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

“When you lend your neighbor any kind of loan do not enter his home to take his collateral.”

(Deut. 24:10)

Parashat Ki Teitzei contains more laws than any other parasha (portion) in the Torah.  Because the laws deal mostly with ethical norms and communal behavior (marital and family life, lost and found, personal safety, workplace obligations, etc.) they can be read as a continuation of Parashat Shoftim, which calls out, “Justice, justice shall you pursue.”  (Deut. 16:20)

One sequence of laws prescribes behavior toward the stranger, orphan, and widow (Biblical “shorthand” for the powerless and vulnerable):  not perverting justice, and leaving the leftover wheat, grapes, and olives for them when you harvest.  The same reason is given in each case:  “You will remember you were a slave in Egypt.” (Deut. 24:22)  This statement appears over and over throughout the Torah (or at least from the middle of Exodus on), making a very clear statement:  we are supposed to learn from our experiences.  Because we experienced pain, suffering, hardship, and cruelty in Egypt, we should know better than to inflict it upon others.

Memory is our link to the past.  And memory is our link to one another.  Shared memories of past experiences (and the symbols that come to represent them) are what define communities.  The Torah’s constant admonition to remember ensures that Egypt is not just a place from our dim past, but rather a clear moral presence in our lives today.  We are Jews because we remember being slaves in Egypt. The question is does that matter enough to us to affect our behavior toward others.

Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,

David

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