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Second take on Parasha KiTeitzei (Dev 21:10-25:19)

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on September 1, 2006


Devarim 21:10-14 The Captive Woman
Günther Plaut suggests in “Torah, A Modern Commentary” that the Laws about the woman captured in war present an ideal and are merely theoretical, rather than actual, practical legislation. I disagree with Plaut on this.

Apart from what the passage 21:10-21 can inspire and suggest, as is done by Rashi when he connects the three “characters” in the passage into a family unit with a bad ending – I believe those are Laws given to both safe-guard the citizens of nations Israel goes to war with, to guarantee theat Israeli warriors treat captives ethically. Why?

Torah doesn’t ever command without a reason – Torah never deals in theory and ideals. It is always practical in its applications.Israel is supposed to be “a light to the nations” (Isa 42:6; 49:6; 51:4). So Torah has to set forth Laws that makes the Jewish People ethically different than “the Nations” in its dealings with people.

In a world where rape, pillage, plunder and abuse was the order of the day in war-time, Israel has to be set apart from this. So, Torah legislates that, IF in war-time, one sees a beautiful woman, one is not to rape her or mistreat her, but one is obligated to give both her and oneself TIME – her to mourn her family and adjust to the new situation, and oneself to “cool off” and decide whether to marry her or not. During this waiting time one is to treat her well, give her new clothes, resources for keeping herself clean and neat, and then after a month has passed one is permitted to have sex with her – in Torah marriage is entered through the act of sex. Should one, after that month realize that one has made a mistake, one is to release her back to her people – even if one decides to marry her and then realizes that a mistake has been made, one must release her. One may not add to her humiliation (the act of capturing her is seen as a humiliation, and no doubt was seen as such by her and by her family) by selling her as a slave. She must go free.

Devarim 21:15-17

The Hated Wife
Ok, so the mistake has been made – one married the girl, out of lust most likely, if she becomes hated, and now one is stuck with a wife one doesn’t care the least for – but there’s a child from that marriage. So one marries again, out of love – another child is born. Anyone who has been in a divorce situation, as an adult or as a child, knows just how easy it is to making differences between the kids, especially if one really dislikes the ex-spouse. Torah forbids this. Each child must be treated right – for its own sake and not because who its other parent is. A very good example of what can happen is Yaakov and his 12 sons – Yosef and Benyamin were the sons of Rakel – the other 10 were sons of Leah – it’s not hard to imagine that Yaakov if not disliked Leah, then at least didn’t like her – but he loved Rakel, and subsequently he treated his two youngest differently than the other ten. What happened? Jealousy, hatred and violence. Yosef ended up missing, presumed dead. Why? Because Yaakov clearly favored him, despite Torah telling him and us that such is forbidden.

Devarim 21:18-21

The Rebellious Son
“Honor thy father and mother” (Shemot 20:12)

It is said about this son that he is a glutton and a guzzler – i.e an overeater and an alcoholic – and he refuse to accept his parents chastisement to change his ways. Now, what do they need to do – bring in help from the out-side. Shake him – after all he is killing himself. Torah acknowledges that there are instances when parental love and guidance simply isn’t enough, and a policy of estrangement has to be practiced in order to bring about change. Does this mean that Torah prescribe the death penalty for addicts and problem children? No. The description of the penalty, “pelt him with stones” – doesn’t appear anywhere else in Torah – there are offenses that was punished by stoning – but here is says “pelt him with stones” – I think the graphic description is there to underscore the severity of the offense – dishonoring and disrespecting your parents. But also the sverity of out-of-control eating and drinking. To me this “out-of-control eating and drinking”, signifies any action done to excess. Moderation, Torah says, moderation.

Honoring one’s parents doesn’t mean that we should blindly follow any directions given to us by our parents – after all parents aren’t always Torah observant or G-d fearing people, but it says that we should give them credit and the benefit of the doubt when our understanding differ from theirs, consider their experience and weigh it before dismissing it. Honoring one’s parents is also a matter of honoring oneself, as we are part of our parents. Gluttony and Drunkeness is hardly respectful of oneself.

Shalom!

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