The title of this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tetze (when you go out) is derived from the Hebrew root word yatsa, meaning to leave, go or come out. This refers to the children of Israel who have left Egypt and now find themselves standing at the brink of entering the Promised Land in fulfillment of God’s promise.
In this Parasha, God gives the Israelites a series of laws that mostly govern civil and domestic life.
This group of laws is intended to build a just community of people who are not only concerned with their own well-being, but also with the well-being of others. God wants His people to demonstrate mercy and kindness to everyone, especially those who are powerless, helpless or oppressed.
These include female captives of war, strangers and foreigners, destitute laborers, refugee slaves, the children of an unloved wife, and the poorest of society—orphans and widows.
Israel displaying righteous conduct and showing friendship toward non-Jews is considered an act of holiness, since the goodness of the God of Israel is then revealed to the outside world.
The concept of friendship is very important in Judaism. The Hebrew word for friend, chaver, comes from the word chibbur, meaning to be attached or joined. It can also mean to be a member of a club, society or group; therefore, to become a chaver means we find a place of belonging and acceptance.
In order to translate this ideal of a caring, moral community into reality, God’s Word provides regulations for a diversity of situations—everything from the ban on cross gender dressing to respect for birds and animals.
Creating Godly Community
The laws written in this Parasha may seem disconnected and unrelated, but they collectively represent the expected behavior of a community under God’s authority.
For example, throughout the Torah, God is very concerned that everyone and everything unclean, impure and capable of defiling the community is kept outside of the camp. And because “bad company corrupts good character,” God also keeps corrupting influences contained such as those who steal, lie, cheat, commit adultery, and even children who are unruly.
The Torah reveals that godly children are important for carrying forward God’s laws and blessings into the next generations and, therefore, the community is also responsible to give input in the raising of children.
The whole community is to be involved in dealing with a rebellious, stubborn young person who is a drunkard and glutton.
In ancient times, Biblical law called for such a youth to be stoned to death after several warnings; however, it is possible that this penalty was never evoked against a son of Israel. It is clear, though, that God’s intention is to separate such behavior from the rest of the community.
“So shall you put away the evil from the midst of you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.” (Deuteronomy 21:21)
God is also concerned with fairness in business dealings, so Ki Tetze provides laws about the inheritance rights of the firstborn, divorce, borrowing and lending money, and the returning of lost objects.
It also outlines the penalty for involuntary enslavement: “If someone is caught kidnapping a fellow Israelite and treating or selling them as a slave, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you.” (Deuteronomy 24:7)
Even the covering of excrement is dealt with in the Torah:
“For the Lord your God moves about in your camp to protect you and to deliver your enemies to you. Your camp must be holy, so that He will not see among you anything indecent and turn away from you.” (Deuteronomy 23:14)
This Parasha also emphasizes the importance of getting a good start in a marriage.
A man is not to be sent to war for one year after marriage; he is to stay home and make his new bride happy. What newlyweds would not want a year-long honeymoon?
This law reiterates not only the lovingkindness of God but also the importance He places on the sacredness of the marriage covenant (Deuteronomy 24:5).
A variety of marriage relationships are discussed, including the marrying of women captured in conquest, Levirate marriages (where a deceased man’s brother is obligated to marry his widow), and marriages with two wives.
Although the law of Moses allows for more than one wife (possibly due to shortage of Jewish men), every instance of polygamy in the Tanakh is associated with strife.
Monogamy, however, is the ideal form of marriage created by God for Adam and Eve.
God confirms in the Haftarah how this is true for His bride, Israel.
God’s Faithfulness to His Bride
The corresponding Haftarah (prophetic portion) discusses marriage through the prophet Isaiah’s poetic portrayal of God and Israel as a husband-wife metaphor.
“For your Maker [עֹשַׂ֔יִךְ] is your husband [בֹעֲלַ֙יִךְ֙]—the Lord Almighty is His name—the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; He is called the God of all the earth.” (Isaiah 54:5)