Ki Tetze (When You Go Out)
Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19; Isaiah 54:1-10; Luke 23:1-25; 1 Corinthians 5:1-5
“When you go out [ki tetze] to war against your enemies, and the LORD your God gives them into your hand and you take them captive …” (Deuteronomy 21:10)
Last week, Parasha Shoftim focused on the concept of judges, judgment and justice.
The title of this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tetze (when you go out) is derived from the Hebrew root word yatsa, meaning to leave, go or come out. This refers to the children of Israel who have left Egypt and now find themselves standing at the brink of entering the Promised Land in fulfillment of God’s promise.
In this Parasha, God gives the Israelites a series of laws that mostly govern civil and domestic life.
This group of laws is intended to build a just community of people who are not only concerned with their own well-being, but also with the well-being of others. God wants His people to demonstrate mercy and kindness to everyone, especially those who are powerless, helpless or oppressed.
These include female captives of war, strangers and foreigners, destitute laborers, refugee slaves, the children of an unloved wife, and the poorest of society—orphans and widows.
Israel displaying righteous conduct and showing friendship toward non-Jews is considered an act of holiness, since the goodness of the God of Israel is then revealed to the outside world.
The concept of friendship is very important in Judaism. The Hebrew word for friend, chaver, comes from the word chibbur, meaning to be attached or joined. It can also mean to be a member of a club, society or group; therefore, to become a chaver means we find a place of belonging and acceptance.
In order to translate this ideal of a caring, moral community into reality, God’s Word provides regulations for a diversity of situations—everything from the ban on cross gender dressing to respect for birds and animals.
Creating Godly Community
The laws written in this Parasha may seem disconnected and unrelated, but they collectively represent the expected behavior of a community under God’s authority.
For example, throughout the Torah, God is very concerned that everyone and everything unclean, impure and capable of defiling the community is kept outside of the camp. And because “bad company corrupts good character,” God also keeps corrupting influences contained such as those who steal, lie, cheat, commit adultery, and even children who are unruly.
The Torah reveals that godly children are important for carrying forward God’s laws and blessings into the next generations and, therefore, the community is also responsible to give input in the raising of children.
The whole community is to be involved in dealing with a rebellious, stubborn young person who is a drunkard and glutton.
In ancient times, Biblical law called for such a youth to be stoned to death after several warnings; however, it is possible that this penalty was never evoked against a son of Israel. It is clear, though, that God’s intention is to separate such behavior from the rest of the community.
“So shall you put away the evil from the midst of you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.” (Deuteronomy 21:21)
God is also concerned with fairness in business dealings, so Ki Tetze provides laws about the inheritance rights of the firstborn, divorce, borrowing and lending money, and the returning of lost objects.
It also outlines the penalty for involuntary enslavement: “If someone is caught kidnapping a fellow Israelite and treating or selling them as a slave, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you.” (Deuteronomy 24:7)
Even the covering of excrement is dealt with in the Torah:
“For the Lord your God moves about in your camp to protect you and to deliver your enemies to you. Your camp must be holy, so that He will not see among you anything indecent and turn away from you.” (Deuteronomy 23:14)
This Parasha also emphasizes the importance of getting a good start in a marriage.
A man is not to be sent to war for one year after marriage; he is to stay home and make his new bride happy. What newlyweds would not want a year-long honeymoon?
This law reiterates not only the lovingkindness of God but also the importance He places on the sacredness of the marriage covenant (Deuteronomy 24:5).
A variety of marriage relationships are discussed, including the marrying of women captured in conquest, Levirate marriages (where a deceased man’s brother is obligated to marry his widow), and marriages with two wives.
Although the law of Moses allows for more than one wife (possibly due to shortage of Jewish men), every instance of polygamy in the Tanakh is associated with strife.
Monogamy, however, is the ideal form of marriage created by God for Adam and Eve.
God confirms in the Haftarah how this is true for His bride, Israel.
God’s Faithfulness to His Bride
The corresponding Haftarah (prophetic portion) discusses marriage through the prophet Isaiah’s poetic portrayal of God and Israel as a husband-wife metaphor.
“For your Maker [עֹשַׂ֔יִךְ] is your husband [בֹעֲלַ֙יִךְ֙]—the Lord Almighty is His name—the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; He is called the God of all the earth.” (Isaiah 54:5)
In Hebrew, it is possible to say the word “your” in four ways: singular, plural, male and female depending on who you are talking to. In this passage, the word youris the singular feminine suffix ךְ. Israel as a people is one monogamous bride.
While Jerusalem is called a “barren woman,” Israel is compared to the wife who is left abandoned and broken-hearted, whom the Lord will call back to intimacy.
“The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—a wife who married young, only to be rejected, says your God.” (Isaiah 54:6)
God makes it clear in this Haftarah that His anger against her unfaithfulness to Him was only for a short time:
“‘For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid My face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,’ says the Lord your Redeemer.” (Isaiah 54:7–8)
We have been seeing this promise unfold as the Jewish People are drawn from around the world to come back to the Promised Land. As well, we can also see God’s Spirit moving among His people as many begin to open their hearts and eyes to the truth of who their Messiah really is.
Laws written in this Parasha are also concerned with personal protection and form the basis of modern construction safety codes.
Homeowners and builders are commanded to construct railings or walls on a flat roof to prevent accidental falls. Failure to do so is considered a criminal act of negligence and the owner found guilty of murder if a person falls off and is killed (Deuteronomy 22:8).
In Judaism, this regulation has been extended to the concept that we must construct a personal wall around ourselves to ensure that we do not fall into sin.
For example, a man would refrain from spending personal time alone with a woman other than his wife in order to prevent the possibility of carelessly entering temptation. The book of Proverbs is full of such precautionary wisdom, issuing warnings, such as the admonition to young men to avoid even walking past the home of a woman with loose morals.
Similarly, a person who has a tendency toward abusing alcohol wisely chooses to avoid situations or places where alcohol is served.
And in a day and age when being online can become an addiction or a gateway for sin, a wise parent may monitor Internet use and insist that their child use the computer in an open space of the home rather than a private bedroom.
Setting these kinds of boundaries is both prudent and Biblical.
Remember the Amalekites
Although God is slow to anger, compassionate, and merciful, there is one people group so wicked that He does not extend this grace to them—the Amalekites.
Although we are never to hold a grudge against people personally, in this Parasha God warns Israel to never forget what Amalek did to them when they left Egypt:
“Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. When the Lord your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land He is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!” (Deuteronomy 25:17–19)
After the Holocaust, when the Nazis tried to destroy all the Jews of Europe and almost succeeded, “Never Forget” became the motto of the Jewish People. They keep the memory alive, not to perpetually hate the murderers but to remember what the spirit of genocide and evil against Jews is capable of accomplishing.
By remembering the signs of that evil spirit, hopefully steps can be taken to prevent and stop another genocide when the same signs arise again.
Nevertheless, the same spirit that inhabited Amalek and the Nazis lives on, especially in the people who surround Israel and plot to annihilate the Jewish People.
They do so even though the Bible clearly says that those who seek to end Israel and the Jewish People will meet their end.
Although a fragile peace now exists between Gaza and Israel, Hamas is still vocally promising Palestinians that they will deliver to them the Promised Land.
And outside of Israel, many Jews must cope with threats, beatings, and sometimes killings as a result of hearts full of anti-Semitism.
Through all of the hatred, plotting, and killings, God promises He will never forsake His people, Israel, but will always show unfailing love and kindness to her. His covenant of peace will never be removed.
“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet My unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor My covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” (Isaiah 54:10)