Israel Drazin

There are many important laws in the portion Ki Seitzei

The parasha Ki Seitzei (21:10-25:19) contains many laws. The Masorites of the first millennium of the Common Era counted 110 verses in the portion. They gave it the mnemonic Hebrew letters ayin lamed yud, whose numerical numbers total 110. The word means “upon me” and suggests that the Jew accepts the many laws in the portion. The following are some of these rules. They show the humane approach of the Torah. Maimonides’ description of ideal humans in his Guide and books on Jewish laws are people who enhance their thinking and study the sciences to understand how the world functions and use that knowledge to act and improve themselves and society so that each can be all they can be.[1]

  • The portion begins with the law allowing an Israelite soldier who sees a lovely female captive during a battle and desires sex with her to do so, but only under restrictive conditions. Relying on the Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 22a and Midrash Sifrei, Rashi states what we discussed previously about many other laws, such as sacrifices and slavery. He tells us that the Torah only allowed sex because the soldiers of that era had uncontrollable desires. But it placed many restrictions upon them and warned them that acting as they wanted would hurt them immensely.
  • Verse 23:16 forbidding Israelites from turning over a fleeing slave to his owner shows the Torah’s abhorrence of slavery despite allowing it under lots of restrictions because of the feelings of the community when the Torah was given.
  • Rashi refers to the rabbis’ notice of the first three laws in the portion, that after the law of the captive woman, the Torah speaks of a hated wife and a rebellious child. They saw an implication that the improper infatuation would lead to two family tragedies.
  • Verses 23:4, 5, and 8 reflect the same biblical concern for the proper treatment of others. The Torah states that the Amorites and Moabites are prohibited from joining the Israelites forever because they did not meet you with bread and water in the way when you came out of Egypt. Yet, the Egyptians could do so in the third generation despite the Israelites being enslaved in Egypt. Why?
  • The prohibition focused on Moabites and Amorites always acting contrary to what was humane. They violated the basic concept of treating others as you want them to treat you. Egypt’s leadership and general population welcomed all of Jacob’s family when they came to Egypt, and the people gave the Israelites gifts when they left Egyptian slavery.
  • The rabbis understood that the Moabite and Amorite women did not act unconscionably. So, Ruth, a Moabite woman, was able to join the Israelites and even became the ancestor of King David. The sages recognized that an invading army later mixed Amorites with inhabitants from other nations. This caused them to proclaim that the prohibition ceased.
  • The Torah concept is that non-Jews are no better nor worse than Jews. The first ten generations in the Bible are about non-Israelites. The Torah makes it clear that God created all people. The Torah explicitly commands us to love non-Jews as we want to be loved, meaning treat them as you wish to be treated. The rabbis saw implied in these chapters that they must develop laws to help non-Jews be all they can be and be partners in creating a better society. They invented the Noahide commands as a guide for them.
  • The Jewish Spanish poet Yehuda Halevi (1075-1141) was wrong when he wrote in his book Kuzari that non-Jews are so inferior to Jews that even when they convert, they are second-grade to born Jews. The Torah only berates misbehaving people, not because they have a different god.
  • This is like the American Supreme Court rulings that people can believe what they want and speak what they will, but only if they cause others no harm.
  • This is the reason why the portion Ki Seitzei ends with the command always to remember the heinous deed of the people of Amalek when they attacked the Israelites from the rear when they were leaving Egyptian slavery. While Amalek no longer exists, the rabbis taught the command instructs us to avoid improper behavior.
  • Verses 22:1-4 command us to have concern for the property of others. We are told to protect others from financial loss. If, for example, we find an article or animal belonging to another person and cannot find that person, we must take it home and protect it until we can see the owner. “You must not hide yourself.”
  • Ki Seitzei also recognizes human feelings by granting citizens more exemptions from military service than many other countries in 24:5. The rabbis understood that the exemption from a year of service applied in three instances, a man who recently married or moved to a new home or started a new vineyard.
  • Verses 22:6-7 go so far as to forbid us to take an ownerless mother bird when it is sitting on its eggs. In his Guide 3:48, Maimonides explains the purpose of this law and the rule in Leviticus 22:28 not to slaughter a mother animal and its young on the same day is because it is cruel. Animals also have feelings.
  • We must treat all that God created or formed properly.

[1] Professor Rabbi Dr. Michael A. Shmidman, “Isadore Twersky’s Unique Contribution to the Study of The Guide of the Perplexed,” Tradition, volume 55, number 3, 112-123.

About the Author
Dr. Israel Drazin served for 31 years in the US military and attained the rank of brigadier general. He is an attorney and a rabbi, with master’s degrees in both psychology and Hebrew literature and a PhD in Judaic studies. As a lawyer, he developed the legal strategy that saved the military chaplaincy when its constitutionality was attacked in court, and he received the Legion of Merit for his service. Dr. Drazin is the author of more than 50 books on the Bible, philosophy, and other subjects.
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