Before Going Out to Fight, Look Inside

Before Going Out to Fight, Look Inside

Aug 20, 2021 By Jeffrey Kress | Commentary | Ki Tetzei

We know that every extra word in the Torah invites exploration to arrive at its deeper meaning. The opening words of Parashat Ki Tetzei require such consideration: “When you go out to war against your enemies . . .” Why mention enemies? Who else would one be going to war against? Rabbinic interpretations focus on the use of the plural (enemies) as signifying a distinction between categories of conflict, each requiring different rules of engagement. This helps explain why the rules of war that open the parashah differ from the closing instructions about how to fight Amalek. The Torah is talking about two different categories of conflict.

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Who Are We?

Who Are We?

Aug 28, 2020 By Stephanie Ruskay | Commentary | Ki Tetzei

The Jewish master narrative hinges on retelling our own story of being enslaved and freed by God to become a holy people. We tell this story repeatedly, and it is meant to wash over our souls and permeate our brains. Enslavement should feel real, as should the taste of freedom.

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Do Not Turn Away—Then and Now

Do Not Turn Away—Then and Now

Sep 9, 2019 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Ki Tetzei

In 1861, as a great conflagration spread across our nation, the Bostonian abolitionist and women’s rights advocate Samuel Joseph May published a slender tract entitled The Fugitive Slave Act and Its Victims, an impassioned polemic against the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. This federal law, born of the Missouri Compromise of the same year, required all federal, state and local authorities, including those in free states, to return fugitive slaves to their masters, while also criminalizing any attempt to aid and abet a slave seeking to escape bondage.

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Seventh haftarah of consolation

Seventh haftarah of consolation

Sep 7, 2018 By Jan Uhrbach | Commentary | Ki Tetzei

We might expect that for the seventh and final haftarah of comfort, the Sages would have chosen a passage recounting complete redemption. Instead, we are given a vision of the removing of obstacles, and the building of a solid foundation, to permit a path forward. Two such obstacles—“rocks” to be removed—are highlighted.

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Sixth haftarah of consolation

Sixth haftarah of consolation

Aug 31, 2018 By Jan Uhrbach | Commentary | Ki Tetzei

In the sixth haftarah of consolation, Isaiah draws heavily on the metaphor of light and darkness, and the repair and redemption is imagined as individuals’ and society’s embodiment of divine light. When God’s presence truly shines upon a person or nation, that person or nation is in turn able to bring light to others. This light—which may be understood as moral guidance and instruction, truth, compassion, justice, unification, love—is the true source of power and honor, the “wealth” of which the prophet speaks.

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Fifth haftarah of consolation

Fifth haftarah of consolation

Aug 24, 2018 By Jan Uhrbach | Commentary | Ki Tetzei

This fifth haftarah of comfort describes a process of reconciliation. Now on the other side of the abyss, God’s anger and “hiding of the face” can be seen in retrospect as temporary, even momentary, and confidence on the reliability of love and kindness can be restored.

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Ethics of Solidarity and Civil Equality: From the Parashah to the Knesset

Ethics of Solidarity and Civil Equality: From the Parashah to the Knesset

Aug 24, 2018 By Hillel Ben Sasson | Commentary | Ki Tetzei

From the narrative of Adam and Eve to the very last verses of Chronicles, the Hebrew Bible and specifically the Torah may be read as a process by which individuals and collectives are selected or separated. The Christian New Testament sends its redeeming message universally, to all human beings: “There is neither Greek nor Jew, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female. For ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Exceptions notwithstanding (Isa. 2:1-2, for example), our Tanakh is far more particularistic. 

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Clothes That Make Us Human

Clothes That Make Us Human

Sep 1, 2017 By William Plevan | Commentary | Ki Tetzei

Among the many joys of summertime in Manhattan is the chance to see a performance of Shakespeare in the Park. This year’s feast for eyes and ears was the magical romantic comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream. One of the key turns of the plot involves the sprite Puck casting a spell on the wrong young lover, because his only instructions were to enchant one with “Athenian garb.” Judging on fashion alone, poor Puck thought he had discharged his duties. Puck’s comedic error is of course another instance of one of Shakespeare’s favorite themes, the way our clothing becomes synonymous with our identity. Most famously, in Hamlet Shakespeare has the Danish noble Polonius tell his son Laertes that “the apparel oft proclaims the man.”

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Facing Reality

Facing Reality

Sep 1, 2017 By Alex Sinclair | Commentary | Ki Tetzei

And so another school year begins. After a summer of camp, travel, or relaxation, reality bites. Schedule. Classes. Papers. Reality.

Ki Tetzei contains many moments which deal with cold, hard reality. You like that woman you took captive in war? Sorry, mate, you have to face reality, with rules and regulations (Deut. 21:10–14). Think that the son of your preferred wife can inherit, even though he’s not the first-born? No sirree: you have to deal with legal reality (21:15-17). 

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Why Do We Need a Reminder to Remember?

Why Do We Need a Reminder to Remember?

Sep 16, 2016 By Yedida Eisenstat | Commentary | Ki Tetzei

When was the last time you memorized a phone number? In the age of Gmail, iPhones, and Facebook, remembering has become a passive activity. But at the end of this week’s parashah, the Torah commands us to actively “remember what Amalek did to you… do not forget.” But what did Moses command Israel to remember and why?

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Promises, Promises

Promises, Promises

Sep 16, 2016 By Cheryl Magen | Commentary | Ki Tetzei

Oh, promises, their kind of promises, can just destroy a life
Oh, promises, those kind of promises, take all the joy from life
Oh, promises, promises, my kind of promises
Can lead to joy and hope and love
Yes, love!

—“Promises, Promises” (from the 1968 musical of the same name), lyrics by Hal David

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Family Matters

Family Matters

Aug 28, 2015 By Jonathan Milgram | Commentary | Ki Tetzei

Academic talmudists are often asked, “Of what use are the findings of academic Jewish Studies to lay people? Can historical research inform our contemporary dialogue on the pressing issues of our day?” I propose that developments in family law from biblical to Rabbinic times have much to teach us in our evaluating the rapidly changing values and their accompanying changing laws in our own times.

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After They’ve Seen Paree

After They’ve Seen Paree

Aug 28, 2015 By Hillel Gruenberg | Commentary | Ki Tetzei

We are painfully aware that wars don’t end once the dust settles on the battlefield and documents of peace are signed, but rather that the “war at home” lives on long past military engagements, both in the homecoming of individual soldiers and the broad social changes that often follow. Ki Tetzei begins where the previous portion left off, discussing laws of war; however, in its second paragraph, it sharply turns to address issues of moral behavior in areas including family, agriculture, and sexual relations.

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A Time to Grieve

A Time to Grieve

Sep 5, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Ki Tetzei

As the fragile ceasefire between Israel and Hamas continues to hold and war is waged against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), we turn our soul’s attention to Parashat Ki Tetzei.

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We Have Met the Enemy, and the Enemy Is Us

We Have Met the Enemy, and the Enemy Is Us

Aug 14, 2013 By Marc Gary | Commentary | Ki Tetzei

How does war affect the human soul? Our Torah portion, Ki Tetzei, begins with a verse that raises these issues in a stark and discomfiting manner.

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Ethics of War

Ethics of War

Aug 14, 2013 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Ki Tetzei

Parashat Ki Tetzei opens by teaching one of the biblical ordinances related to ethical conduct in war.

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To Go Out of the Wilderness

To Go Out of the Wilderness

Sep 1, 2012 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Ki Tetzei

This week’s Torah portion is directed at Israelites about to “go out” of the wilderness; next week’s portion offers guidance to those about to “come in” to the Promised Land. Deuteronomy is anxious for the Israelites to build a society distinct from the one that had enslaved them and no less distinct from the other societies and cultures that will surround them in the Land of Canaan. It wants a people united in their new nation-state—and, to that end, propounds a series of wide-ranging laws designed to bring and keep them together.

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In the Shadow of the Twin Towers

In the Shadow of the Twin Towers

Sep 10, 2011 By Judith Hauptman | Commentary | Ki Tetzei

As we approach the 10th anniversary of this tragedy, we can search in Parashat Ki Tetzei for a way to respond to it. The parashah ends with the verses about Amalek’s attack on the Israelites, shortly after they left Egypt (Deut. 25:17–19). The Torah says, “Remember what Amalek did to you . . . when you were famished and weary, [they] cut down the stragglers in your rear” (v. 18). According to the JPS translation, the words v’lo yarei Elohim (and not fearing God) at the very end of this verse refer not to the Israelites, as one might think, but to Amalek. The enemy did not fear the Divine, and so they attacked. The paragraph goes on to say that when the people of Israel reach their own land and are at peace, they should blot out all memory of Amalek itself, but always remember what Amalek did.

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God Heals Our Wounds

God Heals Our Wounds

Sep 10, 2011 By Abigail Treu | Commentary | Text Study | Ki Tetzei

The suffering of those we love stays with us and affects us deeply, years after the fact; in Deuteronomy, Moses finds himself thinking about his deceased sister’s illness and the pain he felt at her suffering many years prior, and now we find ourselves thinking about the events of 9/11 and recalling the pain we felt a decade ago.

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The Jewish “Lost and Found”

The Jewish “Lost and Found”

Aug 21, 2010 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Ki Tetzei

Few sights are as pathetic as the mountain of lost items accumulated at a summer camp or school at the end of the season. Clothes that once were valuable to their owners (or at least, to their parents) now lie dirty and discarded in a noisome heap that no one wants to touch. Perhaps in the premodern world, where people stayed put and personal effort was required to manufacture each item, fewer things got lost.

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