05 Sep 2014

Ki Tetse 5774: The Finer Things

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”.— Albert Einstein

 Reality is complex. The subtleties presented to us in our daily lives are often more than we care to acknowledge. Relationships that we have with others may be multifaceted and require special sensitivities when interacting, or questions may be posed to us that simple answers do not adequately address. Yet, to avoid having to deal with the nuances of a situation, we tend to disregard the subtleties and, instead, pretend that issues are simpler than they actually are. In doing so, we gloss over important details and choose inadequate solutions. Worst of all, we avoid experiencing life’s full expression.

Seeing reality in elementary terms may save us from having to navigate complexities, but the world is much more than various shades of grey; it is full of complex colour and it can only be fully experienced, appreciated and approached when we develop the lenses that detect it fully. When we make the effort to be aware of life’s subtleties it becomes more difficult to simply support or oppose something. Caveats emerge, and we develop tastes that appreciate the fine elements of reality.

There are two fascinating mitsvot mentioned in this week’s parasha that expect us to acknowledge these complexities:

“You are not to abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother.

You are not to abhor an Egyptian, for you were a sojourner in his land”. (23:8)

 Rabbi Meir Leibish ben Yehiel Michel (MALBIM)[1] comments on these verses:

‘Whenever you see reasons given in Torah for a particular prohibition, it is because the prohibition is counterintuitive. In this case, because human intuition tells us that we should detest the Edomite [because they greeted us at their borders with the threat of war[2]], they are, nonetheless, our brothers, and brotherhood is exceptionally important. We should similarly detest the Egyptian [for they murdered our boys in the Nile and bitterly enslaved us], but we were sojourners in their land and it is said ‘great is the act of hosting [the sojourner]’.

We learn from these mitsvot that, while we need not be best mates with the Edomite and Egyptian, we are not permitted to write them off, either. The positive elements must be acknowledged along with the negative.

This lesson is relevant to us in many instances. For example, there may be people we know who do not respect our choices, agree with our lifestyle, or who have treated us poorly. While we may not choose to interact with them regularly, as a result, we learn from these mitsvot that we cannot disregard the good that they have done for us in our lives.

Life is filled with complex contradictions. When we avoid the inherent laziness that drives us to gloss over them and make the effort to develop our sensitivities, we become deeper, more robust individuals and the world emerges from its initial monochrome picture and is revealed to be a vibrant tableau of colours.

[1]1809-1879. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malbim

[2]Bemidbar, 20:17-21