Parashat Ki Tetze
Decisions And Consequences
Parashat Ki Tetze contains numerous examples of how we should structure and categorize our decisions and their consequences.
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Parshat Ki Tetze focuses in large part on how we categorize the people and decisions in our lives. The parsha opens and closes with sections that analyze those who are on our side and those who are not. Interestingly, sometimes individuals are able to transcend one category, such as "other" or "enemy," and enter a new one, such as "wife" or "ally." Yet in other situations, the definitions are fixed and irreversible.
The parsha opens with the case of a female captive who is desired by her captor. The Torah states that she must be treated respectfully and become the man's wife before he can "possess" her. If he then changes his mind about her, he must release her outright and not sell her for money--she is no longer to be considered a slave. She has changed categories, from prisoner to free woman.
Conversely, the last section of the parsha depicts the opposite dynamic. We are reminded that Amalek and his descendants are the eternal enemy of the Jews, so much so that we are commanded to blot out their memory. Their evil is depicted as extreme, evidenced by their heartless attacks on stragglers when the Hebrews were fleeing Egypt, and thus they are assigned a fixed status.
The reference to the Exodus serves to remind us of our own unique category--the bearers of an eternal covenant with God. With that comes the special responsibility for, among other things compassion and social justice. We must personify the very opposite of Amalek and demonstrate empathy for the weaker or less fortunate in our very being and behavior, for we ourselves changed categories from "slaves" to "free people." Remember, Amalek lives today in the world at large--and within us.
The central part of Ki Tetze deals with our many choices of how to act and the implication that the more power we have, the more responsibility we then have, and the higher the standard to which we will be held. The decision tree of "if X, then Y" appears to be a universal law, whether in the physical or spiritual world. God, the ultimate source of all distinctions and consequences, is also portrayed as the One who writes the "job descriptions" for all segments of all branches of creation.
As in all the examples described in Ki Tetze, special categories are linked with special responsibilities and parallel justice systems. Drawing boundaries and making rules is key to freedom, to creating order, and to understanding the world. This tendency toward definitions and limits is also the activity of special occasions and everyday life alike. Namely, we must all make continual distinctions among people, animals, behaviors, circumstances, ethics, consequences, time, etc. in order to function personally and socially. Things have gotten more complicated than when Adam was naming the animals in the Garden of Eden, and only had to keep a handful of categories/rules in mind (Tree of Knowledge—No!; Tree of Life—No!).