Parshas Ki Seitzei
This week’s sedra provides the instructions for the unique Mitzva of Shiluach Hakan (the sending of the mother bird from the nest prior to taking its eggs or chicks). This Mitzva is rather peculiar in character as it seems to be showing that Hashem‘s mercy extends even to animals. Yet, the Gemorah tells us (Brachos, and Megila) that someone who says that Hashem’s mercy extends even to the nests of birds, must be silenced.
While Chazal tell us that it is inappropriate to say that Hashem’s mercy extends to the bird’s nest, Chazal in Midrash Rabba do seem to assume that we are commanded to perform this Mitzva due to Hashem’s compassion even for birds. The Midrash tells us that just as Hashem has pity on birds and commands us to send away the mother bird before taking her offspring, so too we circumcise boys on the eighth day and not on the first day so as to allow adequate strength in order to endure the pain.
While on the one hand Chazal strongly seek to dispel any possible emphasis of Hashem’s mercy for animals, on the other they themselves draw attention to it – a seeming contradiction.
The Midrash Rabba makes another curious observation that is somehow linked with this Mitzva of Shiluach hakan. The Midrash points out that both here and in the honouring of one’s parents the Torah uncharacteristically informs us of their reward, that of longevity. The Midrash explains that this is in accordance with the Mishna in Pirkei-Avos that states that one should be equally as careful with a seemingly less important Mitzva as with a Mitzva of greater importance for we do not know the reward given for various Mitzvos. The Midrash thus explains that in order to exemplify this idea the Torah tells us the following: the reward for Shiluach Hakan, the easiest and least important Mitzva, is very much the same as the reward for Kibud horim (honouring one’s parents), a more difficult and important Mitzva.
While it is true that Kibud Horim, a Mitzva of great importance, can at time be a trying and even arduous Mitzva, why should Shiluach hakan be seen as somehow one of the least important Mitzvos?
Perhaps we can answer that the Midrash is stressing Shiluach hakan as a Mitzva of very little importance because it is not a Mitzva Bein Adom LaMakom (between man and Hashem), nor is it a mitzva Bein Adom Lechavairo (between man and his fellow), and thus automatically it must be placed lower on the totem pole.
Bearing the aforementioned in mind it still cannot be discounted that this Mitzva of Shiluach Hakan must have been given to us in order to enable us to be truly compassionate people extending even to the animals (see Rambam in Moreh-Nevuchim, and Ramban here). Hence someone who stresses that Hashem's mercy extends to the birds is putting too much emphasis on this element and is thus distorting its place. This Mitzva is a Mitzva that is meant merely to allow compassion to be instilled within ourselves.
This week’s Sedra opens with one of the most difficult to understand Parshios. The Torah tells us that while fighting a war if someone chances upon a beautiful female captive that he desires, he may take her as a wife. The Torah sets certain limitations on such desires by prescribing a very particular procedure for marrying that captive. The Torah tells us that we must shave her head and then remove from her any beautiful garb (see Rashi) and allow her to mourn her father and mother for a month. If at the end of this month long period he still desires her, he may then take her as a wife. If he doesn’t, he must set her totally free, and he cannot sell her as a slave in retribution for the suffering he caused her.
Rashi as a form of introduction to this entire issue quotes the Medrash Tanchuma that Hashem is allowing the taking of the captive by making her ‘permitted’ through marriage because otherwise people would do it despite its being forbidden. Rashi and the Tanchuma continue that if someone, after going through the time consuming procedure, does marry such a woman, he will end up hating her. The Medrash explains that such a union will in turn produce a wayward son. These latter two drashos are based on the juxtaposition of the Parshios that deal with these three issues.
What is the significance of this whole ordeal of the beautiful captive? What gives us the right to inflict upon her such suffering?
The answer to the second question was already alluded to. We mentioned that she must remove her beautiful garb. Really the Passuk says that we must remove from her the garb of her captivity. Rashi explains the reason for this is that when the Nations of the world go to war their women folk dress provocatively in order to seduce the enemy soldiers – presumably to distract them from the battle, to weaken or destroy their will to fight. There is thus a certain element of justice being carried out by afflicting the female captive in this way. Their provocative dress constituted weaponry of a sort, a bait to lure us to defeat. They are thus deserving of punishment – and the punishment fits the crime.
My Rebbe Harav Yisroel Belsky Shlita had once come out very strongly against some sort of business scheme. His campaign against the scheme was so effective that it spurred the originators to call him. He received an unannounced conference call from them in which they told him that he had robbed them of their parnassa. Rabbi Belsky replied that he was very troubled if he had indeed deprived anyone of parnassa, and that if so he was willing to do something to help them. They then explained that his ban on their “investment” has caused them tremendous loss, and that if he would be able to retract it this would certainly help them. Rabbi Belsky replied that not only was he willing to retract his ban, but would even provide an endorsement to their “investment” – on one condition. Rabbi Belsky continued to explain that the previous Erev Shabbos he had entered the kitchen to find his wife baking Challos. He was, however, astonished to see that his wife was baking the most miniscule Challos he had ever seen. He asked her why she was making such small Challos, as he couldn’t understand the reason for such a radical departure from the usual. His wife replied that these were the very same Challos that she baked every week; she explained that in the dough there is yeast and that the yeast makes the Challos grow to be big. Rabbi Belsky told the men on the phone that if they could explain to him what the yeast was in their “business”, he would then be more than happy to write a letter of endorsement. There was silence on the other end of the line, and then the men thanked Rabbi Belsky for his time.
The Gemorah compares our Yetzer Horah (evil inclination) in few places to sour dough – the olden day’s equivalent to yeast; the idea being that the Yetzer Horah has the power to take anything and make it look glamorous, thus luring us to desire it and to act upon that desire. Yet, the actual substance of the act is in reality close to nothing. We are as if hypnotized. Sin appears so attractive as to be irresistible – and we succumb to it. If we would but put the act into perspective and see its ramifications, we would then realize how insignificant the act is and how simply not worthwhile it is to commit. The problem is that as we are trapped in the present and therefore don’t focus on the past or future. We lack perspective and this is where we fall into the trap of the Yetzer Horah. If we would only be able to put the present and the act of sin into perspective we certainly wouldn’t succumb to sin.
The nations of the world used their women as agents of Evil to lure us into sin. They were not merely distracting us, but were causing us to sin and to lose focus from fighting a war LeShem Shamayim. The Torah understands that this sort of seduction may be irresistible. The Torah understands that we – as we witness such ‘grandeur’ as the Yetzer Horah can display—will have not just an urge, but almost a need, to yield to it. Therefore the Torah tells us how to put it back into perspective. The Torah does this in two ways: firstly, the Torah tells us to strip the beautiful captive from the artificial elements of beauty she adorned herself with, and likewise to place her in a mood that will force her to mourn her loss and her family, thus making her realize that she is no longer a means of heroic weaponry to her nation, but rather as a lowly captive for her captors to do with as they please. The effect of this is that her willingness to act seductively, and definitely her luring behavior, will cease. The Torah is thus trying to give us the proper perspective, so that we can realize that there is no true beauty present, but rather only the false beauty of the Yetzer Horah.
If this fails the Torah then provides us with a second perspective: the Torah tells us that there is in this situation no real relationship – that eventually the husband will come to hate his wife and that ultimately the fruit of such a relationship will be a wayward child.
As we find ourselves in Chodesh Elul on the threshold of a new year it is a time to place things in perspective, both past and future. We must ask ourselves: what is the yeast? Are we using our Yetzer Horah and rationalizing wrongful actions? Or are the Challos in fact becoming big and nice because we are using real ‘yeast’?
This week’s Sedra goes into some detail as to what is to be done with a Ben Sorer Umoreh (the ‘wayward and rebellious son’). Chazal explain in great detail what exactly a Ben Sorer Umoreh has to do in order to be liable to the death penalty, how the parents must proceed with him, and why he deserves the death penalty. Yet, after going through every aspect of the issue in painstaking detail, Chazal inform us that there never was and never will be a true and real "Ben Sorer Umoreh". The requirements for such a case to happen are defined so narrowly and precisely that its actual occurrence is a practical impossibility. Chazal explain that the only reason there is a mitzvah of any sort in Ben Sorer Umoreh is so that we should be D'rosh Vekabel Sachar. This statement is generally understood to mean that this mitzvah’s main purpose is to allow us to be rewarded with the Torah study surrounding it. This leaves us with an obvious question: why was it the concept of the wayward son that was chosen as a non-operational Mitzvah? Why did the Torah not choose some other abstract, theoretical mitzvah for the same purpose? Put somewhat differently, why did the Torah choose a case that can never happen to teach us….what?
Chazal tell us that the purpose of this Mitzva is D'rosh etc. While the word D'rosh can mean that we should expound upon this mitzvah, it can also have a different import. We find regarding the Churban (Destruction of the Temple) and Tzion that the Passuk says "Tzion Doresh EIn Lah" and Chazal tell us that it is evident from the use of the phrase "EIn lah" that there should be a “Doresh” – that there should be (but isn’t) someone who ‘seeks’ Tzion. In this case it is evident that “Doresh” means to seek.
Perhaps in our case as well D'rosh Vekabel Sachar means that if we seek out the messages of the Ben Sorer Umoreh we will be rewarded with very special lessons in Chinuch and with how to deal with wayward or even mildly disobedient children.
The lesson of D'rosh Vekabel Sachar is that in every word of Hashem's Torah whether that word, phrase, or other component, appears more or less relevant, whether we immediately grasp the meaning, in each there are always very important lessons for our daily lives.
Among the many Mitzvos of this week's Sedra is the command that a man should not wear a woman's garb nor should a woman wear a man's garb. The Torah ends the description of this mitzva by adding that it is an abomination to Hashem for someone to do so.
Rashi explains that the reason the wearing of garments of the opposite gender is revolting to Hashem is because such acts are often connected to an intent of committing inappropriate acts.
In modern day society there are many garments that were once worn only by males or only by females but having been adopted by both without distinction have become gender neutral. In such situations wearing the opposite gender’s garment would seem somewhat ok and definitely not ‘repulsive to Hashem. How is it that Rashi attempts to explain this mitzva by giving a reason that doesn't always apply?
Men and women are very similar to one another. Despite all these similarities, however, they are also distinctly different from each other. As such, most of what men and women do is intended for each gender and for its particular needs.
Since each gender's garments are custom-tailored to each one’s needs, switching them around would by default draw attention to these very differences. This act of drawing attention isn't tznius and can only result in people committing inappropriate acts.
Everything in our world has its place but when we tamper with that appropriate order we run the risk of perverting those very roles.
We are now well into Elul with Rosh Hashana rapidly approaching. Perhaps now is a time to evaluate whether we are fulfilling our roles or whether we are attempting to fulfill the role of someone else.
This week's Haftorah is short but carries a succinct message. The Haftorah is read from Yishayohu (נד. י-יא) and it is the fifth Haftorah of the שבע דנחמת. The Haftorah starts with Hashem telling Yerushalayim to expand and become strong: Yerushalayim, states through the Navi, is going to grow in all directions. The Haftorah continues with Hashem making a double statement: 1) for a short moment I (Hashem) will leave you and with great mercy I will gather you (Am-Yisroel) back. 2) With a little anger I will hide Myself (Hashem) from you and with eternal kindness I (Hashem) will have mercy on you (Am-Yisroel).
Why is it that Hashem tells us he will leave us for a little while and then answers that He will save us with an abundance of mercy? Either both should be measured in terms of time or both in terms of abundance? The same question could be asked on the next verse: why does Hashem say that He will hide from us for a little bit and then answer this with eternal love?
Am-Yisroel went through a lot in our almost two thousand years of exile. For the most part the Klal didn't suffer unbearably. Recently we suffered the worst tragedy in Jewish History – the Churban of Europe. The entire world felt the הסתר פנים during the Holocaust. It was the closest thing to a world deprived of Hashem כביכול – so intense was the suffering of the Holocaust. To call it a short period of suffering would somehow make light of its intensity. The Galus has been so long that to yet call it minimal would minimize that period of close to two thousand years. The Navi is eternal and we have had this Nevua throughout our Galus and throughout all our suffering. Hashem comforted us by using terms to let us know that what we were going through (when we went through it) was minimal and temporary.
We live in an era in which we are beginning to see the words of the Neviyim unfolding: Yerushalayim is truly growing in all directions. Yerushalayim is being strengthened for its promised eventual surge.
In the Shir Hamaalos we recite every Shabbos before bentchn, we say that when the Geula will come we will be as though we were dreaming. Chazal tell us (in the ninth Perek of Tractate Brachos) that the outcome of dreams depend on how we interpret them. Right now we could definitely allow ourselves to view Yerushalayim's growth as the beginning of the fulfilment of this Nevua. Remember, dreams become what our interpretation of them makes them.