Parshat Ki Teitzei
By Rebbetzin Lauren Levin
Ki Teitzei – the heart of humanity
Parshat Ki Teitzei addresses foundations necessary for creating an ideal society. There are imperatives regarding faith, ethics and morality. However, the main focus is on nurturing a society imbued with compassion and love.
This is evident through one such law:
“One shall not take the lower or the upper millstone as security [for a loan], because he is taking a life as security.”
This refers to a case where a destitute person desperately seeks to borrow money. The lender is prohibited from taking the borrower’s working tools, as this could be soul destroying. The Torah puts it dramatically: “he takes his very life”.
So too when it comes to taking a pledge from the borrower’s home, the lender is required to remain standing outside, in order to protect the borrower’s feelings of dignity and limit vulnerability.
However, with such an emphasis on compassion and empathy, there is a danger that it will give rise to pity. A society rife with pity is not the society we are aspiring for. If we are full of pity, will we be able to judge fairly? Will we recognise the human dignity and talent inherent in every human being, or just show them charity out of pity?
The Ohr Hachaim (b. 1696) highlights how this sensitivity can be seen through a further commandment:
“You shall not pervert the judgment of a stranger or an orphan, and you shall not take a widow’s garment as security” (24:17)
We have been told on numerous occasions to love the stranger. This could lead to overcompensating and favouring the stranger. To counter such a possibility, we are reminded here not to pervert their judgment even in their favour.
Too much favouring creates an imbalance in society and more importantly, actually reveals a lack of faith in the vulnerable person. There was an amazing moment earlier this year when the Shalva band, an exceptionally talented group, including several musicians with disabilities, entered ‘the voice’ competition in Israel. As they walked onto the stage and the judges saw them for the first time, one judge turned to his peers and said, “let’s make a deal – if they are good, we press the buzzer and if not, we don’t – we treat them totally equally”. He recognised that they may all be swayed to judge them favourably out of compassion rather than out of merit. Arguably, this moment was the moment they were truly accepted as equal players in the competition. From then, they were judged solely on their incredible musical ability. This is the type of fervour the laws in Parshat Ki Tetze are trying to nurture.
As with so much in our lives, it is all a question of balance. Sensitivity is essential but must be channelled towards understanding the Divine potential in every human being rather than simply showing them pity.