Thoughts on Ki Teitse

Last year, while introducing this week’s parasha, Rabbi Sacks related the following story:

Many years ago, Elaine and I were being driven to the Catskills, a long-time favourite summer getaway for Jews in New York, and our driver told us the following story: One Friday afternoon, he was making his way to join his family in the Catskills for Shabbat when he saw a man wearing a yarmulke, bending over his car at the side of the road. One of the tires was flat, and he was about to change the wheel.

Our driver told us that he pulled over to the roadside, went over to the man, helped him change the wheel, and wished him “Good Shabbos.” The man thanked him, took his yarmulke off and put it in his pocket. Our driver must have given him a quizzical look, because the man turned and explained: “Oh, I’m not Jewish. It’s just that I know that if I’m wearing one of these” – he gestured to the yarmulke – “someone Jewish will stop and come to help me.

One of the reasons for assisting a fellow Jew is given in this week’s parasha, Ki Teitse Deuteronomy 21:10 – 25:19,

You must not watch your brother’s donkey or ox fall down on the road and ignore it—you must certainly help him lift it up again.

Deuteronomy 22:4, TLV

Those familiar with Yeshua’s teachings in the Apostolic Writings will immediately recognize this verse, as Yeshua uses it to justify his healing on the Sabbath.

Now when Yeshua went into the home of one of the leaders of the Pharisees to eat a meal on Shabbat, they were watching Him closely. And there before Him was a man swollen with fluid. So Yeshua said to the Torah lawyers and the Pharisees, “Is it permitted to heal on Shabbat, or not?” But they kept silent. So Yeshua took hold of him and healed him, and He sent him away. Then He said to them, “Which of you, with a son or an ox falling into a well on Yom Shabbat, will not immediately pull him out?” And they could not reply to these things.

Luke 14:1-6

The Pharisees could not reply to Yeshua because they knew he was correct. Later the Sages would write,

Thus also it was taught [in a Baraita]: One heats water for an ill person on Shabbat, whether to give him to drink or to wash him, [since it might help him recover]. And they did not say [it is permitted to desecrate] only the current Shabbat for him, but even a different, future Shabbat. And one must not say: Let us wait [and perform this labor] for him [after Shabbat], perhaps he will get well [in the meantime]. Rather, one heats it for him immediately because any case of uncertainty concerning a life-threatening situation overrides Shabbat. And this is so not only with regard to uncertainty [whether his life is in danger] on the current Shabbat, but even in a case of uncertainty [with regard to danger] on a different Shabbat.

B. Yoma 84b

In Judaism, every individual’s life is important and essential because we all are created in the image of God and given life through the breath of the Ruach (cf. Genesis 1:27 & 2:7). Showing the gravity of this importance, pikuach nefesh, the obligation to save a life in jeopardy, takes precedence over almost any other command. Interestingly, this obligation applies not only to an immediate threat but a future one and also to a less grievous threat that may have the potential of becoming serious threat in the future. Yeshua’s healing of the man on Shabbat falls into the realm of uncertainty; he did not know whether the man’s condition would remain the same or increase in severity before the end of the Shabbat, thus he healed the man.

Notice, if you would, that I said in Judaism every individual’s life is important, that even includes our enemies. Yeshua taught,

You have heard it said, “You shall love your neighborand hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, …

Matthew 5:43-44

Often this verse is understood to indicate that the Tanakh taught hate of one’s enemies and that Yeshua replaced this with a higher ethical principle to love one’s enemies. Nowhere in the Tanakh are we commanded or told to “hate our enemies.” In fact, the Tanakh teaches to treat with dignity and compassion our enemies and those who hate us. The first thing to notice is that Yeshua says, “You have heard it said,” not “it is written.” We know from the Dead Sea Scrolls, that the Qumran community juxtaposed love of the sons of light with hate of the sons of darkness (the enemies; 1QS 1.10). It is also safe to assume that the Zealots hated and taught other to hate the Romans. Both of these are examples of traditions alive during the time of Yeshua, not Scripture. Yeshua’s command to “love your enemy” is a reflection of the teaching in the Tanakh. Consider Exodus 23:5, which by the way, is very similar to Deuteronomy 22:4:

If you see the donkey of the one that hates you lying down under its burden, do not leave it. Rather, you are to release it with him.

Exodus 23:5

Also consider Rav Shaul’s words to the believers in Rome, who had suffered intervals of persecution. Quoting Proverbs 25:21-22, Rav Shaul says:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. For by doing so you will heap coals of fire upon his head.”

Romans 12:20

Rabbi Sacks, in the same article mentioned at the beginning, defines such treatment as the ethic of “help your enemy.” Putting love into action and helping meet the needs of those with whom we are not on the best of terms, has the potential of removing the dividing lines and building relationships—sometimes creating friendships where there were none, and  occasionally simply constructing bridges of understanding where there was mistrust and suspicion. A cup of water or a helping hand can go a long way in building and/or restoring relationships. It is my prayer and hope that we can all set as a goal from the day forth to put the ethic of helping one another into practice, not just for those whom we love and care for, but also for our enemies.

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