Monday, August 21, 2017

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Ki Te’tzeh – D’varim (Deuteronomy) 21:10 – 25:19 with Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Parashat Ki* Te’tzeh (“when you go out…”), consists of lists of commandments, some of which we have encountered earlier on in the Torah. Others are repeated in a modified form, while quite a few are mentioned here for the first time. It should be noted that even though at first glance the various injunctions seem to be placed randomly, a closer study reveals them to be organized in clusters wherein there is a common theme, or some other link which ties them together in each respective group. One such example, where the rulings almost form a story line, is right at the beginning of the Parasha (21:10-23). The first one is a case of a man desiring and marrying a foreign woman taken captive in war, but losing interest in her at a later stage. The next ruling focuses on the rights of the firstborn son of (again) an unloved wife, whose husband has another, favored, wife. From the firstborn son we are taken to a command regarding a rebellious son, whom some of the sages believe to be the offspring of the foreign wife mentioned above. This son’s behavior makes him a ‘candidate’ for stoning, while the following statute deals with a criminal who is sentenced to hanging.  At the very end of the Parasha (in 25:13-16), to mention another example, we read about unjust weights and measures which are detestable in YHVH’s sight (v. 16). The concomitant ruling is a reference to the Amalekites, who are to be completely wiped out because of their ill treatment of Yisrael during the Exodus, which also places them under the category of: “Anyone doing these things is hateful to YHVH your Elohim, everyone acting evilly” (v. 16 again), even though “these things” is actually in reference to using unjust weights. Parashat Ki Te’tzeh illustrates the extent of YHVH’s involvement in every aspect of the Israelites’ life - the individuals as well as the community. In turn, Yisrael is to live life in a manner that is worthy of Him.

The stubborn and rebellious son described in 21:18, 20, according to his own parents’ admittance “will not listen to his father's voice or his mother's voice; even though they discipline him, he will not listen to them.” “Stubborn and rebellious” is “sorer u’moreh”; “sorer” is of the root s.r.h (samech, resh, hey) and means “turn aside, defect, or withdraw.” “Moreh” is of the root m.r.h (mem, resh, hey) meaning, “contentious, defiant, or rebellious.” The type of attitude displayed here issues from the heart and so in Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) 5:23 we read: “To this people there is a revolting/defiant and a rebellious – sorer u’moreh – heart.” This son is further described as “a gluten and a drunkard.”  The latter noun is “soveh,” the root being s.v.a. (samech, bet/vet, alef), recalling, “sovah” (sin/shin, vet, ayin) which is not only close in sound but also in meaning (albeit employing a different spelling). In Parashat Va’yera (see Gen. 21:28-33) we examined this root and found that “satisfaction,” or to “have had enough” (especially in reference to food) is “sovah,” relating to the number "seven" – “sheva.”  By calling the week "shavua" the language points to the fullness and completeness of what Elohim has achieved.  "In Your presence there is fullness ("sova") of joy; I will be satisfied ("es'be'ah") with Your likeness when I awake," (Ps. 16:11; 17:15). Thus, if one is not ‘satisfied’ - “sa’veh’ah” - and chooses to overindulge, he becomes a “soveh.” By making use of similar sounds Hebrew typically points to life’s fine demarcation lines. The rebellious son was to be executed by stoning (ref. 21:21), which is the verb “ragom,” one of several Hebrew terms used to denote this action.

Another stoning was to occur in the event of a young woman who upon marriage was found not to be a virgin (ref. 22:20-21), as well as when “a girl that is a virgin, betrothed to a man, and a man finds her in the city, and lies with her” (v. 23-24). In these cases the stoning is “sakol” (s.k.l, samech, kof, lamed), which means not only to “hurl rocks,” but also to “gather rocks” such as in Yishayahu (Isaiah) 5:2: “My Beloved has a vineyard in a fruitful horn. And He dug it, and cleared it of stones” (italics added). This illustrates again the close proximity between apparent contradictions, of which we shall see another example later on.

Following the prodigal son in 21:20, the text goes on to speak of “a man [who] has committed a sin worthy of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree” (v. 22), appending, “he who is hanged is accursed of Elohim” (v. 23). This, of course, is how Yeshua “redeemed us from the curse of [pronounced in the] Law [for breaking] its laws [or having redeemed us from the “laws of sin and death”], having become a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13).

The next set of injunctions, in chapter 22, focuses on concern for the property of one’s fellow man and his welfare, as well on sensitivity toward YHVH’s creation. “You shall not see your brother's ox or his sheep driven away, and hide yourself from them. You shall surely turn them back to your brother” (v. 1). “You shall hide” here is “hit’a’lamta,” of the root a.l.m (ayin, lamed, mem), and means “hidden or concealed,” and in this context also “disregard, neglect” or “pretend not to see.” It is from this root that we obtain “olam,” which in Biblical Hebrew speaks mostly of “eternity” (future but also past), being indeed concealed and uncharted from man’s vantage point (e.g. Gen. 17:7; Ex. 12:24). One of the Biblical terms for young man is “elem” (and “alma” for a young woman), issuing from the same root (e.g. 1Sam. 17:56; Gen. 24:43); this being the case because their character is still unfolding and their future unknown.

At the other end of this cluster of injunctions we read: “If a bird's nest happens to be before you in the way in any tree, or on the ground, with young ones, or eggs; and the mother is sitting on the young, or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. But in every case you shall let the mother go, and take the young for yourself, so that it may be well with you, and you may prolong your days” (22:6,7 italics added). This somewhat obscure command holds a great promise, like that of the 5th Commandment of the Decalogue, which says: “Honor your father and your mother, as YHVH your Elohim has commanded you, so that your days may be prolonged” (Ex. 20:12, Deut. 5:16). The fact that this promise is common to both these injunctions has puzzled the sages all the way back to Talmudic days. Some of them concur that YHVH’s ways are higher than ours, and therefore various precepts are “passed finding out,” while others maintain that one should not even try and discover whether the Divine commands have reasons or not. On the other hand, Professor Yitzchak Heinemann contends that “it is incumbent on us to detect the finger of God in the wonders of nature and the events of our life, though they will still remain unsolved mysteries, so we must endeavor, as far as possible, to appreciate the wisdom and justice of His commands”. [1] The identical reward for honoring parents and for shooing the mother bird before taking her young, may serve as a clue to a principle which applies to every word spoken in the Torah: “kala k’cha’mura,” meaning that each precept (and/or word), whether insubstantial or weighty, is to be treated equally. Thus, all the way from the weightiest precept to the least esteemed, through those that are ‘in between,’ obedience is equally required, with the result (of so doing) being the same. Our Parasha, to cite another such example, also exhorts us to “have a perfect and just ephah [a measurement]; so that they prolong your days in the land” (25:15 italics added). Applying this principle to YHVH’s commandments, each one is to be ‘weighed’ by the same scale, not denigrating one and estimating another.

Right in between the lost ox and sheep and the nesting bird, is the oft-quoted verse: "A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman's garment, for all who do so are an abomination to YHVH your Elohim” (22:5). This injunction is especially used in order to “prove” the Bible’s disapproval of women wearing pants, or what is thought to be strictly male clothing.  However, this is not what the Hebrew text is expressing. The literal meaning of “lo yi-hi-ye kli gever al isha” is “there shall not be a tool/implement of a man upon a woman,” implying that she is not to carry or wield a tool or any implement which is characteristic of man’s responsibilities. In this case, therefore, Scripture is not concerned with apparel or fashion but with certain types of activities that are to distinguish between men and women! As for the men, in their case they are indeed commanded, plain and simple, not to wear women’s garments.

In 23:7-8 we read: “You shall not despise an Edomite, for he is your brother. You shall not despise an Egyptian, for you were an alien in his land, sons of the third generation that are born to them may enter into the assembly of YHVH.” This directive is in contradistinction to the one relating to the Ammonites and Moabites, who were not to enter the assembly of YHVH even after ten generations. Da’at Mikra ponders: “Why is it that the Torah deals this way with the Edomites, not demanding from them what was demanded of the Moabites and Ammonites, which was to greet Israel with bread and water when they had passed by these peoples’ territories? Because Ya’acov tricked Esav and had wrested from him the birthright and the blessings; while for having chased Ya’acov, Esav and his progeny have already been punished by having been held off from the assembly of Israel for two generations. The Egyptians are also forgiven for their treatment of Israel, as [their reason for doing so was because] they were afraid lest Israel would join their enemies.” [2]

There are several commands regarding the purity of Israel’s camp and assembly. One of them is: “None of the daughters of Israel shall be a cult prostitute, nor shall any of the sons of Israel be a cult prostitute” (23:17). The word used here for the female cult “prostitute” is “k’desha,” while “male prostitute” is “kadesh.” This is one more example of contradictory terms being closely linked in the Hebrew language and mindset, since the word for “holy” is “kadosh” (and in feminine gender – “kdosha”). In verse 18 we read: “You shall not bring the hire of a harlot or the wages of a dog into the house of YHVH your Elohim for any vow, for both of these are an abomination to YHVH your Elohim.” This type of “wage” is “et’nan,” an unusual form of “natan” (noon, tav, hey) which is to “give,” or to “offer.”  Regret for betraying Yeshua led Yehuda of Krayot - Judas Iscariot – to give back to the priests the 30 pieces of silver he had been handed for committing this act. “The chief priests said, ‘It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is the price of blood’. And taking counsel, they bought of them the potter's field, for burial for the strangers” (Mat. 27:6). The priests acted this way based on the above-mentioned ruling, to which they appended “price of blood.” Is it a coincidence that “wages of a dog,” which is included in this category, is followed by issues pertaining to usury (23: 19, 20), using “neshech” for “usury or interest, the literal meaning of which is “to bite”?

Before examining the next cluster, let us pause and inspect a certain term which appears in 23:20: “…that YHVH your Elohim may bless you in all that you set your hand to in the land where you go to possess it” (emphasis added). “Set your hand to” is literally the “sending of your hands” – “mish’lach yadeh’cha.” In the past we saw that one’s work or occupation was called “m’la’cha” (of the root l.a’ - “to send,” and hence “messengers, angels, sent out ones”), which by its very definition conveys the idea that one’s work or task are more of a goal or an accomplishment outside the confinement of one’s own vicinity. It is something rendered or performed as a mission (for the greater community), and therefore was not to be considered incidental or self serving.

Two weeks ago, in Parashat R’eh, we discussed the noun “makom” – “place” - and the verb “kum” – “to rise or go up,” which shares the same root. In our Parasha we encounter other derivatives of this root (kof, vav, mem). In 23:25 we read: “When you come into your neighbor's standing grain, then you may pluck heads with your hand; but you shall not wield a sickle in your neighbor's standing grain.” The “standing grain” is the ripe sheaves ready for harvesting called “kama” (also in Exodus 22:6), stemming from the root to “rise up.” “Plucking heads” is “m’lilot,” the verb being “malol” (m.l.l. mem, lamed, lamed) and means “to scrape or to break into crumbs.”  And so we read in Luke 6:1: “And it happened on the second chief Sabbath, He passed along through the sown fields. And His disciples plucked the heads and were eating, rubbing with the hands.”

The next chapter (24) takes us to a broken relationship between husband and wife. “When a man has taken a wife and married her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found a thing of uncleanness in her, and he writes her a bill of divorce and puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house” (v. 1 italics added). “A bill of divorce” is “sefer k’ritut,” literally “a book of cutting off.”  This bill, therefore, becomes an instrument of severing the relationship, much like a hatchet. “A thing of uncleanness” is “ervat davar,” literally “the nakedness/exposure [erva] of something” (the same term also appears in 23:14 as “unclean thing”). In a marriage relationship, whatever has been covered up is naturally exposed and revealed just prior to the time of severance.  The root of “erva,” literally nakedness, a.r.h (ayin, resh, hey), also lends itself to the verb to “pour out.” It is used in this way in Yishayahu (Isaiah) 53:12, in the description of the Messiah: “And with the strong He shall divide the spoil; because He poured out [he’era] His soul to death” (italics added) – and we may add, in order to cover up our nakedness.
In the very beginning of our Parasha we encountered a different type of man-woman relationship. It involved a man who in the course of war has taken captive a woman whom he has found desirable. If after having taken her as a wife, if he no longer desires her he is admonished not to sell her for money, nor “to treat her brutally” (21:14). Similarly, in chapter 24:7 we are told that, “if a man is found kidnapping any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and mistreats him or sells him, then that kidnapper shall die.”  In both cases the terms “treat brutally” and “mistreat” are translations of “hit’amer,” of the root (a.m.r) ayin, mem, resh which is to “collect, glean, reap advantage.” The Torah is very strict in regards to using humans as merchandize or commodities for one’s advantage and monetary gain, hence the capital punishment inflicted on the above kidnapper. By contrast, in the following verse we are admonished (24:19): “When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the YHVH your Elohim may bless you in all the work of your hands” (italics added). The “sheaf” mentioned is “omer,” of the same root that we have just encountered for “treating brutally.” Thus, rather than “reap advantage” from someone else’s life, you are to sustain the needy by letting him ‘take advantage’ of your forgetfulness.

Nevertheless, the above precept has caused quite a stir in rabbinical polemics, since it would hardly seem plausible that this ‘forgotten sheaf’ could be a source of relief and provision for the needy. Additionally, this injunction also raises another query. In the Tosefta, Peah tract 3, 8 it says: “…The Omnipresent has given all the other precepts in the Torah to be observed consciously. But this one is to be unconsciously observed. Were we to observe this one of our own deliberate freewill before the Omnipresent, we would have no opportunity of observing it.” The conclusion therefore is that, “if a man has no deliberate intention of performing a good deed [and] it is nevertheless reckoned to him as one… how much more so he who deliberately performs a good deed!” [4] Verse 20 follows on the heels of 19 (of chapter 24) and is similar to the former: “When you beat your olive tree, you shall not search the bough behind you. It shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow.” The word for “bough” is “pu’ara,” of the root “p’er” (p.e.r, pey, alef, resh), which is also “beauty or glory.” Yishayahu (Isaiah) 60:21 is very appropriate in this connection, reading as it does: “And your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the earth forever, a branch of My planting, a work of My hands, to beautify [lehitpa’er] Myself” (italics added). And although the boughs have been broken, yet the Olive Tree of Yisrael, when fully redeemed is destined to be glorious unto YHVH (ref. Is. 44:23), especially if the people of Yisrael, with the Torah inscribed on their hearts, will follow the above injunction of generosity and kindness to the alien, orphan and widow. On the other hand, and yet in connection to 24:19 which featured forgetfulness, are the commands in verses 17-18 and 21-22.  In both these excerpts one is exhorted to remember having been a slave in Egypt, and therefore having to consider the stranger, orphan and widow for justice and provision.  Thus, one’s memory, as well as one’s forgetfulness is to be ‘harnessed’ for the purpose of manifesting YHVH’s nature.

When dried up and dead - as Yisrael’s stick/tree had become - the collective outcry went forth: “Our bones are dried, and our hope is perished; we are cut off to ourselves” (Ez. 37:11). Yet redemption was to enable resurrection. This principle is captured in the precept delineated in 25:5-10, where if a man dies leaving no offspring, his widow is to marry his brother and together they are to have a child who will be considered the firstborn of the dead brother, in order to raise up “… the dead brother's name, and his name shall not be wiped out of Israel” (v. 6). We have already studied (above and in other places) the word “kum” (also “makom”, place) - “to stand up, rise.” Here its usage, as the “raising up” of a name for the dead brother, connotes “resurrection,” and in Modern Hebrew “t’kuma” (of the same root). In Vayikra (Leviticus) 26:13 it says: “I am YHVH your Elohim, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, so that you should not be their slaves, and I broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect – “ko’me’mi’yoot” (once again of the same root). In the following verse (Lev. 26:14), Yisrael is warned lest they “reject My statutes.” Those engaged in such activities of rebellion and rising against YHVH are called “te’komemim” in Psalm 139:21. Typically, this one root epitomizes a wide range of situations that pertain to Yisrael, whom YHVH has caused to rise and who are therefore to walk uprightly and in circumspection lest they find themselves rising against Him.

* The conjunction “ki” is used very frequently in Dvarim. Many sections open up with “if” or “when”, in both cases being a translation of “ki,” which at times is also translated as “for.”
[1] New Studies in Devarim, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.
[2] Devarim with Daat Mikrah Commentary, Pub. Mossad Harav Kook, Jm. 2001.
[3] New Studies in Devarim
[4] Ibid.

Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

This week’s Parasha affords us two verbs which are used very frequently in everyday speech:  “to go out” and “to give” – la’tzet and la’tet, respectively. The “la” (and sometimes “le”) stands for “to” (indicating the infinitive).  Above we paused to look at “olam”, which in Modern Hebrew means simply “world”, a useful word to know. The “neshech” for “usury” yields the verb “to bark”, while our all-familiar k.u.m root (for “rising” and also for “place”), which shows up once again in this Parasha, will allow us to “rise up” and exercise some Hebrew!

You are giving (masculine, singular)
Ata noten
You are giving (feminine, singular) 
At notenet

You are going out (masculine, plural)
Atem yotz’eem
You are going out (feminine, plural)
Aten yotz’ot

The dog bit me
Hake’lev nashach oti (ouch…)

A good place in the world
Makom tov ba’olam

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