Parashat Ki Tetze

Social Responsibilities

Our decisions to ignore or respond to members of our communities who are in danger determine the justice and morality of our society.

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Provided by Hillel’s Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning, which creates educational resources for Jewish organizations on college campuses.

This week's Torah portion, Ki Tetze, contains a large number of the commandments in the Hebrew Bible. Nearly one-eighth of the six hundred and thirteen are found here, seventy-two according to Maimonides and seventy-four according to the Sefer HaChinuch, an anonymous medieval work focusing on the meaning and practice of the mitzvot (commandments).

Included here are prohibitions against the mixing of cotton and wool and against wearing clothing associated with the opposite gender. We also find the commandment to wear tassels, later interpreted as tzitzit, on our four cornered garments. Although the majority of the laws are concerned with moral values and the creation of a just society, here we find laws concerning fair treatment of the debtor, the laborer and the unloved wife.

Following are two excerpts from the parashah.

Deuteronomy 22:1-4

If you see your fellow's ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it; you must take it back to your fellow. If your fellow does not live near you or you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home and it shall remain with you until your fellow claims it; then you shall give it back to him. You shall do the same with his ass. You shall do the same with his garment, and so too shall you do with anything that your fellow loses and you find. You must not remain indifferent. If you see your fellow's ass or ox fallen on the road, do not ignore it; you must help him raise it.

Deuteronomy 22:23-27

In the case of a virgin who is engaged to a man: If a man comes upon her in town and lies with her, you shall take the two of them out to the gate of that town and stone them to death--the girl because she did not cry for help in the town, and the man because he violated another man's wife. Thus you will sweep away evil from your midst. But if the man comes upon the engaged girl in the open country, and the man lies with her by force, only the man who lay with her shall die, but you shall do nothing to the girl. The girl did not incur the death penalty, for this case is like that of a man attacking another and murdering him. He came upon her in the open; though the engaged girl cried for help, there was no one to save her.

Your Deuteronomy Navigator

1. What communal responsibilities are laid out in the above passages? How do these inform a just society?

2. From what do you turn away?

3. Is it easier to turn away if you are turning from something or someone that is silent or dehumanized?

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Rabbi Toby Manewith

Rabbi Toby Manewith has worked as an independent Jewish educational consultant, writing curricula and teaching for many agencies including: The American Jewish Historical Society, the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, United Synagogue Youth, Smithsonian Resident Associates, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the DCJCC.