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

“You shall not have in your house alternate measures, a larger and a smaller.”  (Deut. 25:14)

Parashat Ki Teitzei contains more laws than any other parasha (portion) in the Torah.  Mostly, they address ethical norms and communal behavior (marital and family life, lost and found, personal safety, workplace obligations, etc.).  In some cases, a law addresses larger attitudinal issues.

Ki Teitzei commands, “You shall not abhor an Edomite…” and in the same verse adds, “You shall not abhor an Egyptian…” (Deut. 23:8). These two admonitions are puzzling.  The Edomites are Biblical enemies who war against the Israelites.  The Egyptians, of course, are THE paradigmatic oppressors. Both peoples cause the Israelites great pain and suffering; why shouldn’t we abhor them?

Ki Teitzei provides the answers in the very same verse, reminding us the Edomites are kinfolk (they are descended from Esau, Jacob’s brother) and the Egyptians offered hospitality (the safe haven from the famine in Canaan that preceded enslavement).   This verse offers an important insight into a central idea in Jewish thought:  gratitude.

Gratitude is a primary organizing principle in Jewish life.  Each prayer service includes prayers of thanksgiving.  The entire system of Jewish bracha, or blessing, is designed to support an “attitude of gratitude” for all the things in our life, no matter how small.  But gratitude is easy when only good things happen. Ki Teitzei reminds us life is a mixed bag (every relationship includes both ups and downs, good and bad,) and the challenge to maintaining a grateful outlook is to always acknowledge the good, despite the temptation to dwell only on the bad.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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