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Ki Tetze – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

This week we are introduced to 74 commandments, (or 72 according to Maimonides). Ki Teitzei literally means "When you go forth" or, perhaps, "When you come out”. There are both positive and negative commandments and conflicting ways of addressing them. The commandments come from God but individually they address many different activities and different aspects of the world.

The first five paragraphs continue with themes of war that we read last week in Shoftim. It is the underlying humanity that is remarkable when seen against the practices of other nations.

If you see among the captives a beautiful woman and you desire her, you may take her for yourself as a wife…. you shall not sell her for money. You shall not keep her as a servant, because you have afflicted her.

Some of the commandments are problematic for us in the present day

A man’s attire shall not be on a woman, nor may a man wear a woman's garment

The question arises, what is the modern halachic response to unisex clothing?

The Parasha sets out rules of behaviour in family life, kindness, between human beings, the sanctity of marriage, holiness and proper conduct leading to laws which will govern society. We are given instructions to respect the dead and we are even given building regulations.

When you build a new house, you shall make a guard rail for your roof

What we are being prepared for is not just a Promised Land but a life full of promise. It may not be perfect, but it will have the potential for us to grasp.

R. Ishmael saw all these commandments as looking at the real world. It is up to us to say yes to positive mitzvoth and no to negative ones. R. Akiva took a different view. He saw commandments as transcending the world. God is asking us to respond yes to them all- to see the positive in the negative.

In a little over two weeks from now it will be Rosh Hashanah, a New Year of new possibilities. It has been a difficult year for us all but the ability to see the positive in what may seem the negative is a powerful lesson to take with us on our journey.

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