Yom Chamishi, 13 AdarI 5781
Ta anith Esther Thursday, 25 February 2021
Parashat Ki Teitze 5775

Rabbi Janet Darley
26th August 2015

This week’s Torah reading contains details of how we should treat each other and how we should act in the world. These details bring home the nitty-gritty of what it is that Judaism expects of us.

This parashah shows the extent to which, for Judaism, the life of the spirit and the life of “politics” with a small “p” are intertwined. Lost items must be returned to their owners, public safety must be protected by erecting walls or fences around the flat roofs of houses which were often used as workplaces or living space, animal welfare must be considered: one cannot muzzle an ox while it is threshing, nor should a mother bird and the baby birds be taken at the same time. We are reminded to not subvert the rights of the stranger or fatherless and not to take a widow’s cloak in pawn. .A millstone should not be taken as a pledge and when we harvest our food we must remember to leave some for the poor. A worker must be paid on time and we must remember that we were strangers in Mitzrayim and act accordingly.

When we look at the world around us, it is well to ask ourselves a few questions. Who gets fed and who starves? Who gets beaten or harassed by the police and who is treated with dignity? ·Who is homeless, who lives in a nice house with a garden and mod cons and who owns buildings in three continents? Who has time to think new thoughts, to go away, to retreat from the stress of everyday life and who must work three jobs just to survive? ·Are these only “political” issues or are they actually questions which we can and should address from the commandments in Torah?

I have heard it said that “politics” has no place in the synagogue or in fact in any house of worship. I hear it argued that such discussions are a mine field detracting from the spiritual path, but there cannot be a true spiritual path for us as Jews without it leading to action in the world.

In referring to the many commonplace instructions of this parasha, Devarim Rabbah quotes Rabbi Pinhas ben Hama: 'wherever you go pious deeds will accompany you'." ·For him, the purpose of mitzvot is to bring holiness into our everyday lives. ·Another commentator likens these mitzvot to throwing a lifeline to someone who has fallen overboard into a violent sea. ·They could be seen to offer us a lifeline in a “sea of selfish passions, ambiguous morality, and murky ethics”. (Rabbi Howard Cohen) ·A lifeline to hold on to in all areas of our lives.

The verb repeated several times in this chapter is lehitalem. ·This reflexive verb is often simply translated as ignore, but looking at the context makes it clear that the connotation of this word requires a stronger term in English. Perhaps a more idiomatic rendering of lehitalem would be to say “don’t turn a blind eye” We should not allow ourselves to refuse to see something that we could help to correct. To be indifferent, to remain silent and hidden, is not an option for Jews.. ·Though the technicalities may be different, this parahsah speaks to themes such as care, compassion and concern that are as relevant to our own day as they were in biblical times.

It is our duty to live Torah, not just study to it, to act, not just to pray. ·Study and prayer are there to help us understand what we must do and to find the strength to do it. Our duty is to move beyond the selfish, to see beyond our own selves. ·As we engage in cheshbon ha nefesh during this month of Elul, as we look at how we have lived in the past year, among the questions we should be asking ourselves is have we kept these commandments. If we employ people, have we treated our workers fairly? ·Have we ignored the rising tide of payday loan shops on our High Streets? ·And what about the rhetoric surrounding “swarms” of migrants and “marauders”? Have we tried as hard as we should to help feed the hungry and to work towards a time when wages would be sufficient to provide a decent living? Have we been willing to work to make space for those desperate to survive as they flee war and upheaval, as we once hoped space would be found for Jewish refugees?

In the Aleinu with which we conclude every service, we look ahead to a time our ancestors termed the messianic age. ·We don’t believe that there is a messiah to bring it about; we believe it is us who must finally create that world. One of my favourite reflections on this prayer comes from Rabbi Rami Shapiro.

It is up to us

to hallow creation,

to respond to Life with the fulness of our lives.

It is up to us

to meet the World,

to embrace the Whole even as we wrestle with its parts.

It is up to us

to repair the World

and to bind ourselves to Truth.

Therefore we bend the knee

and shake off the stiffness that keeps us

from the subtle graces of Life

and the supple gestures of Love.

With reverence and thanksgiving

we accept our destiny and set for ourselves the task of redemption.