Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Ki Tetze
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

R. Avraham ben-tziyon ben shabtai

Thoughts on "Parshat Ki Tetze"

One who places his trust in the Almighty will also arm and train his soldiers on a fitting spiritual and moral level. He understands that this is what decides - no less, and even more - the outcome of the battle.


Rabbi Azriel Ariel

1. Reliance and Self-Help
2. Regarding War Ethics
3. The Dignity of Man

Reliance and Self-Help
Man was born to labor, not to sit back and wait for a miracle to occur and solve the problem. Therefore the Torah states that sometimes it is necessary to "wage war against your enemies" (Deuteronomy 21:10). Do not, says the Torah, just sit back and wait for God's great salvation. Take to the battlefield and fight. Yet, this is only one side of the coin; there is another side as well: "And God shall give them into your hands." It is not the might and strong hand of the IDF which bring about the victory. God's blessing is what ultimately determines the battle's outcome. Complete human effort on the one hand, and unswerving faith in God on the other. In the words of Yoav and Avishay: "Be strong and of good courage for the sake of our people and for the sake of the cities of our God, and God will do what is good in His eyes" (Samuel 2, 10:12). Yet, if we are obligated to exert ourselves on a practical level, what does it matter if we trust in God or not?

The Torah itself answers this question a bit later on: "This is because God your Lord makes His presence known in your camp, so as to deliver you and grant you victory over your enemy" (Deuteronomy 23:15). One who places no trust in God will take care to prepare the infantry, to arm and train them, yet no more than this. On the other hand, one who places his trust in the Almighty will also arm and train his soldiers spiritually and morally. He understands that this is what decides - no less, and even more - the outcome of the battle. This is the source of commandments like maintaining the holiness of the camp, blowing the trumpets, prayer, and dealing with woman prisoners of war. And since the army is girded with proper spiritual preparation, it is capable of setting out and prevailing in the name of God, even where there are few against many and weak against strong.

Regarding War Ethics
The subject of war ethics and purity of arms concerned our people already at the dawn of its history. Let us follow the path of the Torah of Israel, as it appears in our weekly portion. Our portion opens with the law addressing woman prisoners of war. No doubt, this phenomenon is very negative from an ethical point of view. Yet, it is not the way of the Torah to solve problems of war ethics through commands and legal investigation committees. The Torah understands all too well the inner workings of man who turns into a wild animal in the heat of the battle. The Torah does not command complete restraint at such a time. The soldier must fight with all of his soul and all of his heart. It is impossible to obligate the soldier in the same laws that are upheld in civilian life.
One way the Torah deals with this phenomenon is by establishing a number of conditions. If your evil impulse gets the better of you in the heat of the battle, don't say to it, "No." Say, "Yes, but…" The real challenge, though, begins long before this: on an educational level, within the routine of the camp. "When the camp goes out against your enemy, beware of any evil thing," i.e., lascivious behavior. The soldier in the Israelite camp is not permitted to behave like a wild animal. He must take care to relieve himself in a decent manner, not to use foul language, and not to bring into the camp pictures which are inappropriate. A soldier who sets out to battle after this sort of preparation will certainly know, on the battlefield, how to behave like a human being and a Jew.

The Dignity of Man
The Torah chooses to teach us the great value of human dignity via the moment of man's greatest humiliation. "When a man is legally sentenced to death and executed, you must then hang him on a gallows" (Deuteronomy 21:22). The Torah is not discussing a righteous person here, but a sinner. Furthermore, we are not dealing with a live individual, but the corpse that remains after death. What individual could be more deserving of humiliation than this? "He was like dust during his lifetime, what more so after his death." Yet it is precisely via this undeserving corpse that the Torah chooses to teach us the great value of the dignity of man, God's creation. "You may not allow his body to remain on the gallows overnight… since a person who has been hanged is a curse to God" (Ibid. 23).

Two explanations are given for this law in the Talmud. According to the majority of sages - and the law follows their understanding - only one who actually blasphemed God or performed idol worship is hanged. These two types of people are "a curse to God." That is, through their behavior they showed negligence in their honor for God and disgraced Him. The publicizing of this sin by way of hanging the corpse on the gallows for an extender period of time - even if it is done so that all can hear and see - involves educational damage. The publicizing itself paradoxically lends legitimacy to the sin. The community must understand that it is inconceivable to insult the Creator in such a manner.

Surprisingly, Rashi does not make mention of this explanation in his Torah commentary, despite the fact that it is accepted as the law. Rather, he brings the opinion of Rabbi Meir who explains that, "all those stoned to death are hanged." That is, all those who incur execution by stoning are hanged after their death. Regarding the prohibition against allowing the corpse to remain on the gallows overnight Rabbi Meir says, "This is comparable to identical twins, one of which became an important minister, while the other was caught as a bandit and hanged. All who saw him said, 'The minister has been hanged!'" In other words, man - even when he sins and transgresses to the point where he becomes deserving of stoning by the courts - was created in God's image. It is as if he is the "identical twin" of God. By offending the honor of man, one offends the honor of God.
The supercommontators of Rashi are baffled: Why did Rashi choose to mention the explanation that was not accepted as law? It appears that what brought Rashi to do this was a separate interpretation by the Sages that was accepted as law. According to that interpretation it is forbidden to hang any human being needlessly, and there is an obligation to give him the sort of respectable and honorable burial deserving of one created in God's image.

From this episode - which teaches us the importance of man's dignity via the dignity of none other than a sinner - we are made aware of just how important man's dignity is. If an ordinary individual had been the Torah's subject of discussion, one might conclude that the obligation to honor such a person stems from his own merits. But a sinner? A transgressor? What dignity does he deserve? From this, we learn that it is not the personal merit of an individual that obligates us to honor him, but the honor of his Creator. There is an "obligation to honor" even when there is no "merit to honor." For, the honor that we are dealing with is not that of man as a friend or neighbor, but the dignity of the creation of God, who "created man in His image and likeness."

Some of the biblical verses here were taken from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's "Living Torah."

את המידע הדפסתי באמצעות אתר