the world to come no matter what they’ve done by virtue of being Jews. However, there are conflicting points of view involved:

And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. –Matthew 3:9

All Israel has a share in the World to Come, as is stated: “And your people are all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever. They are the shoot of My planting, the work of My hands, in which I take pride.” –Sanhedrin, 11:1

How can I put all of this together in a way that makes sense? How to I reconcile God’s relationship with the Jewish people vs. His relationship with Christianity? I know that what we do, Jew and Christian alike, matters to God and that there are consequences, both in the present and in the world to come, for our behavior, but how can that be applied to the identity of Jew vs. Christian in terms of being a “bride”?

(Yes, I know I could take the Christian “hard line” and say that God replaced Israel with the church, but if I ever believed in such supersessionist nonsense, I’ve long since given it up. There has to be another answer)

I don’t know the answer. I’m inviting comments from anyone who has an opinion to share. I do want to leave you with one more quote for this last morning mediation of the week.

Fire can be dangerous – but nothing is as dangerous as ice.

If a fire burns inside you, keep going, just turn the fire towards G-d.
But if your path is of cold, lifeless intellect, you must stop, turn around, and warm yourself with the fiery coals of the sages.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Hot and Cold”
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson

Being cold to our bridegroom is a dangerous thing for anyone as we learn here. But how is it different for a Jew than a Christian against the vista of eternity?

Good Shabbos.