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Ki Tetze – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

The multiple commandments we read this week cover family, possessions, responsibility to animals, relations with our neighbours and respect for the dead. According to Maimonides, Ki Tetze contains 72 of the 613 commandments in the Torah. The scope and rationale for the mitzvoth in the Sedra almost seems random; a “last minute packing” by Moses. What appears to unite them is examining what constitutes morality.

The concerns for a beautiful captive and an unloved wife are instances of such behaviour. (As an observation, “beauty” is in the eye of the beholder and that is a subjective matter rather than an objective one!). The Mitzva underscores marriage as the foundation of society: women will always hold a special place.

The treatment of the rebellious son is unsettling. Is it failure of parenting or the wilfulness of the boy? This sort of legal “justice” sits badly with divine justice.

Each day in the month of Ellul in Psalm 27 we read:

Though my father and mother may reject me, the Lord will gather me in

At times we may seem to reject God, but God does not reject us.

This moral imperative can be seen in many of the varied mitzvoth in the Sedra. They encompass respect for the dead, respect for the property of others and care for animals. They address the complexity of relationships; not just in marriage but also in love, in war, and in business: including responsibility for the employed.

You shall not withhold the wages of a poor or destitute hired worker

It is somewhat more difficult to find this moral teaching in the rules regarding dress.

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

Clothes shape us as human beings. Personal discretion and practices are seen as a modern approach to diversity, but they may stir up antagonism. Those choices can be seen as a rejection of society together with all its history. They can breed antipathy and discord.

Morality is best served by an understanding of individual desires being accommodated not just within the community but also respecting it. What we choose to do today affects not just us but our children.

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