Commentary for Ki Teitzei

26 Sep

There are six events that every Jew is required to remember every day: In chronological order of their appearance in the text, they are, Shabbat, the exodus from Egypt, the Amalekites’’ unprovoked assault on the Israelites, receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, the sin of the golden calf, and Miriam’s punishment for gossiping about her brother Moses and his wife.  The obvious question is “what makes these six events so important?”

 

There are many interesting ways to break down these six events for analysis.  Three are positive, and three are negative.  Some are purely human actions, some purely Divine actions, and some are both.  Some are individual actions while others are national actions.

 

One interesting way to look at these events is to first divide them into the positive and negative categories, and then break them down chronologically not by when the events occurred in the Torah, but by when the commandment to remember them occurs.  On the positive side, the first would be the commandment to observe Shabbat (Ex. 20:8), followed by the receiving of the Torah (Deut. 4:9-10), the exodus from Egypt (Deut. 16:3).  On the negative side we would start out with, the sin of the golden calf (Deut. 9:7), followed by Miriam’s gossip (Deut. 24:9) and the commandment to remember the assault of the Amalekites (Deut. 25:17-19), the latter two of which are in this week’s parshah.

 

Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks points out an interesting correlation between the events within the negative group.  It starts out with the sin of the golden calf, which was a sin against God, then Miriam’s gossip, a sin against her fellow humans, and concludes with the unprovoked Amalekite assault, which specifically targeted the rear of the Israelite column, where most of the people were either young, elderly, or infirm.  As the Torah describes it “That he happened upon you on the way and he struck those of you who were hindmost, all the weaklings at your rear, when you were faint and exhausted, and he did not fear God (Deut. 25:18).”  The Amalekite attack combines the two, showing that a lack of fear of God can lead one to not valuing the lives of others.

 

An equally important lesson can be learned from an examination of the three positive events we are commanded to remember.  The first is the Shabbat, and specifically that God created the world in six days but rested on the seventh.  Both Shabbat and the creation whose completion the cessation of work commemorates, are Godly creations.

 

The next event is receiving the Torah.  The verses in which the commandment to remember receiving the Torah appear (Deut. 4:9-10) put a special emphasis on our role in the relationship, which is the observance of the Torah and its propagation to our children.  This task is ours.  God could ensure our obedience and the education of our children, but then our observance would be empty.  We would be no different from the angels, who serve God with no free will of their own, and thus we would be redundant.  God would not have created us with free will if God did not want us to have it.  It is always greater to choose to do the right thing than to be forced to do the right thing without being given a choice.

 

Finally, comes the commandment to remember the exodus from Egypt.  While God’s role in the events is clear and obvious, had the Israelites not wanted to leave, there would have been no exodus.  This great work required a partnership between God and the Israelites or it would not have come to fruition.  Both us and God can undertake great works on our own, but the world is at its best when we are working together.

 

These positive events teach us the benefits of working with God, while the negative ones warn us of the dire consequences of working against God, both for ourselves and for others.  These two simple lessons can be used as guiding principles in any situation, and are worthy of making sure we remember them every day of our lives.

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