Parshat Ki Tetsei

This week is the 5th of the 7 Haftarot of consolation which will eventually lead to Rosh Hashana. A reminder that Rambam Sephardi are at 5:50am at the Elstree Shteible. Sunday mornings start at 7:00am.

Parshat Ki Tetsei is the 6th in the Book of Deuteronomy spanning chapters 21:10-25:19. The parasha contains miscellaneous laws covering one’s public and private life, the famous law of shooing away the mother bird before taking its eggs and concludes with the portion about Amalek read on Purim.

It includes female war captives, inheritance, the wayward son, burying the person given capital punishment, found property, helping someone in distress, rooftop safety, prohibited admixtures, sexual offenses, membership in the congregation, hygiene within the camp, runaway slaves, prostitution, usury, fulfilling vows, gleaning in the field, kidnapping, repossession, prompt payment of wages, court-ordered lashes, treatment of domestic animals, levirate marriage, keeping accurate weights and measures, and remembering to eradicate Amalek.

Comment: Last week’s parasha dealt with the treatment of an enemy during siege and warfare, and ended with the unusual law of the unsolved murder (Eglah Arufah). This week Ki Tetsei begins with the female war captive (Ye’fat To’ar).

Me’am Loez suggests there are 2 reasons for this seeming interruption between laws related to war. The first is that bloodshed is foreign to the Jewish people and thus all efforts must be made to atone for the shedding of innocent blood. The second reason is to suggest that the Jewish people’s success in battle is dependent on their just, moral and ethical behaviour, not on strength of numbers or technology.

It would seem odd then that the Torah permits a soldier to take a female war captive. To this, Rashi comments that G-d understands and grants concessions to human weakness.

Left unregulated, as documentary evidence from this and the last century well proves, the battlefield is a place absent of compassion or morality. The Torah’s laws of the Ye’fat To’ar provide a higher degree of protection than any society offers.

But is that sufficient? Is it enough to claim that Jewish behaviour is the ‘least evil’ of all other nations or should we aspire to a more positive, exemplary standard – resisting battlefield temptation altogether?

This applies to other areas of behaviour as well. Too often we’re happy to live within the confines of the law while what we should be aspiring to is a much higher standard.