Parshat Ki Teitzei: The ethics of God’s love

“When you go out (ki teitzei) to battle against your enemies and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands.” (Deuteronomy 21:10)

This verse makes us reflect on the fact that in order to claim and possess the promised land we have to defeat our enemies. If they threaten to destroy us, we must subjugate them in order to make them cooperate in the tasks that await us once we occupy the Land. As we can see, there are enemies we must eradicate completely and enemies that we must subdue and redirect them to serve our mission and purpose in life.

Our Sages say that a wild ox can either build or destroy a field, and the difference between the two is a yoke. The wild ox typically represents ego, the field is life and the world, and the yoke is Torah’s commandments which we call here the ways and attributes of God’s love. But we have a multidimensional consciousness that encompasses something more than just ego.

Intellect, mind, emotions, passions, and instincts also need to be directed and guided under the yoke of love. Here we call them the empty vessels waiting to be filled with the ways and attributes of God’s love, which are love’s own ethics.

This means that when we confront the world and its material illusions, we have to do it through love’s ways and attributes because through them we are connected to God’s love, the source that created us and sustains us.

In this context God delivers our enemies into our hands. The entire Torah and Hebrew scriptures that define Judaism are all about ethics, because ethics reflects the ways and attributes of our Creator. Our sages say that God overlooks our sins against Him but not the sins against our fellow man, by quoting:

“If you sin, how have you affected Him? If your transgressions multiply, what do you do to Him? If you are righteous, what do you give Him? What can He possibly receive from your hand?” (Job 35:6-7)

In the material world we fulfill His will by the ways we relate with each other and the whole Creation.

In this portion we read many commandments related to how we approach our enemies and our fellow man.

“You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep driven away, and hide yourself from them; you shall surely bring them back onto your brother.” (Deuteronomy 22:1-2)

This clearly refers not only to protect our brother’s material possessions but also our responsibility to make him aware of the consequences of his uncaring attitude by letting his desires and emotions go out of control.

“You shall not plow with an ox and an ass together. You shall not wear a mingled stuff, wool and linen together.” (22:10-11)

We must not mix ego and humbleness, simply because they don’t mix.

As we said earlier, there are particular traits and qualities that comprise our consciousness, and our duty is to fill them all with love’s ways and attributes as the only means to make them work in harmony.

Good and positive thoughts are the best guides to our emotions; and joy, excitement and happiness are the best motivation to do good deeds through speech and action. In anything we conceive, think, feel, speak and act we must only use the right seeds (thoughts), the right animals (traits), and the right garments (attitudes).

The ethics of love means not mixing with anything different from its ways and attributes. In this sense there is no chance to give in to ego’s fantasies and illusions.

“You shall not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days forever.” (23:7)

“(…) because the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp to deliver you, and to give up your enemies before you; therefore shall your camp be Holy that He sees no unseemly thing in you, and turn away from you.” (23:15)

Let’s be aware that it is us who turn away from God with our wrong choices, because He never abandons us. We are also reminded about the effects of negative talk.

“Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam, by the way as you came forth out of Egypt.” (24:9)

The portion ends with more ethical teachings.

“You shall not have in your house diverse measures, a great and a small. A perfect and just weight shall you have; a perfect and just measure shall you have; that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God gives you.” (25:14-15)

Love doesn’t allow double standards because love is its perfect and just measure, the essence that sustains us and prolongs our days in the life what God gives us. Love is the true measure of all things because God’s love creates and sustains all things. This is the ethics of love.

About the Author
Ariel Ben Avraham was born in Colombia (1958) from a family with Sephardic ancestry. He studied Cultural Anthropology in Bogota, and lived twenty years in Chicago working as a radio and television producer and writer. He emigrated to Israel in 2004, and for the last fourteen years has been studying the Chassidic mystic tradition, about which he writes and teaches. Based on his studies, he wrote his first book "God's Love" in 2009. He currently lives in Kochav Yaakov.