(largely built from 2015’s and 2016’s comments)
Last week: an overall vision of a just and compassionate society and a framework within which it can be carried out. The Israelites were commanded to pursue justice and sweep away evil. This week: Details. Several dozen laws that should enable such a society. Every commentator, in ancient, medieval, and modern times, tries to interpret these laws both in their original context and in their contemporaneous application, even to situations that did not exist in Biblical times.
Maimonides identified either 72 or 74 laws in Ki Tetse, depending on the reference. Here’s a link to the 613 commandments (mitzvot) in the Torah, according to Maimonides, organized by the weekly Torah portion (with 74 in Ki Tetse): http://www.vaadrv.org/ rambam613mitzvot.asp .
The laws concern:
- Family and sexual relationships:captive war brides, the rights of the first-born of a less-favored wife (if there are two or more wives, you can be certain one will be less favored), what to do with (to) an irredeemably rebellious son, questioning the virginity of one’s bride, seduction versus rape, remarrying the wife you divorced (don’t), marrying your father’s former wife (don’t), exemption from military service for newlyweds, being punished (i.e., by a court) for the sins of your children or parents;
- Care of those on the fringes(poor, widows, fatherless) and consideration of the community: lost property, helping your neighbor with his fallen ox, runaway slaves (don’t return them), kidnapping, the rights of the stranger, taking advantage of a widow’s poverty, leaving a forgotten sheaf in the field; building a parapet for your roof to prevent falls, military camp hygiene;
- Fair business practices: loan interest, sampling grapes and grain in another’s field, prompt payment of wages, loans, interest, taking something necessary to one’s livelihood (like a handmill) in pawn, abuse of needy laborers; and
- Practices of head-scratching origin and/or related more directly to pleasing the Lord: treatment of the corpse after an execution (bury it that day), crossdressing (don’t), taking a mother bird with her nestlings (don’t), cult prostitutes, forbidden mixtures (two types of seed sown in a vineyard, an ox yoked with an ass for plowing, cloth made of wool and linen), fringes on a four-cornered garment (tzitzit), prompt fulfillment of vows to the Lord; and men who cannot marry Israelite women (having specified genital damage, born of adultery or incest, Moabites, Ammonites) or can after 3 generations (Edomites)
Laws are promulgated to shape behavior in both a general and specific sense. But these laws imply more. It’s not just obedience, but obedience directed toward a spiritual end, even in mundane matters. For example, the body is regarded as whole and perfect, but what it discharges is not. Thus, a soldier must leave the camp after a nocturnal emission and be ritually purified, and excrement must be buried outside the camp.
The portion concludes with the command to remember Amalek and his attack on the weak rear guard of the Israelites after the Exodus. “Amalek” has become a designation for an enemy of Israel or the Jewish people. We read these verses some months ago, right before Purim.
A few words about the haftarot we’ve been reading, the seven Haftarot of Consolation between Tisha B’Av and Rosh Hashanah. The 14th c. sage Rabbi David Abudarham described the seven as a dialogue (see Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Devarim, pp. 154-5). In the first, Isaiah 40:1-26, the Lord commands the prophets to comfort the people. Then, in Isaiah 49:14 – 51:3, Zion wails that the Lord has forsaken her. Next, in Isaiah 54:11 – 55:5 , the Lord recognizes Zion’s inability to be consoled. The next three involve increasing levels of comforting: ‘I am He that comforts you!’ in Isaiah 51:12 – 52:12; ‘Sing, O barren one!’ in Isaiah 54:1-10; and, in Isaiah 60:1-22, ‘Arise, shine, for your light has dawned.’ In the seventh haftarah, Isaiah 61:10 – 63:9, Israel rejoices. We have to get all 7 in by Rosh Hashanah. So, if you read the Shabbat Rosh Chodesh haftarah 2 weeks ago instead of #3, you read both #3 and #5 this week. If you read #3 then instead, you just read #5 this week.
We are well into the month of Elul now, a time of contemplation and self-examination. And the shofar is blown on weekdays to remind us that the High Holy Days are on the way.
The Lost & Found Wallet
A poor Jew finds a wallet with seven hundred dollars. At his shul he reads a notice stating that a wealthy Jew has lost his wallet and is offering a fifty dollar reward to anyone who returns it. Quickly he locates the owner giving him the wallet.
The rich man counts the money and says, “I see you have already taken your reward.”
The poor man responds, “What are you talking about?”
The wealthy Jew continues, “This wallet had seven hundred and fifty dollars in it when I lost it.”
The two men begin arguing, and eventually they come before the community Rav.
Both men present their case. The poor man first, then the wealthy man who concludes by saying, “Rabbi, I trust you believe me.”
The rabbi says, “Of course.” The rich man smiles, and the poor man is devastated. Then the rabbi takes the wallet out of the wealthy man’s hands and gives it to the poor man who found it.
“What are you doing?!” the rich man yells angrily.
The rabbi responds, “You are, of course, an honest man, and if you say that you’re missing wallet had seven hundred and fifty dollars in it, I’m sure it did. But if the man who found this wallet is a liar and a thief, he wouldn’t have returned it at all. Which means that this wallet must belong to somebody else. If that man steps forward, he’ll get the money. Otherwise, it stays with the man who found it.”
“What about my money?” the rich man asks.
“Well, we’ll just have to wait until somebody finds a wallet with seven hundred fifty dollars in it!”
In 2007, I wrote here about a published patent application for a ritual garment with retractable tzitzit, U.S. 20060277646, “Garment with retractable fringes”. I thought I’d check back to see if a patent ever issued from the application. Lo and behold, it issued on April 26, 2011 as U.S. Patent No. 7,930,769, “Garment with retractable fringes ” to one Thomas Stern of Brooklyn, New York.
So, I thought I’d see if anyone might be selling (or trying to sell) such a contraption. And I found http://www.ezlifttzitzit.com/ :
WHY WEAR RETRACTABLE TZITZIT
The E-Z Lift Tzitzit© are the best Tzitzit to wear because:
By respecting the kedusha (sanctity) of the Tzitzit strings it is a hiddur (beautification) of the mitzvah.
Retracting the Tzitzit during sports activities (cycling, etc.) equals less danger of health hazards.
The Tzitzit are prevented from getting soiled or otherwise ruined in the bathroom.
Unfortunately, the “Order” button doesn’t work.
No drinking vow, no smoking vow
What happens when Grandma makes her grandson swear to never take a drink
A Grandmother was talking to her young grandson, trying to explain the dangers of smoking. “Now Johnny,” she said, “you have to promise Grandma that, once you’re a grown man, you will never smoke, and never drink.”
“Never, Grandma?” asked little Johnny.
“Never, boy, not even once,” replied the grandmother.
With his eyes wide as saucers, Johnny asked “But won’t I get thirsty?”