Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Ki-Tetze 5765/ September 17, 2005

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity. Prepared for Internet Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University. Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,




Inside - Outside


 Yonah Bar –Maoz


Department of Bible


Parashat Ki Tetze contains more commandments than any other weekly reading in the Torah, [1] but the commandments are not arranged clearly. [2]   This contrasts with the structured arrangement of the laws in the readings of Yitro and Mishpatim (Exodus 20-23). The Ten Commandments in Yitro are divided up according to commandments between man and G-d and commandments between one person and another, and the commandments are arranged from the more weighty to the less weighty; in Parashat Mishpatim the structure is so clearly evident that it contributes to an understanding of the individual commandments, as Ralbag noted in his commentary on Exodus 22:20:

“Or oppress him” – it is well known that this admonishment does not mean that we are not to press him bodily and shove him [as might be understood from another sense of the Hebrew verb, lahatz], … for the Torah discussed earlier the matter of bodily injury in this very parasha and gradually proceeded to recall the laws dealing with monetary damage … and it is with respect to this that it says “You shall not … oppress him” – monetarily. [3]

The well-ordered writing in Exodus reflects the Law given from on high and presented to the reader in an orderly, systematic way, which is not at all the case in Parashat Ki-Tetze.   This week’s reading forms a colorful interweaving of different strands to form a striking picture:   laws concerning marriage are related to laws concerning war, employee-employer relations are juxtaposed with guidelines given the court, commandments between a person and G-d are situated amidst the field and vineyard of one’s brethren, and concern for the foreign worker is part of maintaining the sanctity of the encampment.   There is no separation of realms between the individual and the nation, between private and public; rather, as in life, multiple experiences touch on our existence, with many ways points of contact between these experiences, as manifold and complex as life itself.

Outer and Inner Circles

Even though we cannot point with certainty to a guiding principle structuring this week’s reading, nor can we link every law with its preceding ruling, [4] nevertheless we shall attempt to suggest an all-encompassing theme that might be said to characterize it.  We shall show that the main thrust of the reading lies in the tension existing between the “outer” and “inner” in a person’s life, between private life and life as part of a society and nation; our parasha illustrates how the law helps to overcome this tension. 

The suggestion that this is the main thrust of the reading is based on the opening and concluding verses of the reading, in which a single theme goes full circle:  the theme of going to war against an enemy, which recurs in the middle of the parasha as well (in the laws concerning hygiene in army camps, 23:10-15).   The outer circles differ from one another in the degree of distance from the human being, the most extreme being the hostile external forces, the enemy who seeks your life.   Although the bulk of the laws dealing with war are in the previous week’s reading, Shofetim, and rightly belong there insofar as they are part of the organization of government and the tasks of society as a whole and of its leaders in particular, [5] nevertheless Ki Tetze establishes the relationships between the plain citizen and the enemy or the outsider, setting forth those situations in which he is entitled, or not entitled, to enter an emotional and physical connection with him or her.

Ties with Outsiders

Thus the reading begins with permission to establish such ties, in the laws concerning an attractive woman who has been taken captive, and concludes with a flat prohibition and demand for physical and mental separation from the enemy, in the law to wipe out Amalek.   This theme recurs in the middle of the weekly reading, in the passage relating to those nations that are blood relatives of ours – Edom, Ammon, and Moab. The attitude to them lies somewhere between acceptance and utter rejection. [6]

The degree of distance which must be kept, or the sort of contact which may be maintained is in accordance with the position of these foreign nations vis a vis the values that form the spiritual foundation of Israelite society; relations are in accordance with the degree to which dealings with them are likely to form fissures in the fabric of the society, thus undermining it. [7]   Responsibility for the inviolability of the national home is thus placed on the individual as well.   This is especially evident in the case of Amalek; the commandment to wage war on Amalek cannot be carried out by an individual, but the commandment to remember what Amalek did to Israel is a personal one.  According to the summation given in Sefer ha-Hinukh, the commandment to wipe out Amalek is also binding on each individual (commandment 504):

This is one of the commandments that are required of the entire community, as said by those of blessed memory (Sanhedrin 20.2):   Israel was commanded three things upon entering the land:  to appoint themselves a king, to build themselves a Sanctuary, and to wipe out the seed of Amalek.  In truth, it is also the duty of all Israelite males to kill them and annihilate them from this world, if they have the power to do so, in any place and time, should any one of all their descendants chance his way.  One who transgresses this command, having come upon a person descended from Amalek and wondered whether or not to kill him – such a person has abrogated this positive commandment.

The Second Sex

The foreign nation is the ultimate outsider; however there are circles of outsiders that are closer to a person, such as the circle of the other gender.  Therefore this week’s reading deals extensively with encounters between the genders.   Sometimes an encounter leads to dire consequences, such as seduction and rape, [8] while other times it leads to enlargement of the inner circle by marriage.   In this case the Torah recommends a way of strengthening the bond and fortifying the joint inner being:   “When a man has taken a bride, he shall not go out with the army or be assigned to it for any purpose; he shall be exempt one year for the sake of his household, to give happiness to the woman he has married” (Deut. 24:5).  The possibility to sever such a bond is also given in our parasha, in which case that which was brought inside returns to the outside.   The Torah also provides for these situations properly so as to enable the breached circle to mend and the social fabric that was disrupted to be set right:

“A man takes a wife and possesses her.   She fails to please him because he finds something obnoxious about her, and he writes her a bill of divorcement, hands it to her, and sends her away from his house … You must not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your G-d is giving you as a heritage” (Deut. 24:1-4).

The World Around Us

The outside world also includes the inanimate, as well as the plant and animals realms.   The Torah relates to these as well, and guides us how we may take from these realms without harming them.  Preserving the circles of nature that are outside the human being –call it Torah ecology--underlies the commandment against mixtures that are considered kilayim – sowing a second kind of seed in one’s field or vineyard, plowing with an ox and ass together, wearing cloth combining linen and wool – and other guidelines, such as the following:

When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall from it (22:8). [9]   You shall not muzzle an ox while it is threshing (25:4).  If, along the road, you chance upon a bird’s nest … do not take the mother together with her young.  Let the mother go, and take only the young, in order that you may fare well and have a long life (22:6-7).

Societal Closeness

Since most of the parasha is aimed at strengthening the circles of society within so that they can withstand the pressures of the hostile foreign forces without, laws are recapitulated that regulate societal relationships and build the fabric of life particular to the Jewish nationality.  For example:   “You shall not deduct interest from loans to your countrymen, whether in money or food or anything else that can be deducted as interest” (23:20); “When you make a loan of any sort to your countrymen, you must not enter his house to seize his pledge” (28:10); “You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer, whether a fellow countryman or a stranger in one of the communities of your land” (24:14); “You shall not subvert the rights of the stranger or the fatherless; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pawn” (24:17); and other teachings in a similar spirit.

To strengthen the society one must enlarge the inner circle of the family, also encompassing those who are outside it and relating to them as one’s “brethren” or fellows. [10]   A comparison with two parallel laws that appear in Exodus illustrates the uniqueness of parashat Ki-Tetze.   Exodus 23:4-5 says:   “When you encounter your enemy’s ox or ass wandering, you must take it back to him.   When you see the ass of your enemy [lit.:  the person you hate] lying under its burden and would refrain from raising it, you must nevertheless raise it with him”; whereas Deuteronomy 22:1-4 says:   “If you see your fellow’s ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it; you must take it back to your fellow.   If your fellow does not live near you or you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home and it shall remain with you until your fellow claims it; then you shall give it back to him.   You shall do the same with his ass; you shall do the same with his garment; and so too shall you do with anything that your fellow loses and you find; you must not remain indifferent.   If you see your fellow’s as or ox fallen on the road, do not ignore it; you must help him raise it.”   In Exodus we are commanded to rise above hatred, whereas here we are required to show care for our fellow.

“Your Brother”

The laws in Deuteronomy often relate to such notions of caring for one’s fellow, but it should be noted that out of the twenty-one occurrences of the word ahikha in the sense of one’s fellow countryman [hence rendered in the JPS as “fellow,” and not literally as “brother”] in Deuteronomy, eleven are in this week’s reading.   This high concentration bears clear testimony to the idea that there is one tried and true defense against the hostile outer world, mentioned at the beginning and end of the parasha:   protecting our inner strength by increasing our care for our fellow.


[1] According to the enumeration in Sefer ha-Hinukh.

[2] Rabbi David  Zvi Hoffman attempted to find uniting themes for the commandments:  1) commandments pertaining to family life (21:1-23);   2) commandments pertaining to kindness between one person and another and towards all creatures (22:1-12);   3) commandments pertaining to the sanctity of marriage (22:13-23:9);  4) commandments of sanctity and probity (23:10-24:22);   5) various commandments regulating human society, and lastly, the commandment to wipe out the memory of Amalek (25:1-19).  When we examine this organization of the commandments, however, we see that some topics are too general, while others touch closely on one another without a clear distinction between them.  Rabbi Hoffman himself said, “We have no clear picture as to the order of these laws, …   Perhaps the sequence of the laws on family life and the life of the individual is such that one commandment follows another according to some sort of association of ideas.” Problematic arrangement is also a characteristic of the commandments in parashat Kedoshim, Leviticus 19, which is worthy of a separate analysis.

[3] Returning to Yitro, the Sages arrived at a halakhic conclusion from the clear structure of the Ten Commandments:  “‘You shall not steal’ (Ex. 20:13) – This is a warning to those who would steal a person’s life…   Three commandments were given in this regard, two of them explicit and one oblique;   the oblique one is deduced from the explicit ones, implying that just as the explicit ones [thou shalt not murder, adultery] carry the death sentence, so too the oblique one is punishable by a court decree of death” (Mekhilta de-Rabbi Yishmael, Mishpatim, Tractate de-Nezikin 5). 

[4] There is certainly room to try and interpret the juxtaposed passages in terms of each other, as the Sages said in general about semukhin.   Ibn Ezra observed, for example, that several commandments revolve around the road or derekh:   returning a lost ox or ass, helping them when they fall under their burden, and finding a bird’s nest; in this type of associative order, since along the road one also encounters people, each person in whatever he or she is wearing, the Torah juxtaposes in the midst of this:  “A woman must not put on man’s apparel, nor shall a man wear woman’s clothing” (Deut. 22:5).   Ibn Ezra himself interprets the placement of this commandment differently:  “It is thus juxtaposed because of going out to war; for woman was born but to bear children, and if she goes out with the men to war [which is why she is wearing mens’ clothing], she shall fall into prostitution.”   However his explanation of the commandment that a man not wear woman’s clothing is not related to this idea.

[5] Cf. Abarbanel’s overview and assessment of the division of Deuteronomy into weekly readings, at the beginning of his commentary on this week’s portion.

[6] The danger posed by “nearby nations” is especially great due to our common origin, and this common ancestry is also what magnifies their sinfulness, since they repudiated and plotted against us, their “brethren.” This makes them unworthy of entering a society whose primary strength lies in its close-knit familial character; see more on this below.

[7] The Sages connected between a weakening in the fabric of the household, as reflected in the law of the wayward son, and taking a captive woman to wife (see Sifre on Deuteronomy, 218). Speaking of the ben sorer umoreh, they said:  “His father desired a beautiful woman and brought Satan into his house; his son became wayward, and ultimately he had to kill him in a strange way.”   Likewise, they made a connection between bringing a foreign captive woman into the household and the law concerning the inheritance of the first-born, since the captive woman was destined to become the despised wife (see Sifre on Deuteronomy, 214, and Midrash Tannaim on Deuteronomy 21:22, and elsewhere).  Rabbi Isaac Abarbanel went even further, saying in his commentary that the Torah hints that G-d will always be with the despised wife and her son will be the first-born; therefore a person should refrain from marrying a woman taken captive in war, lest her wayward son inherit a double portion of his estate.

[8] Note that Exodus mentions the possibility of a negative encounter between a man and a woman in the laws pertaining to adultery and seduction, but does not stress where this takes place.  In contrast, this week’s reading mentions the city (apparently referring to the public area in a populated region, as opposed to one’s private house) and the open field – the wild region (cf. the story of Cain’s murder, and the ritual of  eglah arufa   [a heifer whose neck is broken] which is performed when someone is found slain in an open field).

[9] The Torah does not say, “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, lest a person fall from it and you be guilty of his blood,” rather it says, “do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall from it” (Deut. 22:8), which implies that it is the house—an inanimate part of the outside world-- which is “responsible,” and a person has no right to put it (the house) into such a position.

[10] A similar atmosphere to that in Deuteronomy can only be found in Leviticus 25, since that chapter has five occurrences of the word ahikha (lit. your brother) in the sense of your fellow countryman.   In Leviticus 19, which parallels this week’s portion with regard to several themes as well as the complexity of arrangement of the commandments, we are commanded to love our fellow as ourself; but only once is the term ahikha used:   “You shall not hate your kinsfolk [Heb. ahikha] in your heart.  Reprove your kinsman but incur no guilt because of him” (Lev. 19:17).   In contrast, Exodus never relates to one’s fellow person as ah, or “brother.”