SPARKS OF TORAH
VOLUME 62 NUMBER 6
August 31, 2012
13 Elul, 5772
PARSHAS KI SEITZEI
Candle-lighting Time: 7:15 PM
This week’s edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated in honor of a speedy recovery for Yehuda Leib ben Faiga Rivka.
You’re Tired, You’re Weary
by Rabbi Raphael Leban
As a child I wondered what was so wrong about Marie Antoinette’s immortal statement, “Let them eat cake.” I like cake. What’s wrong with the French Queen telling the people to have some cake?
The answer, of course, was the situation to which she was responding, “Your Highness, the people have no bread!” I guess sensitivity to the general populace wasn’t something that came naturally to French royalty.
It hopefully ought to come naturally to us, however. If it doesn’t for some reason, this week’s parsha should help considerably.
In Parshas Ki Setzei, there are heaping tablespoons of mitzvos that command us to be sensitive. There’s the mitzvah to help your friend aright his fallen donkey (the ancient equivalent of changing his flat tire). There’s the mitzvah not to place a stumbling block in front of a blind person. There’s the mitzvah to return someone’s lost object. There’s even a commandment not to pretend like you didn’t really see that lost object thereby avoiding having to pick it up and return it.
There’s a mitzvah not to hitch two different kinds of animals to one yolk together, which would potentially make them uncomfortable. There’s a mitzvah not to prevent an employee (or even an animal) that’s working in your field from eating the fruits of the field he’s working in. And there’s a mitzvah for the employee not to eat while he’s actually working (just while he’s walking between the rows).
There’s a mitzvah not to withhold the wages of a poor employee overnight, and if a poor person needs to borrow some money with the shirt on their backs as collateral, there’s a mitzvah to return the collateral to them so they can wear it. And on and on and on. The parsha is loaded with mitzvos that teach us to be sensitive to others, particularly to the needy and impoverished.
And then, last but not least, at the end of the parsha comes a mitzvah that stands out from the crowd—the mitzvah to wipe out the nation of Amalek. How seemingly inconsistent and unimaginable that the very same Torah that teaches us the utmost in human sensitivity across the spectrum of our behavior also commands us to rid the world of a nation of people. In the very same parsha!
The Torah is hardly a book of barbaric laws and rules. Quite the opposite, it’s nothing less than the handbook of model behavior for all humanity. For Amalek to be singled out for such radically different treatment, there must be something critically important that Amalek represents, something so absolutely unacceptable, that we have no choice but to eradicate it.
If we read the words that the Torah uses to describe Amalek, perhaps we can zero in on it. The verse says, “Remember what Amalek did to you… He came upon you while you were on the road from Egypt, and viciously attacked the stragglers of your camp, while you were tired and weary, and he showed total disregard for God.” Why does the Torah need to emphasize that we were tired and weary? Would it have been OK to viciously attack us if we were peppy and energetic?
Amalek represents lack of sensitivity—the extreme opposite of the guiding principle of Parshas Ki Seitzei and of the whole Torah. Over and over again the Torah commands us with mitzvos that train us in sensitivity, to the poor, to the impoverished, to the unfortunate, to strangers, even to animals. Be sensitive, be concerned, take care of the needs of the needy.
Amalek attacked that very sector of our people, the stragglers at the back, when they were tired and weary. Instead of picking them up and helping them along, they attacked them. That’s total disregard for God’s Will for mankind. That needs to be eradicated from the world.
Today we see more opportunities to express our concern for a fellow human being in distress than we care to see. There are many people in dire need today, in America, in Israel and around the world. May we each assume our holy charge and enthusiastically live up to the ideals of Parshas Ki Seitzei. Serve ‘em cake!
A World of Mitzvos
by Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum
The parsha describes a scenario where two people marry and unfortunately the relationship goes sour. The husband begins to hate his wife and as a result he slanders her that she committed an adulterous act.
Although unfortunate, we could certainly understand this event and how it unfolded based upon the normal course of human relationships. When two people cannot get along, it is not unusual for one of them to speak ill of the other. However, our Sages offer a startling insight cited by Rashi, the quintessential Torah commentator.
He explains that when the husband began to hate his wife, he transgressed the prohibition stated in the Torah that one is not allowed to hate his fellow Jew. Subsequently, one sin led to another and he transgressed the prohibition of not speaking slanderously about another person, in this case his wife. In last week’s parsha there is a similar comment mentioned by Rashi. When the Torah states the case of the person who killed with intent and therefore is not allowed to flee to one of the Cities of Refuge, the verse is prefaced with the opening introduction that the killer hated the victim, and subsequently ambushed him and murdered him. Again the assertion is made that since this individual transgressed the sin of hating his fellow Jew, this led him to murder the other as a result.
It comes as no surprise to us that if someone hated someone, they may eventually come to kill them. This unfortunately occurs today all too often. Yet, our Sages understood this in a totally different fashion. It is the transgression of Hashem’s will that leads a person to the next level and to murder his nemesis, not the hatred.
What lesson can we glean from our Sages’ understanding of human behavior? We see that the chief factor in a Jewish person’s behavior is his soul, not his brain or his heart. Although we may believe that our decisions are purely rationale or entirely emotional or a combination of both, in fact our choices stem from our soul that influences our mind and heart.
If we follow this way of thinking, we would appreciate how vital it is for a person to vigilantly care for the wellbeing of his soul. The healthier one’s soul is, the better the individual will function. Indeed, the Talmud relates an incident with one of the great Sages of the Mishnah. He encountered the great Roman general Vespasian and in the course of their conversation he was dumbfounded and unable to respond to a question that he was asked. The Talmud attributes his lack of mental acuity to the fact that we are in exile and therefore we do not function as well as we should. In fact, this is further based upon a verse from the prophet Yeshaya.
Now we can begin to appreciate the greatness of our Sages both of yesteryear and today as well. One may wonder why it is that we rely upon our Rabbinic leaders to decide issues which seem not really to pertain to them. Do the Sages really have the ability to decide whether or not we should draft Yeshiva students into the military? The ability to address such issues of consequence is not dependent on a person’s station, but rather on the health of one’s soul.
Byte For Shabbos
BYTE FOR SHABBOS
There is a mitzvah to be an honest employee, which alludes to our obligation to serve G-d honestly and faithfully. There is also a mitzvah to be a good employer, such as paying our employees daily. This suggests that each day is a new experience and that we must constantly review our obligations to G-d and attempt to improve our fulfillment of them.
Question for the Rabbis
By Rabbi Mordechai Becher, reprinted with permission from www.partersintorah.org.
“You must not keep in your house two different measures, one large and one small” (Deuteronomy 25:14). One must not have inaccurate weights and measure in one’s home, even if one is not planning on using them for business (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Theft, 7:3). Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Weiss was asked if it is permitted to allow children to play with real scales and measuring devices that are inaccurate. He responded that it is only permitted if the parents affix a note or sign to the measuring device that it is not accurate and should not be used for any transactions (based on Bava Batra 89b). However, he cites authorities who permit owning an inaccurate measuring device that is obviously a toy, or one that is clearly only used for cooking and not for transactions (Responsa Minchat Yitzchak 10:149).
Joke of the Week
Why do you put band-aids in the fridge?
For cold cuts.