This week our parasha is Ki Teitzei, which means “When You Go”, and covers Deuteronomy 21:10–25:19. Parasha Ki Teizei covers a large variety of topics and has 74 different commandments. While we could go through all 72 commandments in the interest of time I would like to only discuss a small number of them.
Weaving through the many different topics of parasha Ki Teitzei is the idea of fairness. In many of the situations presented in this parasha different circumstances lead to different punishments or rules, which is based on God’s command. The laws God gave to our people were completely just and unlike the systems of law created by men, they were without corruption.
However, it needs to be mentioned that many of this parasha’s commandments when viewed through modern eyes can seem to us to be abhorrent. There are laws in this parasha concerning the treatment of female captives of war, how children from multiple wives should be treated, and various kinds of divorce. Over the centuries atheists and others have used these passages to attack the character of Adonai and the reliability of Scripture.
But these laws were put into place not as an endorsement of these practices, instead they are a framework that helps protect those who are most vulnerable. In comparison to surrounding cultures and even many cultures today, the laws of God were very progressive and emphasized a need to protect those who could be easily exploited. Consider the fact that if a slave from another nation came to Israel they were not to be sent away back into captivity, but should be invited to become a member of our people and were not to be oppressed. While slavery existed in ancient Israel it was very different from the practice of slavery in America.
God’s fairness is also shown in how he detests having multiple sets of weights and measures. In our business dealings, we had to be fair and not try to swindle others or have double standards. The Lord even had concern for fairness with animals in the field. We were instructed not to muzzle our oxen while it was working in the fields, it deserved to enjoy the fruit of its work and have food from the field.
The laws of God in this parasha also emphasize justice and mercy. There is an emphasis on justice, such as the need to remove evil from our people, and the need for punishment for sinful behavior. But there is also an emphasis on mercy, in Deuteronomy 24:16, we read that parents are not to be put to death for their children’s sins. In this chapter, we also read that a person should be paid their wages promptly, especially if they are poor and need them. It was also a sin to take advantage of a widow, orphan, or foreigner. These were the people most likely to be disenfranchised in society and without a voice to defend themselves. The Lord in his mercy gave special laws for these groups of people to help protect them from those who had more power. There were special protections for the most vulnerable classes of people.
The reason we are given such a diverse and specific set of laws in this parasha is because it is our fallen nature to not deal fairly, justly, or with mercy. These laws were given because the Lord knew that without them our people would commit serious sins against ourselves and others. Most likely the poor and the vulnerable would be exploited and there would be less order in our society.
We have seen in human history the incredibly destructive force of bad government and laws. We have seen horrendous violations of basic human rights under totalitarian regimes, whether they are communist or Islamic as examples. It was for these reasons the Lord demanded that our people act differently from the pagan societies surrounding us. Because these commands came from God and not human beings our laws were not filled with loopholes and special privileges that could be exploited by the powerful. From the king, down to the lowliest beggar all were expected to follow the laws of God and all are judged by the law for our failure to keep it, from the big to the small.
Our failure to follow Adonai’s commandments is not an issue with the standard but an issue with us. God’s law does not bend to our desires or wants, we must bend to it. The fact of the matter is that all of us have failed to keep Adonai’s commands, especially the two greatest commandments, to love God with the totality of who we are and to love our neighbors as ourselves. God’s commandments are fair, just, and merciful, but we all fall short of the standard and deserve the punishment for our sins.
If left in our fallen state, we all would be rightly judged by our infinitely holy Creator. But our Haftorah portion for this week tells us there is a future restoration promised for Israel and God’s people. Our haftorah this week is Isaiah 54: 1-10, and pictures Israel as a woman without children about to be restored. The Lord promises that though He has punished us and we have sinned that He will restore us because of His great compassion. The haftorah ends with this promise:
“To me this is like the days of Noah,
when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.
So now I have sworn not to be angry with you,
never to rebuke you again.
Though the mountains be shaken
and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
For such a promise to be fulfilled something had to have changed. God Himself is unchanging, He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. So, something must have happened with us but we still do not perfectly keep God’s commandments.
The answer to how this is possible is found in the chapters of Isaiah between this week’s Haftorah and last weeks, the end of Isaiah 52 and all of Isaiah 53.
In those chapters, we read clearly of the coming of the Messiah. Who through His death will satisfy God’s justice through His atonement and show God’s mercy. Though He did not deserve to die He would be put to death for our sins. But He would rise from the dead and then be lifted up. The words of this prophecy were fulfilled for us almost 2000 years ago with the death, burial, and resurrection of Messiah Yeshua. By accepting His atoning work we can have forgiveness of all our sins, for failing to meet God’s standard of fairness, justice, and mercy shown to us in this parasha. It is for this reason we can read in Isaiah 54 about Israel’s future restoration because the Lord has accomplished it in Isaiah 53.
Parasha Ki Teitzei ends with a command to utterly destroy the Amalekites, to destroy this sinful people who attacked the weakest among us in the wilderness, our children, elderly, and sick. We are told to remember the commands of Adonai and to not forget. May the Lord enable us to learn from His Word the lessons and commands He has given us, and to not forget who He is and what He has done for us.