The reading of Ki Teitzei contains 72 mitzvot or laws, more than any other portion of Torah. These laws are considered special because they go beyond an attempt to just keep law and order… they are designed to help create the “holy community” envisioned by Torah.
“When you [an Israelite warrior] take the field against your enemies, and the Eternal your God delivers them into your power and you take some of the captive, and you see among the captives a beautiful woman and you desire her and would take her to wife….” (Deut. 21:10-11) This quote introduces the first of many laws presented this week. The text continues with details on the proper treatment of this woman. The soldier must allow her a month to lament her parents and her past. After this month the soldier may take her as his wife… but, if he no longer desires her, she becomes a free women. He can not sell her for money or enslave her.
The laws presented this week deal primarily with the social framework of the community. They range from subjects dealing with marriage, divorce, and rape…. To business conduct requiring honest weights (25:13), not charging fellow Israelites interest (23:20), and leaving the fallen crops for the needy (24:19) …. To laws dealing with the treatment of animals such as the mitzvot that states that while threshing, an ox can not be muzzled (an animal in the midst of grain should not be forbidden from eating it) (25:4), and a field can not be plowed with an ox and an ass harnessed together (the two animals plow at differing speeds and it would be harmful to force each to adapt to the other) (22:10)…. And there’s a lot more… laws dealing with kidnapping (24:7), and forbidding the punishment of children for crimes of their parents (24:16), and the need to build a parapet around your roof to protect anyone from falling (22:8).
And there are laws which have no apparent reason… Prohibition of mixing wool and linen in garments (22:11), prohibition of sowing a field with a second seed (22:9), prohibition of a man wearing women’s clothing or a women wearing man’s clothing (22:5).
It is easy to understand the reasoning behind most of these laws. But, as we see above, others seem to exist for no apparent reason at all. In an article “What is the purpose of observing mitzvot” for the Jewish Reconstructionist website, Rabbi Howard Cohen (Congregation Shirat Hayam, Marshfield, Mass.) stated that there are two types of mitzvot or laws. First, those that creates a lifeline for a community. These include laws about marriage, commerce, and laws that prevent harm to individuals and property.
A second type of law encourages good deeds. These help to elevate our daily lives to a level of holiness. Examples include mitzvot that require us to go beyond what is expected and take actions that help others in the community.
“When you reap the harvest in your field and overlook a sheaf in the field, do not turn back to get it; it shall go to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow…” (24:9). The crops belong to farmer. He can harvest 100% of the field…. But, Torah says that is wrong.
“If you see your fellow Israelite’s ox or sheep gone astray, do no ignore it; you must take it back to your peer. If your fellow Israelite does not live near you or you do not know the owner, you shall bring it home and it shall remain with you until your peer claims it…. You shall do the same with that person’s garment; and so too shall you do with anything that your fellow Israelite loses and you find; you must not remain indifferent.” (22:1-3) A found item can easily be kept by the finder. But is that the right thing to do?.… Returning the object requires extra effort to locate the owner, and then return the item. And if it isn’t returned, no one will blame a finder for keeping it…. But Torah says this wrong. The finder is commanded to be of service to the loser… his neighbor.
“If you see fellow Israelite’s ass or ox fallen on the road, do not ignore it; you must raise it together” (22:4) A person must stop their current chores. The command is to go the extra step to help a neighbor. It is wrong to turn one’s head and ignore t a neighbor’s problem.
“You shall not turn over to the master a slave who seeks refuge with you from that master. Such individuals shall live with you in any place they may choose among the settlements in your midst, wherever they please; you must not ill-treat them.” (23-16) This law, written in a time when slavery was acceptable, recognized that the slave is a person, and more than just property.
The fact that the laws of Torah command us to go beyond what is right … and do something the Torah considers “holy” is one of the major reasons that the laws of Torah are so special… and why the Israelites and the Jews have been held to a higher standard. The laws not only protect the individual, but also command that every person is responsible for the needs of the community and all who reside it. This becomes a responsibility that goes beyond the convenience of the person. It is an attempt to create a community that is not only law abiding… but, a community that cares … a community that is holy. These are laws that aim to make the spirit of Torah a reality.
That is the why the laws presented in Ki Teitzei are so special.