Thursday, September 8, 2022

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Ki Te’tzeh – D’varim (Deuteronomy) 21:10 – 25:19

 Parashat Ki* Te’tzeh (“when you go out…”), consists of lists of commandments, some of which we have encountered earlier on in the Torah, others are repeated in a modified form, while quite a few are mentioned here for the first time. Whereas the previous Parasha (Shoftim) focused on national matters, here the focus is on the individuals within the nation. It should be noted that even though at first glance the various injunctions seem to be placed randomly, a closer study reveals them to be organized in clusters wherein there is a common theme or some other link that ties together each respective group. One such example, where the rulings almost form a storyline, is right at the beginning of the Parasha (21:10-23). The first one is a case of a man desiring and marrying a foreign woman taken captive in war, but losing interest in her at a later stage. The next ruling focuses on the rights of the firstborn son of (again) an unloved wife, whose husband has another, favored, wife. From the firstborn son, we are taken to a command regarding a rebellious son, whom some of the sages believe to be the offspring of the foreign wife mentioned above. This son’s behavior makes him a ‘candidate’ for stoning, while the following statute deals with a criminal who is sentenced to hanging.  At the very end of the Parasha (in 25:13-16), to mention another example, we read about unjust weights and measures which are detestable in YHVH’s sight (v. 16). The concomitant ruling is a reference to the Amalekites, who are to be completely wiped out because of their ill-treatment of Yisrael during the Exodus, which also places them under the category of: “Anyone doing these things is hateful to YHVH your Elohim, everyone acting evilly” (v. 16 again), even though “these things” is actually in reference to using unjust weights. Parashat Ki Te’tzeh illustrates the extent of YHVH’s involvement in every aspect of the Israelites’ life - the individuals as well as the community. In turn, Yisrael is to live life in a manner that is worthy of Him. 

Returning to the paragraph about the "unloved woman" (literally, "hated"), it is made clear that it is incumbent upon her husband to "bestow firstborn status" on her firstborn son if she happens to have given birth to him (21:15-16). In Hebrew the action of bestowing this status is contained in a single word - "ba'ker" – (bet, kaf/chaf, resh) – while "firstborn" is "b'chor", from which "firstfruit" – bikkurim is derived. Interestingly, in Modern Hebrew, this verb ("ba'ker" - "to make a firstborn") is one of the synonyms for "to prefer". 

The stubborn and rebellious son described in 21:18, 20, according to his own parents’ admittance “will not listen to his father's voice or his mother's voice; even though they discipline him, he will not listen to them”. “Stubborn and rebellious” is “sorer u’moreh”; “sorer” is of the root s.r.h (samech, resh, hey) and means “turn aside, defect, or withdraw”. “Moreh” is of the root m.r.h (mem, resh, hey) meaning, “contentious, defiant, or rebellious”. The type of attitude displayed here issues from the heart and so in Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) 5:23 we read: “To this people there is a revolting/defiant and a rebellious – sorer u’moreh – heart”. This son is further described as “a glutton and a drunkard”.  The latter noun is “soveh”, the root being s.v.a. (samech, bet/vet, alef), recalling, “sovah” (sin/shin, vet, ayin) which is not only close in sound but also in meaning (albeit employing a different spelling). In Parashat Va’yera (see Gen. 21:28-33) we examined this root and found that “satisfaction”, or to “have had enough” (especially in reference to food) is “sovah”, relating to the number "seven" – “sheva”.  By calling the week "shavua" the language points to the fullness and completeness of what Elohim has achieved in creation.  "In Your presence, there is fullness ("sova") of joy; I will be satisfied ("es'be'ah") with Your likeness when I awake" (Ps. 16:11; 17:15). Thus, if one is not ‘satisfied’ - “sa’veh’ah” - and chooses to overindulge, he becomes a “soveh”. By making use of similar sounds Hebrew typically points to life’s fine demarcation lines. The rebellious son was to be executed by stoning (ref. 21:21), which is the verb “ragom”, one of several Hebrew terms used to denote this action. 

Another stoning was to occur in the event of a young woman who upon marriage was found not to be a virgin (ref. 22:20-21), as well as when “a girl that is a virgin, betrothed to a man, and a man finds her in the city and lies with her” (vs. 23-24). In these cases, the stoning is “sakol” (s.k.l, samech, kof, lamed), which means not only to “hurl rocks”, but also to “gather rocks” such as in Yishayahu (Isaiah) 5:2: “My Beloved has a vineyard in a fruitful horn. And He dug it, and cleared it of stones” (italics added). This illustrates again the close proximity between apparent contradictions, of which we shall see more examples later on. 

Following the prodigal son in 21:20, the text goes on to speak of “a man [who] has committed a sin worthy of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree” (v. 22), appending to it: “he who is hanged is accursed of Elohim” (v. 23). The rabbinic explanation for a sin that incurs hanging is idol worship and/or blaspheming. This is exactly what Yeshua was charged with, that is, he was accused of blaspheming the Name of the Almighty (ref. Mat.  26:65; Mark 14:62-64). This is also how He “redeemed us from the curse of [pronounced in] the Law [for breaking] its laws [or redeeming us from the “laws of sin and death”], having become a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). 

The next set of injunctions, in chapter 22, focuses on concern for the property of one’s fellow man and his welfare, as well as sensitivity toward YHVH’s creation. “You shall not see your brother's ox or his sheep driven away, and hide yourself from them. You shall surely turn them back to your brother” (v. 1). “You shall hide” here is “hit’a’lamta”, of the root a.l.m (ayin, lamed, mem), and means “hidden or concealed”, and in this context also “disregard, neglect” or “pretend not to see”. It is from this root that we obtain “olam” or “ad olam” which in Biblical Hebrew speaks mostly of “eternity” (future but also past), being indeed concealed and uncharted from man’s vantage point (Deut. 23:3; Gen. 17:7; Ex. 12:24). One of the Biblical terms for a young man is “elem” (and “alma” for a young woman), issuing from the same root (e.g., 1Sam. 17:56; Gen. 24:43); this being the case because their character is still unfolding and their future unknown. 

At the other end of this cluster of injunctions we read: “If a bird's nest happens to be before you in the way in any tree, or on the ground, with young ones, or eggs; and the mother is sitting on the young, or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. But in every case, you shall let the mother go, and take the young for yourself, so that it may be well with you, and you may prolong your days” (22:6,7 italics added). This somewhat obscure command holds a great promise, like that of the 5th Commandment of the Decalogue, which says: “Honor your father and your mother, as YHVH your Elohim has commanded you, so that your days may be prolonged” (Ex. 20:12, Deut. 5:16). The fact that this promise is common to both these injunctions has puzzled the sages all the way back to Talmudic days. Some of them concur that YHVH’s ways are higher than ours, and therefore various precepts are “passed finding out”, while others maintain that one should not even try and discover whether the Divine commands have reasons or not. On the other hand, Professor Yitzchak Heinemann contends that “it is incumbent on us to detect the finger of God in the wonders of nature and the events of our life, though they will still remain unsolved mysteries, so we must endeavor, as far as possible, to appreciate the wisdom and justice of His commands”. [1] The identical reward for honoring parents and for shooing the mother bird before taking her young, may serve as a clue to a principle which applies to every word spoken in the Torah: “kala k’cha’mura”, meaning that each precept (and/or word), whether insubstantial or weighty, is to be treated equally. Thus, all the way from the weightiest precept to the least esteemed, through those that are ‘in between’, obedience is equally required, with the result (of so doing) and the rewards being at times identical. Our Parasha, to cite another such example, also exhorts us to “have a perfect and just ephah [a measurement]; so that they prolong your days in the land” (25:15 italics added). Applying this principle to YHVH’s commandments, each one is to be ‘weighed’ by the same scale, not denigrating one and estimating another. 

"Letting go" of the mother bird is denoted by the verb "sh'lach" – shin, lamed, kaf/chaf, which is also "to send away". This verb is found in several other instances in this Parasha, all of them having to do with wives – the captured woman from the beginning of the Parasha, once having lost favor with her captor-husband, is to be "let go" of (21:14), as is the wife whose husband has found something unclean about her, and who, therefore "sends her away", as does her second husband who likewise dismisses her (24:1,3,4). How may we compare the "mother bird" to these women? Is there some connection here between the mother bird and these wives????  

Right in between the lost ox and sheep and the nesting bird, is the oft-quoted verse: "A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman's garment, for all who do so are an abomination to YHVH your Elohim” (22:5). This injunction is especially used in order to “prove” the Bible’s disapproval of women wearing what is thought to be strictly male clothing.  However, this is not what the Hebrew text is expressing. The literal meaning of “lo yi-hi-ye kli gever al isha” is “there shall not be a tool/implement of a man upon a woman”. This implies that she is not to carry or wield a tool or any implement which is characteristic of man’s responsibilities. In this case, therefore, Scripture is not concerned with apparel or fashion but with certain types of activities that are to distinguish between men and women! As for the men, in their case they are indeed commanded, plain and simple, not to wear women’s garments. The noun "kli" is found in another place in our Parasha. " "When you come into your neighbor's vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes at your pleasure, but you shall not put any in your container" (23:24). The "container" (or "vessel") here is "kli". Notice also that here the "eater" partakes of the grapes until he is, literally, satisfied. It is this "satisfaction" – sovah – that did not suffice in the case of the son we read about above, turning him into a "so'veh", someone who crossed the boundary lines and turned into a glutton and a drunkard. 

Still, in chapter 22:14, and 17, we encounter a woman who has been charged or accused by her husband. These accusations are "alilot" – a.l.l (ayin, lamed, lamed. In Mitzrayim YHVH is said to have "hit'a'lel" with the Egyptians – that is, He performed deeds that made a mockery of the enemy (Ex. 10:2). "Olal" is also a toddler, and here, in 24:21, "le'olel" is "to glean afterward; it [the leftover grapes] shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow". Although such a varied scale of meanings, all share a common root that points to a movement, or development toward attaining a certain goal, be it a positive one, or a negative one (such as in the case of the accused woman). 

In 23:7-8 we read: “You shall not despise an Edomite, for he is your brother. You shall not despise an Egyptian, for you were an alien in his land, sons of the third generation that are born to them may enter into the assembly of YHVH”. This directive is in contradistinction to the one relating to the Ammonites and Moabites, who were not to enter the assembly of YHVH even after ten generations, that is, never. Da’at Mikra ponders: “Why is it that the Torah deals this way with the Edomites, not demanding from them what was demanded of the Moabites and Ammonites, which was to greet Israel with bread and water when they had passed by these peoples’ territories? Because Ya’acov tricked Esav and had wrested from him the birthright and the blessings; while for having chased Ya’acov, Esav and his progeny have already been punished by having been held off from the assembly of Israel for two generations. The Egyptians are also forgiven for their treatment of Israel, as [their reason for doing so was because] they were afraid lest Israel would join their enemies.” [2] 

There are several commands regarding the purity of Israel’s camp and assembly, with the army camp especially being underscored in this Parasha (23:14). Another one is: “None of the daughters of Israel shall be a cult prostitute, nor shall any of the sons of Israel be a cult prostitute” (23:17). The word used here for the female cult “prostitute” is “k’desha”, while “male prostitute” is “kadesh” (also found in Job 36:14). But even before this example, in 22:9, we encounter the prohibition to mix seeds, so that the end result will not be “defiled”. Here too, for “become defiled” the Hebrew has “tikdash”, of the root kadosh. This is one more example of contradictory terms being closely linked in the Hebrew language and mindset since the word for “holy” is “kadosh” (and in the feminine gender – “kdosha”). In verse 18 we read: “You shall not bring the hire of a harlot or the wages of a dog into the house of YHVH your Elohim for any vow, for both of these are an abomination to YHVH your Elohim”. This type of “wage” is “et’nan”, an unusual form of “natan” (noon, tav, hey) which is to “give” or to “offer”.  Regret for betraying Yeshua led Yehuda of Krayot - Judas Iscariot – to give back to the priests the 30 pieces of silver he had been handed for committing this act. “The chief priests said, ‘It is not lawful to put them into the treasury since it is the price of blood’. And taking counsel, they bought of them the potter's field, for burial for the strangers” (Mat. 27:6). The priests acted this way based on the above-mentioned ruling, to which they appended “price of blood”. Is it a coincidence that “wages of a dog”, which is included in this category, is followed by issues pertaining to usury (23: 19, 20), using “neshech” for “usury or interest”, the literal meaning of which is “to bite”? 

Above, mention was made of "mixed seeds" (22:9), which in Hebrew is denoted by a very specific term: "kil'a'yim" – of the root k.l.a – kaf, lamed, alef. The ending "ayim" lets us know that there is multiplicity involved, but the root meaning is "restrain, enforce, prevent, imprison", which is indicative of it being an unnatural action not looked upon with favor. 

Before examining the next cluster, let us pause and inspect a certain term that appears in 23:20: “…that YHVH your Elohim may bless you in all that you set your hand to in the land where you go to possess it” (emphasis added). “Set your hand to” is literally the “sending of your hands” – “mish’lach yadeh’cha”. In the past, we saw that one’s work or occupation was called “m’la’cha” (of the root l.a’ - “to send” and hence “messengers, angels, mal’a’chim, sent out ones”), which by its very definition conveys the idea that one’s work or task is more of a goal or an accomplishment outside the confinement of one’s own vicinity. It is something rendered or performed as a mission (for the greater community) and therefore was not to be considered incidental or self-serving. (Compare this to the action of "mixing seeds" – restraining or forcing.) 

Two weeks ago, in Parashat R’eh, we discussed the noun “makom” – “place” - and the verb “kum” – “to rise or go up”, which share the same root. In our Parasha we encounter other derivatives of this root (kof, vav, mem). In 23:25 we read: “When you come into your neighbor's standing grain, then you may pluck heads with your hand; but you shall not wield a sickle in your neighbor's standing grain”. The “standing grain” is the ripe sheaves ready for harvesting called “kama” (also in Exodus 22:6), stemming from the root to “rise up”. “Plucking heads” is “m’lilot,” the verb being “malol” (m.l.l. mem, lamed, lamed) and means “to scrape or to break into crumbs”.  And so, we read in Luke 6:1: “And it happened on the second chief Sabbath, He passed along through the sown fields. And His disciples plucked the heads and were eating, rubbing with the hands”. 

The next chapter (24) takes us to a broken relationship between husband and wife. “When a man has taken a wife and married her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found a thing of uncleanness in her, and he writes her a bill of divorce and puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house” (v. 1 italics added). “A bill of divorce” is “sefer k’ritut”, literally “a book of cutting off”.  This bill, therefore, becomes an instrument of severing the relationship, much like a hatchet. “A thing of uncleanness” is “ervat davar”, literally “the nakedness/exposure [erva] of something” (the same term appears also in 23:14 as “unclean thing”). In a marriage relationship whatever has been covered up is naturally exposed and revealed just prior to the time of severance.  The root of “erva”, literally nakedness, a.r.h (ayin, resh, hey), also lends itself to the verb to “pour out”. It is used in this way in Yishayahu (Isaiah) 53:12, in the description of the Messiah: “And with the strong He shall divide the spoil; because He poured out [he’era] His soul to death” (italics added). Likewise, Philippians 2:7 says about Him that, “He emptied Himself and took the form of a bondservant”. Thus, in pouring out or emptying Himself, and in being exposed (desecrated) Yeshua covered up our nakedness. 

At the very beginning of our Parasha, we encountered a different type of man-woman relationship than the one just discussed. It involved a man who in the course of the war has taken captive a woman whom he has found desirable. If after having taken her as a wife, he no longer desires her he is admonished not to sell her for money, nor “to treat her brutally” (21:14). Similarly, in chapter 24:7 we are told that, “if a man is found kidnapping any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and mistreats him or sells him, then that kidnapper shall die”.  In both cases, the terms “treat brutally” and “mistreat” are translations of “hit’amer”, of the root (a.m.r) ayin, mem, resh which is to “collect, glean, reap advantage”. The Torah is very strict in regards to using humans as merchandise or commodities for one’s advantage and monetary gain, hence the capital punishment inflicted on the above kidnapper. By contrast, in the following verse, we are admonished (24:19): “When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the YHVH your Elohim may bless you in all the work of your hands” (italics added). The “sheaf” mentioned is “omer”, of the same root that we have just encountered for “treating brutally”. Thus, rather than “reap advantage” from someone else’s life, you are to sustain the needy by letting him ‘take advantage’ of your forgetfulness. 

Verse 20 follows on the heels of 19 (of chapter 24) and is similar to the former: “When you beat your olive tree, you shall not search the bough behind you. It shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow”. The word for “bough” is “pu’ara”, of the root “p’er” (p.e.r, pey, alef, resh), which is also “beauty or glory”. Yishayahu (Isaiah) 60:21 is very appropriate in this connection, reading as it does: “And your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the earth forever, a branch of My planting, a work of My hands, to beautify [lehitpa’er] Myself” (italics added). And although the boughs have been broken, the Olive Tree of Yisrael, when fully redeemed is destined to be glorious unto YHVH (ref. Is. 44:23), especially if the people of Yisrael, with the Torah, inscribed on their hearts, will follow the above injunction of generosity and kindness to the alien, orphan, and widow. 

When dried up and dead - as Yisrael’s stick/tree had become - the collective outcry went forth: “Our bones are dried, and our hope is perished; we are cut off to ourselves” (Ez. 37:11). Yet redemption was to enable resurrection. This principle is captured in the precept delineated in 25:5-10, where if a man dies leaving no offspring, his widow is to marry his brother, and together they are to have a child who will be considered the firstborn of the dead brother, in order to raise up “… the dead brother's name, and his name shall not be wiped out of Israel” (v. 6). We have already studied (above and in other places) the word “kum” (also “makom”, place) - “to stand up, rise”. Here its usage, as the “raising up” of a name for the dead brother, connotes “resurrection” and in Modern Hebrew “t’kuma” (of the same root).



* The conjunction “ki” is used very frequently in Dvarim. Many sections open up with “if” or “when”, in both cases being a translation of “ki,” which at times is also translated as “for.”

[1] New Studies in Devarim, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.

[2] Devarim with Daat Mikrah Commentary, Pub. Mossad Harav Kook, Jm. 2001.

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