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Temple Israel of Scranton

Temple Israel of Scranton

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Parashat Ki Tetzei 5781

Posted on August 20, 2021

From the Rabbi’s Desk

Livin’ the Good Life

I came home last night and said: “Ki tetzei this week. I love parashat ki tetzei”. And Jeffrey cheerfully responded: “Yup. It is my favorite parashah.” I said: “Really? Your favorite?”  Jeffrey said: “Bar none.”

That got me thinking. What is your favorite parashah? Is it Noah, with the animals and the flood? Is it vayera, with Abraham arguing justice with God and expelling Ishmael and almost sacrificing Isaac?  Is it b’shalah with the Song of the Sea? Is it terumah, with the building of the mishkan? Is it kedoshim, with the holiness code? Is it Korah, with the story of the rebellion against Moshe? Or, maybe like Jeffrey, is your favorite ki tetzei, with its plethora of regulations designed to build a world founded on justice?

Throughout the month of Elul we have the opportunity to consider deeply what kind of people we wish to be and what kind of world we wish to live in. Ki tetzei offers a great number and variety of specific laws of behavior, all part of a vision of what it means to live the good life. The Torah and the rabbis tell us that the good life is found in justice, holiness and respect.  And what that means is not left up to our imagination. 

Here are some highlights, just from middle section of ki tetzei that we are reading this year:

  • The importance of sanitation in the camp (Deut. 23:14), reminding us that our living spaces must reflect holiness. 
  • The prohibition of returning runaway slaves to their master (Deut. 23:16-17) — if they ran away, they must have had a reason.
  • The prohibition of taking a hand mill or millstone in pawn. If you take their means of making a living, they will starve. And they won’t be able to pay you back, either. (Deut. 24:6)
  • Permission to eat grapes in someone else’s vineyard or to eat corn in your neighbor’s field, but only what you can pick by hand and eat on the spot (Deut. 23:25-26). We have to ask who exactly is being given this permission and how much they really may eat. 

These are only a few of the many laws covering a whole host of topics in parashat ki tetzei. Tomorrow we will discuss Deut. 24:10-11, the prohibition of entering someone’s home to reclaim a pledge that belongs to you and the implications of that law.

Shabbat shalom.