16 Sep 2016

Ki Tetse 5776: Measuring Up

Download a printer friendly version here.

Encourage all your virtuous dispositions, and exercise them whenever an opportunity arises, being assured that they will gain strength by exercise, as a limb of the body does, and that exercise will make them habitual. — Thomas Jefferson

With forty-four distinct paragraphs and seventy-four commandments (27 prescriptive, 47 proscriptive) perashat Ki Tetse[1] is filled with detailed instructions and guidance for living in covenant with G-d. Several times in the book of Debarim, Moshe tells us that the mitsvot are for our benefit, leading to growth and a connection with the Almighty. He teaches us to lead lives that are not just moral and ethical, but holy.

For God your Lord walks about amid your camp…so the camp is to be holy. (23:15)

The potpourri of mitsvot in Ki Tetse is varied, ranging from lost property, safety precautions, clothing, sexual behaviour and relationships, borrowing and lending, charity and international relations. Towards the end of the parasha, we find one of the more obscure commandments, the prohibition against possessing weights and measures that are flawed and off-sized.

You are not to have in your purse a stone-weight large or small. You are not to have in your house a measure both large and small. A perfect and equal stone-weight shall you have….(25:13-15)

It is quite understandable that the Torah forbids using such tools, but what is so wrong with possessing them?

Harbouring these flawed weights and measures maintains an open door to using them. While we would not necessarily consider a person immoral unless they actually used the tools, if we were to find such devices in one’s possession we might question their need for them. Unless a person has a use for such things there would be little reason to own them subsequently causing suspicion and concern.

Although this mitsvah is quite particular[2] it hints to a valuable principle. In Hebrew our attributes and elements of character are called middot, literally meaning ‘measures’. They are called this because it is with them that we fashion our personalities and identities. Our aim is to have ‘measures’, or attributes, that are whole and fair rather than flawed and corrupt. Even if they do not lead to negative behaviours, the deficient attributes themselves must not be maintained. Possessing them alone sets us up for failure.

One should not say that Teshuba (return to righteousness) is only from transgressions that involve actions like promiscuity and theft; just as one must return from these so to must he examine the ill-attributes that he possesses and return from them. From anger, malice, jealousy, rivalry, frivolity, and the pursuit of money and honour…these are more difficult [to abandon] than those that involve actions…. (Rambam[3])

Addressing our deeds is an essential aspect of perfecting our character.  However if we wish to strive not only for refined actions, but refined souls, we must consider both what we do and who we are. This is a rigorous and serious task which requires considerable effort and diligence on our part. If we are successful in achieving it, we create internal purity and allow God’s presence to rest within.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Joseph Dweck

[1] Perashat Emor is a close second with 63.

[2] See Sefer haMitsvot, Lo Ta’aseh 272.

[3] Mishne Torah, Hilkhot Teshuba, 7:3.

Parasha Perspectives

VI Ki Tetze

20b              Taking a wife from captives  (21:10-14)
20c               Inheritance for sons of different wives  (21:15-17)
20d              The rebelious son  (21:18-21)
20e              Bury the hanged that day, do not leave overnight  (21:22-23)
20f               Returning lost property  (22:1-3)
20g              Assisting to lift fallen animals  (22:4)
20h              Distinction of sex in clothing  (22:5)
21a              Sparing the mother bird  (22:6-7)
21b              Safety borders on roofs. No mixing seeds  (22:8-9)
21c               Do not yoke an ox and an ass  (22:10)
Do not wear a mix of fabrics, shatnez  (22:11)
21d              Wearing fringes, tzitzit  (22:12)
21e              False charges against a bride  (22:13-19)
21f               True charges against a bride  (22:20-21)
21g              Adultery  (22:22)
21h              With a betrothed woman in the city   (22:23-24)
21i               With a betrothed woman in the field  (22:25-27)
21j               The bride-price  (22:28-29)
21k              Prohibition of marriage with stepmother  (23:1)
21l               A person with a mutilated sex organ cannot be part of Yisrael  (23:2)
21m             The mamzer cannot be part of Yisrael for ten generations  (23:3)
21n              Ammonites and Moabites are also excluded.  Recall Bilaam!  (23:4-7)
21o              Edomites and Egyptians:Third generation can become part of the people
21p              Holiness of the army camp  (23:10-15)
21q              Fugitive slaves  (23:16-17)
21r               The sexual immorality business  (23:18-19)
21s               Laws of Interest  (23:20-21)
21t               Laws of vows  (23:22-24)
21u              Benefit from a neighbour’s vineyard  (23:25)
21v              Benefit from a neighbour’s corn field  (23:26)
21w             Laws of divorce  (24:1-4)
21x              First year marriage war exemption. Milstones (24:5-6)
21y              Man-stealing  (24:7)
21z               Tzora’at and Miriam  (24:8-9)
21aa            Taking and restoring a pledge  (24:10-13)
21bb            Treatment of workmen  (24:14-15)
21cc             Individual responsibillity for sin  (24:16)
21dd            Injustice to the stranger, orphan and widow  (24:17-18)
21ee            Leave forgotten sheaves for the landless  (24:19)
21ff              Other generosities to the landless. Recall slavery (24:20-22)
21gg             Judging, lashing, no excess. Ox muzzling (25:1-4)
21hh            Yiboom and Chalitzah  (25:5-10)
21ii              Flagrant immodesty  (25:11-12)
21jj              Honest weights and measures  (25:13-16)
22                Remembering Amalek  (25:17-19)

                    Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS