A. Marriage to a female P.O.W. If an Israelite captured a female prisoner of war in a battle outside Canaan, he could not marry her immediately. Rather, he was to shave her head, cut her nails, remove her garments of captivity and mourn her parents for a month, so that she would become unattractive to him. If, after this period, he still wished to marry her, he could do so; if not, he could not treat her a slave.
B. First-born/rebellious son. A first-born son inherits a double-portion, even if his mother is not beloved by his father. A rebellious son (i.e., one who has stolen and eaten and drunk a certain amount of food and wine after having been warned not to do so) is to be stoned.
C. Body of one who has been hanged. A body of one who was hanged should not be left on the tree overnight, but should be buried that same day.
D. Lost articles. One should return all lost articles to their rightful owners.
E. Railing. To promote safety, one should build a railing around his roof.
F. Sha’atnes/Tzitzis. One should not wear sha’atnes (a mixture of wool and linen). One should wear tzitzis on his garments.
G. Adultery. A husband who falsely accuses his bride of being unfaithful to him before their marriage, but after betrothal, is to receive lashes and a fine. If the charges prove correct, the wife is to be stoned. If a woman commits adultery, both she and the man involved are to be killed. One shouldn’t marry his father’s wife, or a member of Ammon or Moav.
H. Vows. One who utters a vow must fulfill it.
I. Interest/Loans to fellow Jews/Wages. One should not charge interest of a fellow Jew. If one lends money to a fellow Jew, he should not take as security something which provides the borrower with a livelihood. If the borrower is poor, the lender should return the security at night if it is needed by the borrower then. One should pay a hired worker at the completion of work.
J. Divorce. When a husband has grounds for divorce, the marriage is to be dissolved in a formal legal proceeding involving a Get (bill of divorce). If the woman marries again and becomes a divorcee or widow, she can’t remarry her first husband.
K. The Chalitzah Ceremony. If a married man dies childless, his surviving brother is to marry his widow and inherit the estate, so that the deceased brother’s line will not die out. If the surviving brother refuses to do so, he is subjected to the degrading Chalitzah ceremony because he refused to perpetuate his brother’s name.
L. Business ethics. Merchants and businessmen are warned to be extremely scrupulous in their trading. They must not have faulty scales or weights or try to cheat their customers.
M. Remembering Amalek. Finally, the Jews are told to remember the actions of Amalek, who attacked the Jews when they were weak. They must blot out the remembrance of Amalek from the earth.
II. Divrei Torah
A. Growth Through Torah (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin)
1. One must differentiate between wanting and desiring. “And it will be if you did not want her.” The Hebrew term “did not want her” is in the past tense. Why isn’t it stated in the future tense, since he wanted her in the beginning but later on he didn’t? There is a difference between passion and lust on the one hand, and wanting because of a rational desire that something or someone is good for you on the other hand. The Torah teaches that one who wants to marry another out of infatuation and passion based on physical attraction or other external trappings never really wanted the person from the beginning (therefore, the past tense is used). It was just desire, not a honest love for the other person. Rabbi Noach Weinberg said “love is the pleasure of seeking virtue; it is based on the reality of knowing the good qualities in another person. Infatuation, however, is blind; it is when your emotions prevent you seeing the entire picture and you mistakenly believe that the object of your infatuation is totally perfect and without any faults”.
2. Do all you can to help others in spiritual matters. “You shall not see the donkey of your brother or his ox falling on the way and not pay attention to them. Rather, you shall lift them up with him.” Rabbi Simcha Zissel wrote that the Torah prohibits us from causing any unnecessary pain to animals. If this applies to temporary pain, all the more so does it apply to long-lasting pain; if this applies to animals, all the more so does it apply to people; if this is so with respect to physical matters, all the more so with respect to spiritual matters.
3. Do not take advantage of the good heart of others. “If you happen to come across a bird’s nest on the road or in any tree or on the ground . . . and the mother bird is sitting on the fledglings or the eggs, do not take the mother with the children”. (In this verse, the Torah prohibits one to take an ownerless mother bird when it is sitting on its young or eggs. One must send away the mother bird, and only then is one permitted to take the young or eggs.) Rabbi Yoseph Chaim Zonnenfeld explains: one can’t catch a bird once it’s flying. But, mother birds are so concerned about the welfare of their children that they stay with them even when a hunter comes along. Therefore, the mother falls right into the hunter’s hands. If one were also able to capture the mother, one would take advantage of her compassion for her children. Thus, the Torah orders the hunter to send away the mother. We have no right to utilize her positive trait of mercy in order to capture her. All the more so, one must not take advantage of another person because she or he is soft-hearted.
4. Be careful not to cause others envy. “You shall not plow with an ox and donkey together”. Daas Zkainim explains that since an ox chews it cud and a donkey doesn’t, the donkey will be envious when it sees that the ox has food in his mouth and he doesn’t. Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz commented that this is a great lesson in how careful we must be not to cause others the pain of envy. If we must be careful with the feelings of an animal, all the more so must we be careful with the feelings of another person. Be careful not to boast about your accomplishments or possessions if others might feel envious.
B. Majesty of Man (Rabbi A. Henach Leibowitz)
Being perceptive to another’s needs. “You should not see the ox of your brother or his lamb lost and hide from them; surely, you shall return them to your brother.” The Torah commands us to return a lost ox or lamb to its rightful owner, warning us not to avoid performing this deed. The Ibn Ezra notes that this applies under all circumstances, including when one is going to war. Despite the tumult and confusion as a soldier leaves his family to rush into battle, he is still expected to notice a stray ox or lamb and return it to its rightful owner. Shouldn’t the Torah have excused someone experiencing such extreme circumstances? We learn from this that we are capable of, and must, exhibit sensitivity to our friends’ reality and struggles, even during our own crises. Although our minds may be preoccupied with our own survival, we must nonetheless be conscious of our peers’ needs at all times. (A child begins learning Talmud by focusing on the laws of torts, property and contracts. Why does a child learn these sections, rather than the seemingly more relevant laws of Shabbos or the Holidays, for example? The Vilna Gaon answers that when a child sees a discussion of every intricacy of every possible case that deals with another person and his/her property, the child realizes that the concern that the Torah want us to have for others.)
C. Kol Dodi on the Torah (Rabbi David Feinstein)
The prohibition against interest. “Do not take interest from your brother so that Hashem your G-d will bless you”. The Torah gives a reason not to take interest — so that Hashem will bless us. Why should this be a reason? Someone who charges interest is, so to speak, “blessing” himself and saying that he can take of his own needs. Therefore, Hashem doesn’t wish to help such a person. However, someone who lends without taking interest, because Hashem commands him to do so, doesn’t rely on his own means; rather, he risks his own funds without earning any return, showing his dependance on Hashem’s help. This is the person whom Hashem will bless.
D. Peninim on the Torah (Rabbi A.L. Scheinbaum)
The mother bird. The law noted above respecting a mother bird is especially striking in that it only applies to birds and not to wild beasts. Why? HoRav Zalman Sorotzkin suggests the following explanation: animals, as well as humans, give birth to offspring which have naturally common physical features and traits. Fowl, on the other hand, lay eggs which don’t hatch for a while. During this maturation time, the affinity which is natural in the human and animal world shouldn’t logically develop. Nonetheless, an almost unnatural boundless love develops between the mother bird and its egg. Although birds are not yet able to distinguish the features and characteristics of their young, they transcend uncertainty to show maternal love unto them. This is manifest by the act of resting on top of the eggs until the baby birds are ready to fend for themselves. This is a wonderful lesson for us — how often do parents base their relationship with our children solely on their personal proclivity towards them? Love for one’s children is all too often expressed in consonance with how much of a parent’s self he/she sees in them. Some even ignore their children if they do not “see” a promising potential in them. A parent’s love and relationship with his/her child shouldn’t be contingent upon specific characteristics, but should be boundless and unconditional. The mother bird’s unrestrained devotion to her young serves as a lesson for us all.
E. Reflections on the Sedra (Rabbi Zalman Posner)
One thing leads to another. There is significance in the sequence of the first paragraphs of this Parsha. The first relates to a female POW taken as a wife. The second is that of the hated wife and her son. The third is the wicked, rebellious son. The fourth is the executed criminal. The commentators observe that each is a consequence of the preceding paragraph. Good does not spring from evil. Trouble and calamities have their roots in men’s deeds. In Pirkei Avos we learn that “one mitzvah leads to another and one sin leads to another.” Nothing we do happens in isolation, everything leaves it mark. Every deed brings others like it in its wake. Each mitzvah is a link creating the next link in the chain of good deeds. Those seeking to infuse a more Jewish spirit into their lives and homes have found that the introduction of Shabbos kiddush and lighting candles, for example, leads to more observance and more Shabbos. The gradual accretion of mitzvos in the home engenders a Jewish spirit in the home that cannot be duplicated and leaves an indelible impression.
F. Living Each Week (Rabbi Abraham Twerski)
1. The primacy of gratitude. “You should not abhor an Egyptian, because you were a stranger in his land.” The concept of gratitude is accorded utmost importance in Judaism. The very first words a person says upon arising are Modeh Ani (I give thanks to You), expressing gratitude to G-d for another day of life. Expression of thankfulness to G-d is a recurrent theme in our prayers, in which we thank G-d for our health, for our sight, for having something to wear and for our ability to walk. After each meal we say a blessing, thanking G-d for the food He has provided. Many times during the day we recite berachos (blessings) to express gratitude to G-d for providing our needs. Commendable as it is, conventional gratitude is not uniquely Jewish. Every sensitive and responsible person can understand that it is only decent and proper to express gratitude for favors received. The singular character of Torah gratitude is contained in the above verse, that we are not to reject an Egyptian who wishes to embrace Judaism because “you were a stranger in his land,” i.e., Egypt was host to the Israelites at one time, and this kindness must be acknowledged. Despite their subsequent treatment of the Jews, the Egyptians had previously shown them hospitality and we must thus acknowledge our gratitude for their having done so for our ancestors. Even if we have abundant reasons to be resentful toward someone who was in any way a benefactor, we must nonetheless show our gratitude. This is the uniqueness of Torah gratitude.
2. Honest measures: a guide to spirituality. “You shall not have in your house diverse measures, a great and a small. A whole and just weight you should have . . . ” The literal Torah prohibition is against having dishonest weights which would result in cheating others in commercial transactions. The Rabbi of Kotzk said that the commandment, “do not deceive another person,” is the letter of the law, but beyond the letter of the law is the implication, “do you deceive yourself.” Much the same can be said regarding the law of dishonest measures, because having two sets of measures can result in one’s cheating oneself. The double standard is a very commonly encountered phenomenon. We may condemn certain behavior in others although we tolerate it in ourselves. This is accomplished by having two sets of measures, one which we apply to ourselves, and another which we apply to others. In the above verse, the Torah is reminding us that in all areas we must have fair and equal measures.
G. In the Garden of the Torah (the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, z’tl)
War and Peace. Every day, we conclude the Shemoneh Esreh prayer by praising G-d “who blesses His people Israel with peace.” And when describing the blessings G-d will bestow upon us if we follow His will, our Sages state, “peace is equivalent to all other blessings.” Why does peace play such a fundamental part in our Jewish heritage? Every man’s soul is “an actual part of G-d from above.” Therefore, he possesses a natural desire to allow that G-dly spark an opportunity to express itself. He seeks to grow in understanding in a harmonious environment without being confronted by external challenges. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. We live in a material world which by nature encourages selfishness and the search for spiritual growth may often lead to conflicts of interest, and at times, actual conflict. These concepts are alluded to in the name of this week’s Torah reading, Ki Seitzei, which begins: “When you go out to battle against your enemies.” In the soul’s natural environment — the spiritual worlds above — there is no conflict. When, however, the soul “goes out” from that setting and descends to our material world, it is confronted by challenges that may require it to engage in battle. This is the Torah’s conception of war, a struggle to transform even the lowest elements of existence into a dwelling for G-d. A person need not fear undertaking such efforts; on the contrary, he is assured Divine blessing. A person must challenge himself; and this means more than a commitment to gradual progress. This endeavor involves a constant struggle. A person cannot reach a level of spiritual achievement and then “rest on his laurels”. Instead, he must continually strive to advance further. The inner “battles” necessary to bring this commitment to the fore tap the essential and unbounded Divine potential each of us possess within our souls.