Parshat Ki Teitzei contains more mitzvot than any other Parsha in the entire Torah, including many that outline ethical conduct in the face of impossibly challenging situations. These commandments touch on some of the greatest personal and collective trials and tribulations we encounter throughout our lives.
How do you discipline a rebellious child? What is an adequate punishment for rape? How do you maintain morality in the midst of war? What is the right way to get divorced? How do you care for a widow?
While many of these laws refer to physical wars, most of us spend our days on the spiritual battlefield, fighting with enemies from within that threaten to take over our minds, hearts, and souls. Whether we are struggling with addiction and mental health challenges, trouble with money and relationships, or simply feeling distant from our Father in Heaven, we can work on ourselves and seek help for years only to realize that we are no closer to victory than when we began.
So how do I know when I’m making progress in my own spiritual conquests? In the midst of all of these laws and commandments, the Torah contains a verse that has always touched me deeply:
“…לֹא תוּכַל לְהִתְעַלֵּם”
“…Do not ignore it.” (Devarim 22:3)
When you see someone that is in trouble, do not ignore their plight. No matter how deep you are in your own dark pit of pain, if you can still raise your eyes and see the suffering in someone else’s, you are digging in the right direction.
Isolation with young children may be difficult, but imagine the loneliness of your friend who has spent so much of the past year and a half alone. Work may be stressful, but do not forget the struggle of your neighbor who is unemployed. You may be living in a society with laws that feel oppressive, but the Taliban just took over Afghanistan.
However, the word לְהִתְעַלֵּם is a reflexive verb. While you cannot be indifferent to the suffering of others, you must be careful not to swing too far in the other direction as well. Acknowledging someone else’s challenges should not undermine your own. You are not obligated to take on anyone else’s burden, ignore your own problems to solve theirs or start a competition of who has it worse. The first step is simply to open your eyes. All you need to do is see.
Next time you find yourself drowning in your own sorrow, try to lift yourself up for just long enough to ask: “Am I all alone down here, or is there someone else struggling with me?” The ability to step beyond ourselves and see someone else’s pain is perhaps the greatest indicator as to where we are at in this lifelong journey.