כי תצא When You Go Out
Deuteronomy 21:10 – 25:19
Our parasha this week is called Ki Teitzei, meaning “When you go out” and it ranges from Deuteronomy 21–25. Now, last week, we heard a parasha where Moses laid out the social structure for Israel as they entered into the land: Moses spoke about the institution of judges in legal disputes, Levites for religious requirements, prophets for communicating God’s revelation, and kings for keeping social order. And when you finished that parasha, you have a good picture of how society will be structured, and who will be in charge.
Now, in our parasha this week, Moses moves from that broad structure, and begins focusing on the commands for individuals living in ancient Israel. He addresses ethical issues in day-to-day activities, touching on many subjects, including family relationships, how to dress, and even how to treat God’s creation.
As you read through this Torah portion, you may find that some sections are a little hard to get through. There are two reasons for that. First, it is not always clear how the different themes discussed relate to one another; sometimes it appears random. Second, the laws are not always easy to apply to our own lives. If we are not careful, we just start skimming through this section, but we will lose the value of what is being taught.
Whenever we come to portions of Scripture that are difficult to understand, or may even make us feel uncomfortable because they deal with warfare or slavery, view those as an invitation to delve deeper into the text, so we could understand “What did this law mean in its original context” and “What is the heart behind the law.” When we have that approach, the application becomes a little easier.
For example, one law in this parasha is: “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet/fence for your roof, so that you will not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone falls from it” (Deut 22:8). Now, you may easily think “nobody goes on my roof,” and skip over this. However, what is the heart behind this command? God is reminding us of our responsibility for each other’s well-being — that even on matters related to your own property, we are called to take the extra step — spend the additional money — to ensure the safety of all those around you. We have a responsibility to each other.
And while parasha Ki Teitzei is filled with these types of commands, for the sake of time, I will just pinpoint two other regulations that may appear irrelevant for us, but in reality, they present an important challenge.
First, Moses begins this parasha by addressing the dangers of discrimination. He says that when you go out to war in a distant land, if you find a wife and bring her back home with you, you shall marry her. However, if things do not work out in the marriage, Moses says: “then you shall let her go wherever she wishes; but you shall certainly not sell her for money, you shall not mistreat her” (Deut 21:14). Why does he say that? In a culture where women were not protected, and foreigners (people from different lands) were not valued — God’s command here is countercultural — even the person who is no longer married and from a faraway land must be treated as an equal citizen. And for us in the 21st century, this is an important reminder not to allow ourselves to hold a prejudice against anybody because of where they are from, what language they speak, or the traditions they practice — but rather, like James says, he must live by the royal law: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” So here, we learn not to be prejudiced.
Second, Moses even instructs us to the degree in which we are to help one another. And this is where the challenge comes alive. Moses states that if you see somebody’s animal (ox or sheep) straying away, “you shall certainly bring them back to your countryman” (Deut. 22:1). This means we are to stop what we are doing, take the animal, and find the owner. Imagine the inconvenience. In our day and age, this may mean that when we see somebody’s garbage cans knocked over, we stop and we pick them up. Or if you see somebody drop something and walks on, we pick it up and bring it to them— the main idea is that we have a responsibility to stop and help. As Moses says, “You are not allowed to neglect [your neighbor],” (Deut. 22:4).
But there is more. Moses continues: “If your countryman is not near you, or if you do not know him, then you shall bring [the animal] to your house, and it shall remain with you until your countryman looks for it” (Deut. 22:4). This means you literally take on the responsibility of your neighbor and care of their items, even if you do not know them.
You see, the point Moses is highlighting here is: our actions matter. While God does care about the heart and the intentions, we cannot neglect how we live. Like James says: if there is somebody in need and you say “‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but [do] nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16). In other words, we are called be inconvenienced by one another, and called to action.
Therefore, this parasha is a good reminder that how we live our lives is very important to God. Since our actions are always a reflection of the one whom we represent, let us fulfill the royal law to love one another, for by this people will know that we love and represent the Lord.