This week our parasha is Ki Teitzei, which means “When You Go Out”, and covers Deuteronomy 21:10–25:19. Parasha Ki Teizei covers a large variety of topics and has 74 different commandments. This morning I would like to focus on a few of the commandments of this parasha.
Woven through the many different topics of parasha Ki Teitzei is the idea of fairness. Many of the situations in this parasha deal with people of unequal social standing or the potential exploitation of others. Each circumstance required a different command by the Lord. These commands, unlike the systems of law and justice created by human beings, were without corruption.
I emphasize this truth because there are laws in our parasha concerning female captives of war, how children from multiple wives should be treated, and various kinds of divorce. Over the centuries atheists and others have used these passages to attack the character of Adonai and the reliability of Scripture.
Their reason is that many of these commandments, viewed through our modern standards, can seem strange, cruel, or even disgusting. There is a term for this sort of thinking, Presentism, where we read back our own view of morality on a historical text. We judge those we read and claim if we had lived during these times we would have acted in a better way.
The truth of course is that human beings have not changed much since biblical times. During war we do heinous things and many abuse their families in horrendous ways. As for divorce, I am reminded of the couple scrambling to divide their beanie babies during the 90’s craze, from a giant pile in the middle of a divorce courtroom.
These commandments were not put in place as an endorsement of the practices they dealt with. But like the laws regarding kings in Israel, they are a framework that helps protect those who are most vulnerable. In comparison to surrounding biblical cultures and even many cultures today, the laws of God were very progressive. These laws emphasized a need to protect those who could not protect themselves.
One example from this parasha is if a slave from another nation came to Israel, they were not to be sent away to go back into captivity. Instead, they were invited to become a member of our people and were not to be oppressed. Compare that law to the “Fugitive Slave Act” which mandated slaves who fled to northern states be sent back to the south. While slavery existed in ancient Israel it was very different from the practice of slavery in America.
God’s fairness is also shown in how he detests having multiple sets of weights and measures. In our business dealings, we had to be fair and not try to swindle others or have double standards.
The Lord even had concern for fairness with animals in the field. We were instructed not to muzzle our oxen while it was working in the fields, it deserved to enjoy the fruit of its work and have food from the field.
The laws of God in this parasha also emphasize justice and mercy. There is an emphasis on justice, such as the need to remove evil from our people, and the need for punishment for sinful behavior. But there is also an emphasis on mercy, in Deuteronomy 24:16, we read that parents are not to be put to death for their children’s sins. In this chapter, we also read that a person should be paid their wages promptly, especially if they are poor and need them. It was also a sin to take advantage of a widow, orphan, or foreigner. These were the people most likely to be disenfranchised in society and without a voice to defend themselves. The Lord in his mercy gave special laws for these groups of people to help protect them from those who had more power.
So, to summarize, why are we given such laws in parasha Ki Teitzei? Because it is our fallen nature to not deal fairly, justly, or with mercy. These laws were given because the Lord knew that without them our people would commit serious sins against ourselves and others. Most likely the poor and the vulnerable would be exploited and there would be less order in our society.
We have seen in human history the incredibly destructive force of bad government and laws. We have seen horrendous violations of basic human rights under totalitarian regimes, whether they are communist or Islamic as examples. It was for these reasons the Lord demanded that our people act differently from the pagan societies surrounding us. Because these commands came from God and not human beings our laws were not filled with loopholes and special privileges that could be exploited by the powerful. From the king, down to the lowliest beggar, all were expected to follow the laws of God and all are judged by the law for our failure to keep it, from the big to the small.
Our failure to follow Adonai’s commandments is not an issue with His standard, but an issue with us. God’s law does not bend to our desires or wants, we must bend to it. The fact of the matter is that all of us have failed to keep Adonai’s commands, especially the two greatest commandments, to love God with the totality of who we are and to love our neighbors as ourselves. God’s commandments are fair, just, and merciful, but we all fall short of the standard and deserve the punishment for our sins. Thanks be to the Lord for the mercy He has provided for us through Messiah Yeshua!
Parasha Ki Teitzei ends with a reminder to fully follow the commands of Adonai and to not forget them. May the Lord enable us to learn from His Word the lessons and commands He has given us, and to not forget who He is and what He has done for us.