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Parasha Ki Tetze (When You Go Out): Love, Discipline, and the Good Shepherd

Ki Tetze (When You Go Out)
Deuteronomy 21:10–25:19; Isaiah 54:1–10; 1 Corinthians 5:1–5

“When you go forth [ki tetze] to battle against your enemies and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands…”  (Deuteronomy 21:10) 

IDF soldiers-Western Wailing Wall-prayer-Kotel

Israel Defense Forces soldiers pray at the Western Wall.  When it comes to the defense of the nation of Israel, the Bible provides insight into Godly military code and conduct, including age, qualifications and exemptions, the rules of engagement, the humane treatment of prisoners, and prohibitions against destroying fruit trees.

Last week, in Parasha Shoftim, we examined the concept of judges, judgment and justice.

This week’s Parasha (Torah portion) begins with God’s expectations that we treat people, including female captives of war, with kindness, respect, and human decency.

For instance, if an Israelite soldier saw a beautiful woman among those taken captive during battle, and desired her for a wife, he was first required to allow her to grieve for a full month the bitterness of her captivity.

Even if he didn’t want her afterward, he needed to let her go her own way and couldn’t sell her or treat her as a slave (Deuteronomy 21:10–14).


A woman prays at the Western (Wailing) Wall.

When we hear of the brutal raping and inhumane treatment to which Christian women in Egypt, the Palestinian territories, and elsewhere in the Muslim world, as well as conquered women throughout the nations are subjected to today, it’s comforting to know God’s mind on the subject.

He has made it the duty of every Israeli soldier to show kindness and respect to women, even if they are from the enemy camp.

God’s laws command kindness toward all people, even slaves, and also toward animals.  Animal cruelty is forbidden in Judaism.

“A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.”  (Proverbs 12:10)


A shepherd feeds his sheep.

In fact, even Abraham’s servant chose a wife for Isaac based on her kindness in offering water to his camels when he asked for water from the well.

Although people may be cruel, God is kind.  His loving kindness is, in fact, better than life!  (Psalm 63:3) 

Bat mitzvah, Torah reading, Torah scroll

Bat mitzvah girl reading Torah

While we see the kind, compassionate, merciful nature of God in His instruction regarding the humane treatment of female captives of war in this Parasha, a few verses later, the harsher side of God’s justice seems to emerge in the issue of disciplining stubborn, rebellious children.

God commands parents of rebellious sons to bring them to the men of the city to be stoned to death.

This harsh penalty was only to be used as a last resort for sons who were drunkards and gluttons, who stubbornly refused to be corrected, despite their parents’ repeated chastening.

It was for a grown son who was utterly stubborn and rebellious toward his parents—and thereby God—was meant to serve as a powerful warning to wayward children.

Mea shearim-neighborhood-Jerusalem

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish children in Mea Shearim, a neighborhood in Jerusalem.

“So shall you put away the evil from the midst of you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear [yare].”  (Deuteronomy 21:21)

The Hebrew word yare translated here as “fear” literally means psychological fear in the absolute sense and not awe or respect as some might suppose, although in other instances it can mean revere or awe (Exodus 34:30; Psalm 33:8).

This, of course, by no means advocates that we brutalize or stone our “prodigal sons” to death!  Chas v’chalilah!  (God forbid!)

In fact, the Jewish sages tell us that this law was never carried out.  An important principle, however, is involved here that is meant to grab our attention.

The presence of this law in the Torah emphasizes that rebellion and disobedience to parents is taken very seriously by God.

Indeed, the letter to the Ephesians reminds us to “Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.”  (Ephesians 6:2–3)


Mother with children holding English/Hebrew version of the Torah

Casting the First Stone

Other sins also carried the stoning penalty, including adultery.  We can see in Scripture that adulterers were punished by stoning them to death in Biblical times.

In John’s gospel, Yeshua (Jesus) did not forbid stoning when it came to punishing the woman caught in adultery; however, He did tell the people standing ready with stones in their hands, “Let he who has no sin cast the first stone.”   (John 8:7)

Through this example, Yeshua taught us that we need to examine our own hearts and our own lives before we exercise judgment and punishment.

Parents can learn from Yeshua’s example as it illumines how they are to relate to their children.

The task of raising children to honor and obey the authorities over them—parents, teachers, law enforcement officers, and ultimately God Himself—is of the utmost importance, and it does require that parents search themselves for hidden sin.


Torah scroll

Some children are easier to train than others.  Children who are compliant, obedient, and eager-to-please are a joy and a delight.

However, parents may have been blessed with strong-willed children who are a colossal challenge.  How are these children a blessing, you might wonder?

These are the children who push parents to the absolute end of themselves, leading parents to seek God and cry out for His mercy.

They may seem to bring out the worst in parents and in everyone around them, but this also has an upside, since it shines a light in the darkness that lurks hidden in a parent’s heart.

The Return of the Prodigal Son-Pompeo Batoni

The Return of the Prodigal Son, by Pompeo Batoni

Discipline Is Love

In the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32), Yeshua shows a sense of compassion and mercy in the case of a wayward son.

Through this parable He reveals the heart of God toward the lost, and how He views the return of rebellious children:

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”  (Luke 15:20)

Notice that although the father loved his rebellious son and was filled with compassion for him, he didn’t rescue him from the consequences of his sinful choices.  He patiently waited for the son to “come to his senses” and return home.

Although we must diligently discipline our children when they are young, we can also allow them to learn through suffering the consequences of their actions, especially as they grow older.

Men-praying-Wailing Wall

Men praying at Wailing Wall

The Book of Proverbs states that if we fail to discipline our children, we don’t love them, but hate them:

“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.”  (Proverbs 13:24)

If we don’t teach our children to obey authority, restrain their passions, and consider other people, we do them no favors.

Nevertheless, we must take care that we don’t abuse our authority and thereby, provoke them to wrath (Ephesians 6:4).


A Jewish father prays with his son at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

Most parents have heard the adage “Spare the rod, and you will spoil the child,” which arises from the advice in the Book of Proverbs to use rebuke and the rod to correct children.

“The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother….  Correct your son, and he will give you rest; yes, he will give delight to your soul.”  (Proverbs 29:15, 17)

When it comes to disciplining children, failure is not an option.

In the First Book of Samuel, the soft-hearted high priest Eli failed to discipline his sons, who had cast off all restraint.  Because of this, judgment fell on the house of Eli.  He lost the priesthood and his sons died young (1 Samuel 2:34).

The Rod of the Good Shepherd

In the Bible, the rod is a symbol of authority.

The word for rod in Hebrew is not makel, which means stick.  Rather it’s shevet, which is translated rod, branch, and scepter.  The rod was used by the shepherd to safeguard the sheep.


Flock of sheep in Israel

Every shepherd of Israel had a rod (shevet) and staff that were used to guide, protect, and set boundaries for the sheep.  The shepherd used the rod to drive away predators like coyotes and wolves.  He didn’t use his rod to beat his sheep.

Psalm 23 says, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…  Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

Yeshua said, “I am the Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd gives his life for his sheep.”   (John 10:11)

Yeshua, the Good Shepherd, carefully watches over the welfare of His flock.  He gave His very life for His sheep.

His rod (shevet) and staff are our comfort when walking through the valley of the shadow of death, as He leads us to the green pastures and still waters of eternal life.

Young children also need this kind of sacrificial shepherding from their parents so that they don’t stray into paths where they could be injured or destroyed.


Praying together: Father and son at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem

Marriage and Divorce

Several other laws are discussed in this Parasha, including instructions about burying criminals promptly after execution, restoring lost property, the prohibition of men wearing woman’s apparel, and divorce.

When it comes to marriage and divorce, God considers the marriage bond holy.

In His mercy, however, He makes provision for our weak humanity.  Although God hates divorce, in some cases such as adultery, He made concessions.

Despite the ease with which the marital vow in Jewish law can be dissolved, there is a strong sense of community that sustains Jewish couples and families.


Newlywed Jewish couple

Haftarah (Prophetic Portion of Scripture)

“For the mountains may depart, and the hills be removed; but My kindness shall not depart from you, neither shall My covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord that has compassion on you.”  (Isaiah 54:10)

In this week’s Haftarah portion, God pledges through the Prophet Isaiah His everlasting kindness.

God’s anger is momentary but His kindness is forever!

Just as He swore that the flood waters of Noah would never occur again, He swears that He will always have mercy on His people (Isaiah 54:8–9).


A Jewish bride drinks from the kiddish (sanctification) cup during the wedding ceremony.

According to God’s law, because of Israel’s stubborn rebelliousness and unfaithfulness to Him, God could have legally opted to divorce His Bride, Israel.

“When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house…”  (Deuteronomy 24:1)

God, in His mercy, however, has chosen not to divorce Israel, even though she has at times turned to other gods and idols.  Who can fathom this kind of love?

“Return, faithless people,” declares the LORD, “for I am your husband.  I will choose you—one from a town and two from a clan—and bring you to Zion.”  (Jeremiah 3:14)

What’s more, God has provided an eternal covenant of peace between us through Yeshua’s death on the execution stake.

“But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.”  (Isaiah 53:5)

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