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Parashat Ki Teitzei (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19)

“You shall not turn over to his master a slave who is rescued from his master to you.”
(Deuteronomy 21:16)

PaRDeS , the Hebrew word for orchard (referring to the Garden of Eden) is an acronym summarizing the Jewish interpretive tradition. It identifies four ways to read the Torah: P stands for p’shat, the simple, literal reading; R for remez, the allegorical reading; D for d’rash, the interpretive reading; and S for sod, the mystical reading.

Parashat Ki Teitzei opens with “Ki teitzei lamilchama…When you go out to war against your enemies…” (Deut. 21:10) and continues by describing the beautiful captive who becomes a war bride (Deut. 21:11). It is easy to read the text literally. But the Chassidic tradition reads it as an allegory describing each individual’s war with the yetzer hara, the evil inclination. The battle is personal and internal, not external and national. The allegory of the war challenges us to answer the question: who are the casualties of this war you fight with yourself? Which part of your self becomes captive?

Ki Teitzei continues immediately with the ben sorer umoreh, the wayward and rebellious son brought before the town elders and accused, convicted, and executed (Deut. 21:18-21). The rabbis interpret the verses as literally as possible and conclude there never was such a son, nor will there ever be (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 71a). Rabbi Lawrence Kushner (1943- ; Reform rabbi, author, and scholar of spiritual life) challenges the rabbis’ literal reading by imagining the ben sorer umoreh as the stubborn and rebellious inner child who creates internal conflict. He asks what might be the consequences of that part of ourselves, and what might the rabbis have hoped for by keeping the ben sorer umoreh alive?

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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