“The Face of Evil” Parashat Ki Tetze 5777

Parashat Ki Tetze contains an assortment of mitzvot, including who we may and may not marry. While a member of any nation can convert to Judaism, Amonite and Moabite converts are prohibited from marrying anyone but another Amonite or Moabite convert[1]. The Torah justifies this prohibition [Devarim 23:5-6]: “Because they did not greet you with bread and water on the way when you left Egypt, and because he [the people of Moab] hired Balaam… against you, to curse you. But Hashem, your G-d, did not want to listen to Balaam. Hashem, your G-d, transformed the curse into a blessing for you, because Hashem, your G-d, loves you.” We are not only forbidden from marrying these people. The Torah warns us [Devarim 23:7] “You shall not seek out their welfare or their good, all your days.”

These verses are peculiar in an assortment of ways. First, the Torah gives two reasons why we may not marry a Moabite or Ammonite convert. The first and seemingly primary reason – not offering Am Yisrael food or water –  is not explicitly written anywhere in the Torah. As for the second reason – the hiring of Balaam – this was exclusively a Moabite sin. The Amonites had no part in that fiasco. Further, why is it important to tell us that Hashem foiled Balaam’s plans? The fact that Balaam tried to destroy Am Yisrael at the behest of the Moabites should be sufficient to keep them out of the club. And if we’re already going there, why do we allow Amonites and Moabites to convert to Judaism if they are so dastardly? Why do we offer them admission only to seat them alone in the upper Mezzanine?

Rav Binyamin Sofer, writing in the “Ktav Sofer”, suggests that while both Amon and Moab denied Am Yisrael food and water during their sojourn in the desert[2], only Moab hired Balaam and so the prohibition against marrying Moabite converts should have been more far-reaching. Rav Sofer answers that because Hashem foiled Balaam’s plot, that particular sin was erased from the books. Again, this is problematic because it should be the intent that warrants punishment and not the end result, which in this case was due to a technicality: Divine intervention. The Netziv of Volozhn suggests that the sins committed by Amon and Moab revealed critical personality faults: these nations lacked basic kindness and they committed acts of pure evil. Either one of these faults was sufficient to prevent intermarriage. The fact that Moab had more faults than Amon was inconsequential.

It turns out that not all Amonites and Moabites are prohibited from intermarrying. Moabite and Amonite women are permitted to marry Jewish men. This raises a question: If Amonite men are prohibited from intermarrying because of certain innate character flaws, are the women permitted because they do not share these flaws with the men? In other words, are the genes for lack of kindness and for pure evil, similar to the gene for haemophilia, located on the Y-chromosome? Or could it be that the Torah admitted Moabite and Amonite women for some other reason? According to the Netziv[3], the second answer is the correct one: The only reason that the Torah allows marriage with Amonite and Moabite women is because the Davidic dynasty was propagated by two such women: Ruth the Moabite, King David’s great-grandmother, and Naama the Amonite, wife of King Solomon and mother of King Rechavam. Without these two women there would be no mashiach and so the Torah went out of its way to permit intermarriage with all Moabite and Amonite women[4].

Let’s continue a bit further down this avenue: Why did Hashem need these women in the lineage of the mashiach? R’ Nissan Dennis proposed that Hashem needed Moabite and Amonite genes to provide a little bit of spice. The Talmud in Tractate Yevamot [78a] teaches that  Jews are naturally “timid, merciful, and kind”. For this reason a Jew cannot marry Amonites or Moabites as their characters are antithetical to the Jewish character. A king, on the other hand, requires a certain amount of toughness, and the toughness of the kings in the Davidic dynasty was provided by Amonite and Moabite DNA. I would like to take a different path. Rav Meir Soloveichik, writing in a masterpiece called “Redemption and the Power of Man[5]”, compares the Jewish and Christian ideas of redemption. Why does the Jewish mashiach have such a sordid past? From Lot’s illicit relationship with his daughters, a relationship that created Amon and Moab, to Tamar seducing Yehuda, to David and Batsheva, the lineage of the mashiach is the stuff of which tabloids are made. Compare this with the Christian redeemer who is the “Son of G-d”. Rav Soloveichik explains that according to Christian doctrine, man will never be worthy of redemption. Redemption comes from the outside, at the hands of one born of immaculate conception, a person unblemished by sin. Jewish doctrine teaches otherwise. It posits that man has the power to redeem himself. No matter how far man has fallen, he has the ability to pull himself out of the muck, to wipe off the dirt, and to lead a godly life. The mashiach is the personification of this concept. If he can do it, so can we. Rav Soloveichik writes, “Because the [mashiach] will come only when Israel is worthy of his coming, the belief in the certainty of redemption is of necessity a belief that Israel will prove itself worthy of the [mashiach]”. Accordingly, the mashiach needs to be born with the character flaws of Amon and Moab to prove that he can rise above them. Better yet, he can use these genes to his advantage. The Talmud in Tractate Shabbat [156a] teaches that a person who was born under the planet Mars will have a propensity to enjoy blood, and he will likely become a doctor, a thief, a butcher or a mohel. His inner nature can manifest itself in ways that can be either detrimental or advantageous. The choice is his alone.

This explanation can help us understand why the word “E-lokecha” – “Your G-d” –  appears no less than three times in the verse that describes how Hashem foiled Balaam’s plot. The Torah is teaching a critical message: no matter who we are, no matter what our tendencies, Hashem will bless us and save us from our enemies if and only if we rise above our gene structure and actively accept Him as our G-d.

This past Shabbat I read an article about an Israeli start-up company called Faception, a “facial personality profiling technology company”. According to their press kit, “Our breakthrough computer-vision and machine learning technology analyses facial images and automatically reveals personalities in real-time.” Faception claims that their algorithms can identify a potential terrorist simply by looking at a picture of his face. The idea is that the genes that are responsible for certain personality traits can manifest themselves in a person’s facial structure. The company claims an 80% success rate. They were allegedly able to identify with success the nine culprits of November 2016 terror attacks in Paris. Now they want to place cameras in airports and stadiums in order to apprehend the terrorist before he acts. I have great problems with the systems that Faception is marketing and it is not because of false positives that result in false arrests and their corresponding loss of liberty. I would have the same problems with these systems even if their classification algorithms worked 100% of the time: Just because my facial structure suggests that I might be a terrorist does not mean I am a terrorist. I can – I must –rise above my gene structure. Arresting a person because of the shape of his smile goes against one of the basic tenets of our faith.

If I could, I’d give Faception pictures of Rabbi Akiva, a person who at age forty decided to dedicate his life to Torah study, a person who plumbed the depths of the Torah and reshaped Halacha, a person who wholeheartedly supported Bar Kochva’s revolt against the Romans, only to pay for his support with his own life. I wonder if Rabbi Akiva would be pulled aside while trying to board a plane…

ere’s

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5777

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza and HaRav Chaim Nosson Eliyahu ben Lana.

[1] There are other “cast-outs” that they can marry, but this is not relevant to our shiur.

[2] This is a problematic assertion, see Devarim [2:29].

[3] Emek HaNetziv al HaSifre, Devarim 23

[4] See the shiur of Rav Ben Tzion Kriger at length at https://www.biu.ac.il/JH/Parasha/mattoth/kri.html.

[5] http://www.azure.org.il/article.php?id=233

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over twenty-five years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science", and his speaking events are regularly sold-out. Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA and Canada. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2001 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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