Drash on Parashat Ki Teitzei 2021

Drash on Parashat Ki Teitzei  

Rabbi Rafi Kaiserblueth
Emanuel Synagogue, Woollahra, NSW

The true test of someone's character is not when things are going smoothly, as fundamentally, those situations do not test our character. It is when times are challenging that our moral integrity truly presents itself. How that person reacts to adversity is really the litmus test. In this week's parasha, Ki Teitzei, we have a host of laws, indeed that most in any portion, that cover a huge range of topics that delineate the expectations for how the Israelites are expected to act in relationship among themselves, towards other nations and all of God's creatures.  They are the foundational guide to how we are to build a healthy, holy and just society.

Having these laws is an extremely powerful guide, yet what I find most telling are the laws that pertain to times of war. War is a time that can potentially lead to the unshackling of our human restraints. Where uncertainty and violence are involved, our base instincts are in danger of taking over and extreme acts of brutality are possible. These laws are reminding us that even in those circumstances, we are not to allow ourselves to lose control. I'm sure that many of us have heard the refrain "All is fair in love and war," but to read this week's portion, we know that is simply not true.

Specifically, at the beginning of this week's parasha, we are reminded not to take advantage of the weak or the captured. This is embodied in the law about allowing a captive woman to mourn for her parents a full 30 days. Only once that period has concluded, according to the rabbis, may the soldier marry her, but only if she consents. It has been the way of war for a vast portion of human history, that the conquered were enslaved or even forcibly married. Our tradition forces us to restrain ourselves in a time when that would be exceedingly difficult and in the process doing away with a barbaric tradition, compelling us to have compassion on the weak. If we can achieve that in a moment of war, then how much the more so in peace, it should be no challenge.

This is further reinforced by the injunction at the end of the parasha, to destroy the nation of Amalek. The reason given is that Amalek attacked the weakest members of Israel. By abusing the weak, their true character was revealed. The test of our morality is how we treat the weak or the most vulnerable in our society. Those who abuse and take advantage of the weak are the lowest of the low.

I pray this week that we always keep in mind those who may be less fortunate than ourselves, especially in these challenging times of coping with isolation and uncertainty during the pandemic. When we may find ourselves in those challenging moments, we always remain true to our tradition and keep our hands open to assist those who are in need. Further, I pray that while we may be facing many threats, we always remember who we are and govern ourselves accordingly.

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