Parshah Summary – P’shat
Parshat Ki Tetzei contains seventy-four of the Torah’s 613 mitzvot. Included among them are the inheritance rights of the firstborn, the law of the rebellious son, burial and dignity of the dead, returning a lost object, sending away the mother bird before taking her eggs, the duty to erect a safety fence around the roof of one’s home, and the various forms of kilayim (forbidden plant and animal hybrids).
Also recounted are the laws of having a special place outside the camp for going to the bathroom and covering up one’s waste with earth, the prohibition against turning in an escaped slave, the duty to pay a worker on time and to allow anyone working for you—human or animal— time to eat, the prohibition against charging interest on a loan, the laws of adultery and divorce, and the procedures for yibbum (“levirate marriage”), which is the practice of a man marrying the wife of his deceased childless brother in order to give her children on his brother’s behalf, and chalitzah – the ritual of “removing of the shoe” – in the case that the brother-in-law does not wish to marry her.
The parshah concludes with the obligation to remember “what Amalek did to you on the road, on your way out of Egypt.” Amalek was the tribe that attacked Israel in the beginning of the Exodus.
Torah of Awakening – Jewish Meditation Teaching
כִּֽי־תֵצֵ֥א לַמִּלְחָמָ֖ה עַל־אֹיְבֶ֑יךָ וּנְתָנ֞וֹ יְיְ אֱלֹקֶיךָ בְּיָדֶ֖ךָ וְשָׁבִ֥יתָ שִׁבְיֽוֹ׃
When you go out to battle against your enemies, and Hashem your God puts them in your hand, and you capture their captivity...
- Devarim (Deuteronomy) 21:10, Parshat Ki Tetzei
Once, when Rabbi Simha Bunam was traveling with his disciples, they stayed overnight at an inn. It had been a long day of travel, so they gathered in the tavern for some drinks and refreshments before retiring. But because they had been on the road and wanted to get settled before too late, they hadn’t yet davened Ma’ariv, the evening prayer. So, after they disembarked, they first gathered to daven.
As they were praying, the inn began to fill up with tavern goers, and the room became louder and more chaotic. They hadn’t yet reached the Amidah, and the hasidim expected their master to move them into another space more conducive to their devotions. But instead, Rabbi Bunam just stayed where he was amid the noise and jostling and pushing. Later, he explained to his disciples:
“Sometimes it seems impossible to pray in a certain place because of the distractions, so one seeks out a better place, but this is not correct. For then, the first place cries out mournfully: ‘Why did you refuse to make your devotions here with me? If you met with obstacles, they were a sign that it was up to you to redeem me!’”
The delicious fruits of meditation are most easily enjoyed in the stillness, and it is upon us to prepare and ensure that we have a space conducive to the ripening of these fruits – clean, calm and free from distractions. At the same time, if we always avoid outer disturbances, we miss a precious opportunity; we must not become dependent on our situation being a certain way, but rather learn to be rooted in our inner space regardless of what is going on around us.
כִּֽי־תֵצֵ֥א לַמִּלְחָמָ֖ה עַל־אֹיְבֶ֑יךָ – When you go out to battle against your enemies…
What are the enemies? They are the momentary experiences that tend to captivate us. A noise, an abrupt movement, an inappropriate comment – anything we don’t like tends to trigger our emotions, motivating us to either try and force the situation into conforming with our will, or to leave the situation and find a better one. On the other extreme, we may have a particularly wonderful experience, and then we can become disappointed or even depressed when it’s over. In the spiritual sense, all these experiences, both positive and negative, become our “enemies” when we allow ourselves to be manipulated by them, giving them so much importance that we insist on either changing them, fleeing from them, or clinging to them.
וּנְתָנ֞וֹ י אֱלֹהֶ֛יךָ בְּיָדֶ֖ךָ וְשָׁבִ֥יתָ שִׁבְיוֹ … and Hashem your God puts them in your hand, and you capture their captivity…
In other words, you can have victory over your enemies, but it doesn’t come through fighting or struggling. Your victory is put right into your hand, if you open your hand. Meaning, don’t struggle with your experiences. Fully let them be as they are, without clinging to good ones or blaming anyone for bad ones, and then let them go when they want to go. It is really quite effortless, because it’s not about controlling things, but about relaxing the impulse to control things. That is meditation.
וְשָׁבִ֥יתָ שִׁבְיֽוֹ – and you capture their captivity… Meaning, our experiences are constantly trying to capture us, to draw us into their dream and sometimes nightmare, but if you remember: simply be with this moment as it is, and let it go when it goes – then you “capture its captivity” – you can control your impulse to control, and be victorious over your own mind…
וּנְתָנ֞וֹ יי אֱלֹהֶ֛יךָ בְּיָדֶ֖ךָ – and Hashem your God puts them in your hand… This is the key: to recognize that God is giving this moment to you. That is why, in the story, Rabbi Bunam gives this teaching by saying that the space itself cries out to you for redemption. The point is to understand that in each moment, in every situation, something vital is to be done – and that something is, first of all, to bring our consciousness to it. In this way, we “redeem it” – every moment, no matter how unsatisfactory, becomes a perfect context for practice, as soon as we remember to approach it that way.
In this week of Shabbat Ki Tetzei, the Sabbath of Going Out, let’s remember that in order to engage the enemy of resistance and of ego, we need not “go out” into battle, because that only creates more ego, more resistance. Instead, may we remember וּנְתָנ֞וֹ יי אֱלֹהֶ֛יךָ בְּיָדֶ֖ךָ – victory is put into our hand, if only we open our hand, if only we open ourselves to this moment as it is, giving our full presence without attempting to change it or flee from it.
This quality of “presence with,” which we can also call “patience,” is represented by the letter ח het, and characterizes this month of Elul.
Read past teachings on Ki Tetzei HERE.
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