FROM THE TORAH
While Sedra Kee-Teytzey continues to anticipate conquest and settlement, as found in previous sedras of Deuteronomy, it continues concurrently, from the immediately preceding Sedra Shofetim, the mapping of protective strategies that are demanded by the Land for its new people, commonly justice melded with righteousness, and individual and collective holiness.
Standards of Fairness, Compassion and Purity
When you go out (Kee-Teytzey) to war against your enemies, and the Eternal your God delivers one of them into your hand, and you take it captive, you must observe the following rules for a captive woman whom you find attractive and may desire and would therefore marry. Bring her into your house, where she will shave her head, pare her nails, and relinquish her captive attire. There shall she sit and lament her father and her mother for the days of a month. Afterwards may you be intimate with her, whereupon she shall become your wife.
If, then, you should not want her, you must release her completely. You may not sell her for money or exercise control over her, for you have already subdued her.
If a man has two wives, one loved and one unloved, a son by each of them, and the son of the unloved wife is the firstborn, the man may not take it upon himself to bequeath the firstborn’s portion to the son of the loved wife. Rather, he must recognize the son of the unloved wife as his firstborn and grant him a double portion of all that he owns, as the law of the birthright applies to him, his father’s initial engendering.
STUBBORN AND REBELLIOUS SON
If a man should have a stubborn and rebellious son, disobedient of his father and his mother regardless of their efforts to discipline him, then his parents shall compel him to appear publicly before the Elders of his city. Before them, at the place of appearance, the parents shall declare, “This, our son, is stubborn and rebellious; he does not obey us; he is a worthless carouser!” Whereupon all of the men of the city shall stone him to death. Thus shall you remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear and fear.
IMPALEMENT OF THE EXECUTED
When a man is executed for a capital crime, impale his body upon a stake. Do not let it remain impaled overnight, as an impaled body is a disgrace of God. So shall you not defile your Land, which the Eternal your God is giving to you as an inheritance.
PROPERTY OF OTHERS
Lost and Found
If you should see the ox or the sheep of another gone astray, you must not ignore them, but you must return them to your fellow (cf. Exodus 23:4). If the owner is not near you, or if you do not know who the owner is, then you must keep the lost animal in your house until your fellow seeks it and you return it to him. Do the same for his ass, for his garment, for anything that another loses and you find. Do not ignore them.
If your fellow’s ass or ox is fallen in the road, do not ignore them but assist him in raising them (cf. Exodus 23:5).
A man’s implement may not be upon a woman, and a man may not wear the garment of a woman, as whoever does these things is abhorrent to the Eternal your God.
If you should happen upon a bird’s nest, in a tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs, the mother sitting over them, do not take the mother together with her young, but send away the mother before taking the young, in order that it may go well with you and that you may long endure.
When you build a new house, construct a parapet for the roof of your house, so that you are not responsible for bloodguilt of your house in the event that someone falls from it.
Do not sow your vineyard with kilayim, which is more than a single species of seed, lest its yield and its produce be prohibited to you (cf. Leviticus 19:19).
Do not plough with an ox and an ass together.
Do not wear cloth of shatnez, which is wool and linen together (cf. ibid.).
Make for yourself twisted threads on the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself (cf. Numbers 15:38).
If a man should marry a woman, then feel disenchanted with her, and cast unfounded charges against her, defaming her as not being a virgin when they were first intimate, then her father and her mother should bring their daughter, along with evidence of her virginity, to the Elders of the city at the Gate. Let her parents declare the details of the defamation and then unfurl the garment of virginity before the Elders. The Elders of the city shall then take the man and chasten him. They shall fine him 100 pieces of silver, which shall be given to the father of the woman defamed, as a virgin of Israel was defamed. She shall remain married to the man. He shall have no right to divorce her all of his days.
But if the man’s charge was true, that she was not found to be a virgin, then the woman shall be taken to the entrance of the house of her father and there stoned to death by the men of her city. For she committed a disgrace in Israel by licentious behavior while in her father’s house. Thus shall you remove the evil from your midst.
Degrees of Adulterous Culpability
If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, then both of them shall die. Thus shall you remove the evil from Israel.
If a man comes upon a virgin betrothed to another man, and lies with her in the city, then the two of them shall be brought out to the Gate of that city and stoned to death, the woman because she did not cry out for help in the city, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. Thus shall you remove the evil from your midst.
If the same event occurs in the countryside, only the man who lies with her shall die. The woman has committed no sin for which she should die. It is as if a man attacked another and murdered him. Here he found her in the open, not in the city where people would have heard her shouts and helped her. So the betrothed woman cried out, but there was no one to save her.
If a man comes upon a virgin not betrothed, forcibly lies with her, and they are discovered, the man shall pay the father of the woman 50 pieces of silver (cf. Exodus 22:15-16), and she shall be his wife because he subdued her. He shall have no right to divorce her all of his days.
Remarriage with First Husband
If a man marries a woman, is intimate with her, and finds in her some offense of intimacy, so that he writes for her a bill of divorcement and delivers it to her and sends her away from his house, and then she marries another man who either divorces her or dies, her first husband, who divorced her, may not marry her again, as she has been disqualified. Otherwise it would be an abomination before the Eternal, and you may not bring sin upon the Land which the Eternal your God is giving you as an inheritance.
When a man takes a new bride, he may not participate in the military but must remain exclusively available to his house for one year, to gladden his bride (cf. Deuteronomy 20:7).
A man shall not marry the wife of his father, as he should not uncover his father’s garment (cf. Leviticus 18:8; 20:11).
One who is crushed or whose penis is severed may not enter the congregation of the Eternal.
One misbegotten (mamzer) may not enter the congregation of the Eternal, including offspring to the tenth generation.
Neither an Ammonite nor a Moabite may enter the congregation of the Eternal, forever, including their offspring to the tenth generation, because the Ammonites did not go ahead to meet you with food and water when you went out from Egypt (cf. Deuteronomy 2:19), and because the king of Moab hired against you Balaam, son of Be’or, from Petor Aram Naharayim to curse you (cf. Numbers 22:2ff.). The Eternal your God did not want to heed Balaam, so for your benefit He changed curse to blessing out of His love for you. Seek no benefit for them all of your days forever.
Do not abhor an Edomite, for he is your kinsman (cf. Numbers 20:14; Deuteronomy 2:4).
Do not abhor an Egyptian, for you were a stranger in his land (cf. Genesis 47:1 ff.). Children that are born to them in the third generation may enter the congregation of the Eternal.
HOLY CAMP IN WAR
Be vigilant of any offense when you go out as a camp against your enemies.
Anyone among you who becomes impure from a nocturnal accident shall go outside of the camp. He shall not re-enter until he has bathed in water towards evening. Then, at sunset, he may re-enter the camp.
Maintain a side place outside of the camp to which you can go for out functions. Have a spike with your gear. Upon using the out area, employ the spike to dig and then to cover up your stool by filling up the hole.
For the Eternal your God is present in the midst of your camp to protect you and to deliver your enemies to you. So your camp must be holy, that He not see in you some violation of intimacy and therefore turn away from you.
If a slave seeks refuge with you from his master, do not confine him with his master. Instead, he may live with you, in your midst, wherever he chooses, in one of your gates, in favorable conditions. Do not mistreat him.
The daughters and sons of Israel shall not be sacred prostitutes (cf. Leviticus 19:29). You may not bring the hire of a harlot or the pay of a dog into the House of the Eternal your God in order to fulfill any votive offering, as both of them are an abomination to the Eternal your God.
Charge no interest of your kinsman (cf. Exodus 22:24; Leviticus 25:35-37), whether money or food or anything that is taken for interest. You may charge interest of a foreigner, but not of your kinsman, in order that the Eternal your God shall bless you in all that you undertake upon the Land which you are entering to possess.
One should not take a pair of millstones or only the upper millstone as security for a loan, because he would be taking one’s livelihood as security.
If you make a loan of anything to your kinsman, you may not enter his home to take possession of his pledge of security (cf. Exodus 22:25-26). Rather, you must remain outside, where the one to whom you lent shall bring you the pledged item.
If he is poor, you may not, as it were, lie down in his pledge, but restore it to him with the setting of the sun so that he can lie down in the pledged mantle and bless you. This will be counted to you as righteousness before the Eternal your God.
Do not delay to fulfill payment of the vow that you make to the Eternal your God (cf. Numbers 30:3). Otherwise, He will demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin. On the other hand, had you not made the vow, you would not be so guilty. Whatever comes out of your lips as a voluntary vow, you must keep.
Do not abuse a poor or destitute hireling, of your kinsmen or of the foreigner who is in your Land, in your gates. Give him his wages on the same day, before the sun sets on him, for he is poor and his life depends on it, lest he cry out against you to the Eternal and it be considered your sin (cf. Leviticus 19:13).
You may enter your neighbor’s vineyard and eat of his grapes to your satisfaction, but you may not collect them in your vessel. You may enter your neighbor’s standing grain and gather ears in your hand, but you may not wave your sickle against them (cf. Exodus 22:4-5).
Do not pervert the justice due a stranger or an orphan.
Do not take a widow’s garment in pledge for a loan.
Remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and the Eternal your God redeemed you from there. On that basis do I command you this.
If, when you reap the harvest of your field, you forget a sheaf, do not go back to collect it. Instead, let it be for the stranger, the orphan and the widow, in order that the Eternal your God may bless you in everything that you do.
When you beat down the fruit of your olive trees, do not go back over them. Let them be for the stranger, the orphan and the widow (cf. Leviticus 19:9; 23:22).
When you cut down the grapes of your vineyard, do not go back to glean them (cf. ibid. 19:10). Let them be for the stranger, the orphan and the widow.
Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt. On that basis do I command you to do this.
KIDNAPPING OF AN ISRAELITE
If one is found to have kidnapped a fellow Israelite, whether confining him or selling him, that kidnapper shall die (cf. Exodus 21:16). Thus shall you eliminate evil from your midst.
Be very careful, with respect to the affliction of tsara’at, to comply with what the Levitical Kohanim instruct you, as I have commanded them (cf. Leviticus 13:1ff.). Remember what the Eternal your God did to Miriam on your way out from Egypt (cf. Numbers 12:1-16).
Parents shall not be put to death for their children, and children shall not be put to death for their parents (cf. Exodus 20:5-6). A man shall be put to death for his own sin.
If there is a dispute between men which is resolved by judgment, such that one litigant is declared in the right and the other is declared in the wrong and subject to lashes, he shall be flogged before the judge a number of times in accordance with his guilt. The maximum number of lashes is forty, not more, lest by an excessive number your fellow be degraded in your eyes.
Do not muzzle an ox when it is threshing.
MARRIAGE WITH BROTHER-IN-LAW
When brothers dwell together and one of them dies without a son, his widow should not remarry outside of the family. Instead, the surviving brother should be intimate with her: he should marry her as her brother-in-law. Then her firstborn shall be considered as of his deceased brother, that his name not disappear from Israel.
But if the man does not want to marry his sister-in-law, she shall go up to the Elders at the Gate and declare: “My brother-in-law has refused to establish for his brother a name in Israel; he is not willing to marry me as my brother-in-law.” The Elders shall then summon him and speak to him, and he shall stand before them and declare: “I do not wish to marry her.” Then his sister-in-law shall approach him, in the sight of the Elders, and remove his shoe from his foot, spit in his face, and declare: “Such shall be done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.” The man who refused shall be called in Israel “House of the Removed Shoe.”
If men should be physically struggling, one with each other, and the wife of one of them, attempting to protect her husband, extends her hand and grabs hold of the other man’s private parts, you shall cut off her hand. Let your eye have no pity.
HONEST WEIGHTS AND HONEST MEASURES
You shall not keep in your purse fraudulent weights, whether heavier or lighter. You shall not keep in your house fraudulent measures, whether larger or smaller. Rather, you should have one whole and accurate weight and one whole and accurate measure (cf. Leviticus 19:35-36), in order that you may long endure upon the Land which the Eternal your God is giving to you. For whoever commits fraud is an abomination to the Eternal your God.
Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you went out of Egypt, how he struck your exhausted, at the rear of your march, while you were weary and did not fear God (cf. Exodus 17:8ff.). When the Eternal your God has relieved you of all of your enemies who will surround you in the Land that the Eternal your God is giving you as a possession to inherit, you should blot out any remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!
FROM THE PROPHETS
Fifth Haftarah of Consolation
A Better Future
Cry out in song,
she who has not borne,
for more shall be her children
than those of the married woman,
says the Eternal.
Enlarge your tent,
spare no space,
for you will spread out
to the right and to the left;
your offspring will dispossess nations
and reclaim desolate cities.
be no longer ashamed
of what you remember
when you were young,
for your Maker is your husband,
the Eternal of hosts is His Name!
Your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel,
is called the God of all the earth!
The Eternal comes back to you,
who were once forsaken and downhearted,
no longer rejecting His young wife:
Only for a small moment did I forsake you,
and now, with abundant compassion,
will I gather you up!
I hid My face from you in a moment of wrath,
but now, with unending lovingkindness,
I feel love notwithstanding!
–says your Redeemer, the Eternal.
As I promised in the time of Noah
never again to bring waters upon the earth,
so do I promise never again
to bring My wrath upon you.
For though the mountains may depart
and the hills be moved,
My love shall not be moved from you,
nor shall the fullness of My promise depart,
says the Eternal, who embraces you
in mercy and with compassion.
FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH
Mishnah Sanhedrin 8:4
Role of Parents
“If a man should have a stubborn and rebellious son,
disobedient of his father and his mother
regardless of their efforts to discipline him,
then his father and his mother
shall take hold of him
and bring him out to appear
before the Elders of his city,
and they shall say…
‘This our son…
does not listen to our voice…,’
all of the men of the city
shall stone him to death…”
If his father wanted to compel him to appear but his mother did not, or if his father did not want to compel him to appear but his mother did, he is not considered a stubborn and rebellious son, until both of them (“his father and his mother”) want to compel him to appear.
Rabbi Judah says: If his mother was not compatible with his father, he is not considered a stubborn and rebellious son.
If one of his parents had only one arm or did not have all ten fingers or was lame or mute or blind or deaf, he is not considered a stubborn and rebellious son, as was said, “Then his father and his mother shall take hold of him…,”so not without an arm or fingers, “and bring him out…,” so not lame, “and say…,” so not mute, “this our son,” so not blind, “does not listen to our voice,” so not deaf.
Sifre Deuteronomy 222
Against the Evil Inclination
“If you see the ox of your brother
or his sheep gone astray,
do not hide from them,
but you shall surely
return them to your brother.”
Here I seem to have the lesson only as it applies to “your brother,” but what if the stray animal belongs to my enemy? We learn from another verse, “If you encounter the ox or ass of your enemy going astray, you must surely return it to him” (Exodus 23:4), the Talmudic implication: Return it to him even if he is your enemy! [In other words, that verse speaks not about “enemy” in a static sense, but dynamically with the aforementioned Talmudic implication, for why else would God have chosen to limit the hypothetical owner to “your enemy?”] If, then, we would return it to someone who is our enemy, it would certainly follow that we would return it to anyone! In that case, why do we even need the current verse, “Return them to your brother?” It teaches us that the Torah is speaking not so much of enemies or friends but of controlling our evil inclination [here the temptation not to help but to ignore the problems of others].
Deuteronomy Rabbah 6:1
“If you should happen upon a bird’s nest…
do not take the mother together with her young…”
Why is an infant circumcised on the eighth day? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, bestows compassion upon him to give him time to develop his strength.
Just as the compassion of the Holy One, blessed be He, is upon man, so are His mercies upon animals, as was said, “When an ox or a sheep or a goat is born, it shall stay with its mother for seven days; from the eighth day onward it shall be acceptable for a fire offering to the Eternal” (Leviticus 22:27). The Holy One, blessed be He, further said: “You may not slaughter an ox or a sheep together with its young on the same day” (ibid. 28).
And just as the Holy One, blessed be He, bestowed compassion upon animals on land, so was He full of compassion about the birds. Whence? As was said, “If you should happen upon a bird’s nest….”
Deuteronomy Rabbah 6:2
The Least as Important as the Greatest
“If you should happen upon a bird’s nest…,
do not take the mother together with her young,
but send away the mother before taking the young,
in order that it may go well with you and that you may long endure.”
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai: The Holy One, blessed be He, refrained from disclosing the reward in this world for fulfilling the commandments except for the hardest and for the easiest of them: the hardest of them is honoring father and mother, the easiest of them is sending away the mother bird. The reward for both of them, for both the hardest and the easiest, is long life:
“Honor your father and your mother,
in order that you may long endure…”
“Send away the mother before taking the young,
in order that it may go well with you
and that you may long endure.”
The lesson of this teaching may be derived from the following:
“Do not weigh the choices in life,
as their ways diverge
in directions which you cannot know.”
Rabbi Abba bar Kahana: The Holy One, blessed be He, is warning us not to choose one mitzvah above another because we think that its reward is greater. That is why He refrained from disclosing the reward for most commandments: so that we would fulfill all of the commandments without ulterior motives.
This may be likened to a king who hired workers to labor in his orchard. He refrained from disclosing to them ahead of time the compensation they would receive from tending to one or another tree, so that they would not neglect one that paid lower for one that paid higher. At the end of the day he called them together and asked each worker which tree he had tended.
“I tended this one,” said one worker. “That will yield peppers,” said the king, “so for that here is one gold coin.”
“I tended this one,” said another. “That will produce white flowers,” said the king, “so for that here is half of a gold coin.”
“I tended this one,” said yet another. “That will produce olives,” said the king, “so for that here are 200 zuz.”
“Shouldn’t you have told us ahead of time which tree’s compensation was greatest,” complained the workers, “so that we could have tended that one?!” “If I had,” answered the king, “then how could my orchard have survived?”
Deuteronomy Rabbah 6:3
Accompanied by Torah
“If you should happen upon a bird’s nest…”
This is an example of what was meant in the verse:
“Give heed, my son, to the correction of your father,
and do not forsake the Torah of your mother,
as they are a favored adornment for your head…”
The Rabbis read the last part to mean that the words of Torah favor the elderly in their loneliness. How so? Instead of being isolated, elderly students of Torah are surrounded by many who come to learn from them.
Rabbi Pinchas bar Chama explained that the word for “adornment” can be understood as “accompaniment”: Wherever you go, the commandments accompany you. For example, “When you build a new house, make a parapet for your roof” (Deuteronomy 22:8). If you build a door, the commandments accompany you, as was said, “Write them upon the doorposts of your house” (Deuteronomy 6:9). When you put on new clothes, the commandments accompany you, as was said, “Do not wear shaatnez” (Deuteronomy 22:11). If you go for a haircut, the commandments accompany you, as was said, “Do not round off the corner-growth of your head” (Leviticus 19:27).
Now suppose you own a field. When you go to plow in it, the commandments accompany you, as was said, “Do not plough with both an ox and an ass together” (Deuteronomy 22:10). When you sow it, the commandments accompany you, as was said, “Do not sow your vineyard with diverse kinds of seeds” (Deuteronomy 22:9). Then when you harvest it, the commandments accompany you, as was said, “When you reap the harvest of your field and overlook a sheaf…” (Deuteronomy 24:19).
Here the Holy One, blessed be He, is saying that even if you are not engaged in a specific task but are just taking a walk, the commandments accompany you: “If you should happen upon a bird’s nest…!”
Talmud Yevamot 3b-4a
“Do not wear cloth of shatnez, which is wool and linen together.
Make for yourself twisted threads on the four corners of your garment…”
The negative commandment of shatnez was already taught (cf. Leviticus 19:19), and the positive commandment of tzitzit was already taught (cf. Numbers 15:38). Why are they repeated here together? It is as if to say: Do not wear a garment of shatnez in general, but an exception to the general rule is your tzitzit. From such a repetition and juxtaposition of verses, then, we can infer that the positive commandment may come and limit the negative commandment!
Rabbi Elazar derived this symbiosis of juxtaposed verses [semuchin] from: “The commandments of the Eternal are ‘supported’ [semuchim] in truth…” (Psalms 111:4-5)!
Torah Temimah (Baruch HaLevi Epstein, 20th cent.): While this does not prove that the principle [semuchin] applies beyond the specific examples that the Rabbis cite here and elsewhere (cf. Talmud Yerushalmi Nedarim 3:2), it is possible that the following means to provide a general principle to support it.
Sifre Deuteronomy 233
“Do not wear shatnez” (Deuteronomy 22:11) and “Twisted threads shall you make for yourself” (ibid. 12) — both of these were proclaimed by God in the same utterance!
“Remember the Sabbath day” (Exodus 20:8) and “Observe the Sabbath day” (Deuteronomy 5:12) — both of these were proclaimed by God in the same utterance!
“Kindle no fire on the Sabbath day” (Exodus 35:3) and “This is the burnt offering of every Sabbath” (Numbers 28:10) — both of these were proclaimed by God in the same utterance!
“Do not have intimacy with your brother’s wife” (Leviticus 18:16) and “He shall be intimate with his deceased brother’s wife” (Deuteronomy 25:5) — both of these were proclaimed by God in the same utterance!
“A widow who would inherit from her deceased husband’s tribe should remarry with one from her father’s tribe” (Numbers 36:8) and “Inheritance shall not move from one tribe to another” (ibid. 9) — both of these were proclaimed by God in the same utterance!
Such would not be possible: for flesh and blood to say both as if they were one and the same. So it has been said, “One has God spoken, which I have heard as two” (Psalms 62:12)!
Torah Temimah (Baruch HaLevi Epstein, 20th cent.): Each is a set of contradictory verses: that is the reason why both of them in each case had to have been conceived and proclaimed by God in a single simultaneous utterance. Their common contradiction must then include the first set, the negative commandment of shatnez and the positive commandment of tzitzit; that is to say, the inserted thread of purple (techeylet) (Numbers 15:38) is wool while the rest of the tzitzit is linen, together constituting shatnez.
In the Talmud (Yevamot 4b) an inference is drawn from the description of Aaron’s garments (cf. Exodus 39) that the material of purple (techeylet) was wool and is thereby commanded in the Torah (Numbers 15:38) regardless of whether the garment is linen or wool. In that case it would not be necessary to prove from juxtaposition of verses [semuchin] that tzitzit is an exception to the general rule against shatnez. The two redundant juxtaposed verses, then, would be used, perhaps, to show, through their very symbiosis, that their juxtaposition establishes the general principle of the symbiosis of juxtaposed verses [semuchin]!
Sifre Deuteronomy 159
The Fugitive Slave
“If a slave seeks refuge with you from his master,
do not confine him with his master.
Instead, he may live with you, in your midst,
wherever he chooses, in one of your gates,
in favorable conditions. Do not mistreat him.”
“He may live with you,” and not in a city by himself.
“In your midst,” and not on the border.
“Wherever he chooses,” in a place that provides a living.
“In one of your gates”:
“In your gates” would mean not in Jerusalem,
but “in one of your gates” means
that he would not wander from city to city.
“In favorable conditions,”
from a bad situation to a good one.
“Do not mistreat him”:
This refers to verbal mistreatment.
Exodus Rabbah 31:12
Why loan interest is prohibited
“Charge no interest of your kinsman…
in order that the Eternal your God shall bless you
in all that you undertake upon the Land which you are entering to possess.”
“If you lend money to My people, the poor with you,
do not act towards him as a creditor;
do not impose upon him interest.”
This is what is written:
“One who shows compassion to the poor
makes a loan to the Eternal,
and He will repay him
what is due him.”
To what extent?
is a slave
to the lender.”
What shall we say about
“the poor with you?”
No affliction in the world is more feared or more known than poverty. When Job was allowed to choose between all other afflictions and poverty, Job said to the Holy One, blessed be He: Master of the universe, I would accept upon myself all of the afflictions of the world rather than poverty. If I go out to the marketplace and lack even a perutah, what shall I eat? But when he suffered other afflictions—which he chose over poverty!—he cried out in shock and disbelief, “My complaint is bitter…would that I knew how to reach Him…let me argue my case before Him and fill my mouth with evidence” (Job 23:3)! Hence, the Eternal says, “the poor with you”: poverty is in the mind of everyone, including the creditor, as if the Holy One, blessed be He, is saying to the would-be creditor: His poverty is not enough? And you would also exact from him interest?
Exodus Rabbah 31:13
God bonds with the poor
“One should not take a pair of millstones
or only the upper millstone as security for a loan,
because he would be taking one’s livelihood as security.”
“Do not treat My people, the poor with you,
as a creditor would normally treat a debtor…
If he gives you his garment in pledge,
return it to him before the sun sets
because it is the only covering for his skin.
If he cries out to me, I will listen because I am compassionate.”
“The poor with you?” They are not with you; they are with Me; they are “My people!” and thus says David: “For You shall deliver a poor people” (Psalms 18:28)!
In this regard the nature of the Holy One, blessed be He, is different from the nature of flesh and blood. A wealthy man of flesh and blood who has a poor relative will not acknowledge him. If he sees his poor relative, he hides from him, for he is ashamed to carry on a conversation with him because he is poor. Thus says Solomon, “All brothers of the poor hate him” (Proverbs 19:7) and “The poor is hated even by his own close one, while many are the friends of the wealthy” (Proverbs 14:20), and Job complained, “My relatives are gone, and my friends have forgotten me” (Job 19:14)!
But who are with the Holy One, blessed be He? The poor. When He sees a poor person, He bonds with him. “Thus says the Eternal: The heaven is My throne, the earth is My footstool…yet to this one do I look: to the poor and broken of spirit…” (Isaiah 66:1-2)! As Moses says to Israel, “It is not because you are the most numerous of all peoples that the Eternal has desired you and chosen you, but because you are the smallest of all peoples” (Deuteronomy 7:7)! And when He expresses His love for Zion, on whom does He have compassion first? On the poor, as was said: “The Eternal shall establish Zion, and He shall shelter therein the poor of His people” (Isaiah 14:32) and “The Eternal shall comfort His people, showing mercy to its poor” (Isaiah 49:13)!
Exodus Rabbah 31:15
“If you make a loan of anything to your kinsman,
you may not enter his home to take possession of his pledge of security.
Rather, you must remain outside,
where the one to whom you lent shall bring you the pledged item.
If he is poor, you may not, as it were, lie down in his pledge,
but restore it to him with the setting of the sun
so that he can lie down in the pledged mantle and bless you.
This will be counted to you as righteousness before the Eternal your God.”
“Do not treat My people, the poor with you,
as a creditor would normally treat a debtor…”
These words express His intention:
“A good person lends graciously [chonen],
conducting his transactions with justice.”
Indeed all of the non-human creations of the Holy One, blessed be He, borrow from each other:
Day borrows from night in the summer, and night borrows from day in the winter, without suing each other, as was said, “Do you imagine that day says to day that the night owes us, or that night says to night that the day owes us? No, there are no such words, there is no complaint, their voice is not heard!” (Psalms 19:3-4)
The moon borrows from the stars, and the stars borrow from the moon, as was said, “He says to the moon that it should wane in favor of the stars, and seals the stars in favor of the moon!” (Job 9:7)
The afterglow at sunset borrows from the sun, and the sun as it rises borrows from the first light, as was said, “As the glowing sun sets, Your arrows of light arise; then a glow before the flash of Your spear!” (Habakkuk 3:11)
Heaven borrows from the earth, and earth from heaven, as was said, “A mist rises up to heaven from the earth” (Genesis 2:7), and “The Eternal opens up to you heaven, His benevolent storehouse, to grant your Land rain when it needs it and to bless all the work of your hands” (Deuteronomy 28:12)!
All of them borrow from each other cooperatively, without rancorous accusations. But when His creations of flesh and blood need to borrow one from the other, the creditor seeks to dominate the debtor by means of interest and thievery. Indeed those who charge interest are saying implicitly to the Holy One, blessed be He: Why don’t You extract rent for Your world from its inhabitants? A fee from the earth that You water? A price for the produce that You bring up? A charge for the lights that you cast? A tax for the breath that You expire? A tariff for the body that You protect?
This may be likened to the king who grants one of his subjects the use of his treasury. What does the grantee do with those funds? He distributes them to the poor, yes, but in so doing with cruel stipulations he grinds down those already impoverished, drives widows to despair, and strips naked the people, turning dignity to shame and ultimately converting theft to violence. “Rob not the poor because he is poor” (Proverbs 22:22)! “You have sown wickedness; you have reaped iniquity” (Hosea 10:13)! He makes a lie of the king’s good intentions as he depletes the king’s treasury. For the King has said, “The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine” (Haggai 2:8)! “Whoever undermines the poor reproaches his Maker” (Proverbs 17:5)!
To them the Holy One, blessed be He, responds: See how much the earth has provided without charging for its benefits, how much I Myself have lent without interest; I shall reclaim the principal and nothing more, as was said, “The dust shall return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return to God as He gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7)!”
Therefore the Holy One, blessed be He, admonishes us in the Torah, “If you should lend My people money…” (Exodus 22:24-26), and your debtor fails to pay you, be satisfied that I have called him “wicked,” as was said, “The wicked borrows and does not pay back, but a righteous person gives compassionately [chonen]” (Psalms 37:21)! This is precisely what He means when He warns Israel, “If he gives you his garment in pledge, return it to him before the sun sets because it is the only covering for his skin. If he cries out to me, I will listen because I am compassionate [chanun]” (Exodus 22:25-26).
Numbers Rabbah 22:1
Entitlements to God’s Name
“If a man makes a vow to the Eternal
or takes an oath to impose an obligation upon himself,
he shall not violate his word;
he must uphold whatever comes out of his mouth.”
“Do not delay to fulfill payment of the vow
that you make to the Eternal your God.
Otherwise, He will demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin.
On the other hand, had you not made the vow, you would not be so guilty.
Whatever comes out of your lips as a voluntary vow, you must keep.”
This is explained further by:
“If you swear, ‘As the Eternal lives…,’ even sincerely,
only by law and by righteousness
shall there be blessing by Him…”
The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel: Do not suppose you are permitted to take an oath by My Name, even sincerely, unless you possess all of these qualities:
“If you fear the Eternal your God
and worship Him,
and cleave to Him,
then you may swear an oath in His Name.”
You must be like Abraham, of whom it was said, “Do not extend your hand to the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God…” (Genesis 22:12).
If you occupy yourself with Torah, engage in commandments, and practice no other worship, for such it was said, “…and worship Him.”
But is it even possible for a man to cleave to the Divine Presence, for has it not been said, “The Eternal your God is a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24)! What it teaches is: Whoever marries his daughter to a true student of Torah and supports him from his earnings, then surely “to Him do you cleave!” For “a man cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24)
Deuteronomy Rabbah 6:10
“Be very careful, with respect
to the affliction of tsara’at…
Remember what the Eternal your God
did to Miriam…”
This is what was meant by the words:
“Allow not your mouth
to cause your flesh to sin,
and do not say before the angel
that it was an error;
why should God be angry at your voice
and destroy the work of your hands?”
The Rabbis teach: This verse speaks to those who practice evil speech about another. How so? When the mouth engages in evil speech about another, it makes its entire body guilty, causing it to be afflicted. “To cause your flesh to sin”: the mouth brings sin and its punishment upon the body.
But what is the meaning of the following words, “Do not say before the angel that it was an error?” That you should not think: I can just go and say something bad about another, and no one will know! The Holy One, blessed be He, is saying: Be always aware that I station an angel to stand near you to record everything you say about your fellow, as was said, “Even in your thought, curse not the king, nor curse the rich in your bedrooms…” (Ecclesiastes 10:20), and why? “Because a bird of heaven shall deliver your voice, and a creature of wings shall declare the word” (ibid.)! What is “a creature of wings?” These are the angels, about whom it is written, “Each of them had six wings” (Isaiah 6:2)!
“Why should God be angry at your voice?” The evil speech that went out of your mouth! “And destroy the work of your hands?” And destroy the work of Your hands, that man whom God created but is now afflicted for engaging in evil speech!
So, “be very careful, with respect to the affliction of tsara’at…,” and if you don’t believe me, then consider Miriam who, because she engaged in evil speech about her brother Moses and his Cushite wife (cf. Numbers 12:1), was so afflicted: “Remember what the Eternal your God did to Miriam…!”
Deuteronomy Rabbah 6:13
“Be very careful, with respect to the affliction of tsara’at,
to comply with what the Levitical Kohanim instruct you,
as I have commanded them (cf. Leviticus 13:1ff.).
Remember what the Eternal your God did to Miriam
on your way out of Egypt (cf. Numbers 12:1-16).”
“Moses cried out to the Eternal, saying:
‘O God, please [nah], heal, please [nah], her!’”
“So Miriam was confined outside of the camp for seven days,
and the people continued its journey
only after Miriam was readmitted.”
When Moses saw what happened to his sister Miriam, he began crying and praying for her with all of his heart and his soul: “O God nah heal nah her” (Numbers 12:13)! The Rabbis understand him to say: Master of the universe, You have already made me a healer (cf. Leviticus 13-15; Numbers 5:1-4), yet, O God, if You would heal her, that would be preferable, but if not, then I will heal her.
Rabbi Abba bar Kahana attributed the same interpretation more literally to Moses’s words of prayer, “O God nah heal nah her” (Numbers 12:13)!: I would have You, God, please [nah], do the healing; otherwise, I [anah] shall heal her!”
Moses’s words were introduced by mention of his crying out to the Eternal: “Moses cried out to the Eternal…” (Deuteronomy 24:13a). This crying out may be compared to that of a heroic leader who had to suffer temporarily a painful punishment. Sometime later, after he was relieved of the punishment, he saw the same painful punishment inflicted upon another, and he began to cry out. “Why are you crying?” he was asked. “You don’t understand,” he replied; “I feel their pain because I once had to endure the same painful suffering.” Thus it was that Moses cried out for the pain of his sister, being punished with tsara’at (cf. Leviticus 12:10), which only he could understand, having suffered tsara’at at the direction of the Eternal in Egypt (cf. Exodus 4:6-7).
In response to Moses’s prayer for Miriam, the Holy One, blessed be He, healed her. Whence do we have it? From: “The people continued its journey only after Miriam was readmitted” (Numbers 12:15).
Sifra Emor 8 Parshata 10 Perek 12:12
As if the Temple were standing
“If, when you reap the harvest of your field, you forget a sheaf,
do not go back to collect it.
Instead, let it be for the stranger, the orphan and the widow,
in order that the Eternal your God may bless you in everything that you do.
When you beat down the fruit of your olive trees, do not go back over them.
Let them be for the stranger, the orphan and the widow.
When you cut down the grapes of your vineyard, do not go back to glean them.
Let them be for the stranger, the orphan and the widow.
Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt,
and on that basis do I command you to do this.”
But this commandment of providing
corners and leftovers of the harvest for the poor
is also included in the Torah
amid instructions for festival offerings:
“You shall declare on that very day a holy convocation for you;
you shall do no work of service…
And when you reap the harvest of your Land,
do not wholly reap the corner of your field,
and do not gather the leftovers of your harvest.
Leave them for the poor and for the stranger.”
According to Rabbi Avardimas son of Rabbi Yosi, the reason is to teach that one who provides corners and leftovers of the harvest for the poor is acting as if the Temple is standing and he is bringing his festival offerings to it. Obversely, one who fails to provide corners and leftovers of the harvest for the poor is acting as if the Temple is standing and he is not bringing his festival offerings to it.
Malbim (Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michel Wisser, 19th cent. Ukraine): One of the purposes and benefits of the festivals was to provide for the Kohanim and for the Poor, both of whom depended upon the sustenance of God’s table, as in Deuteronomy 26:12: “You shall provide for the Levite, for the Stranger, for the Orphan, and for the Widow…”, and elsewhere. The insertion of this mitzvah here indicates that these provisions must continue beyond the festivals themselves to gifts from the harvest and that these gifts to the Poor are on the same level as the festival offerings from which the Kohanim derive sustenance, coexisting with the spirit of Deuteronomy 18:1: “The Kohanim, the Levites, all of the tribe of Levi, shall not share any portion or inheritance with Israel; they shall consume the fire offerings of the Eternal and His inheritance.” Providing for the Poor is observed for the entire year, and also after the Temple has been destroyed. Obversely, one who does not provide a portion for the Poor resembles one who holds back from bringing his offerings to the Temple.
Sifre Deuteronomy 278-279
“Do not abuse your fellow, and do not rob him.
The pay of a hireling shall not stay overnight with you until the morning.”
“Do not abuse a poor or destitute hireling,
of your kinsmen or of the foreigner who is in your Land, in your gates.
Give him his wages on the same day,
before the sun sets on him,
for he is poor and his life depends on it…”
“Do not abuse a poor or destitute hireling…,” but haven’t we already learned, “Do not rob him?!” What is the point of adding, “Do not abuse…?” Those additional words are Oral Torah (talmud) meant to teach us something that is not explicit in the Written Torah, that whoever withholds the wages of a hireling transgresses four commandments: (1) Do not abuse, (2) Do not rob, (3) Do not keep the pay of a hireling overnight, and (4) Give him his wages on the same day before the sun sets on him.
“…and his life depends on it…”—These words would seem to limit the commandments to work which endangers the life of the hireling. Whence do I derive the same obligation for work which does not endanger the life of the worker, such as weaving or dyeing? The additional words, “Do not abuse,” are Oral Torah (talmud) meant to teach us what is not explicit in the Written Torah, that the commandments apply to work whether it endangers life or not.
“Do not abuse a poor or destitute hireling…”—These words would seem to exclude from the commandments’ protection workers who are not poor or destitute. Whence do I derive the same obligation for workers who are not poor or destitute? The additional words, “Do not abuse,” are Oral Torah (talmud) meant to teach us what is not explicit in the Written Torah, that the commandments apply to all workers, whatever their economic status may be. But then why does the Written Torah even specify “a poor or destitute hireling?” I should hasten to compensate “a poor or destitute hireling” before one who is not!
“…of your kinsmen…”—These words, as they stand, exclude others; that is, your kinsmen only! But He continues, “…or of the foreigner…,” referring to the proselyte as being in a more limited category of protection under only two of the aforementioned negative commandments. Rabbi Yosi son of Rabbi Judah says that he is limited to protection under only (1) Do not abuse. Finally, “…in your gates,” includes the non-idolatrous resident alien who observes the Noachide commandments only.
All of the aforementioned categories refer to personal wages. Whence do I derive compensation for animals or objects? The redundant words, “…who [asher] is in your Land…,” should be read as, “which [asher] is in your Land…,” Oral Torah (talmud) meant to teach us what is not explicit in the Written Torah, that the obligation applies to “anything that is in your Land!”
“Give him his wages on the same day, before the sun sets on him…” teaches that the night laborer may collect his wages throughout the day which follows the night of his labor. Whence do we derive, then, that the day laborer may collect his wages not only “on the same day” but throughout the night which follows the day of his labor? The redundant words, “The pay of a hireling shall not stay overnight with you until the morning,” are Oral Torah (talmud) meant to teach us what is not explicit in the Written Torah, that the day laborer may collect his wages throughout the night which follows the day of his labor!
“…for he is poor…,” for why else would he climb up a ladder, risking his life for your benefit, if not to expect you to pay him his wages on the same day! If that expectation follows, why need it be said, “…and his life depends [hu nosey et-nafsho] on it [eylav]…?” Those seemingly superfluous words can be read literally, “and he (the worker) transfers his life [hu nosey et-nafsho] to him (to the employer!) [eylav],” in order to imply: An employer who withholds the wages of a hireling—the verse regards him as if he takes the hireling’s life!
Sifre Deuteronomy 293
Talmud Bava Kamma 28a
Refinement of Punishment
“If men should be physically struggling…,
and the wife of one of them,
attempting to protect her husband,
extends her hand
and grabs hold of the other man’s private parts,
you shall cut off her hand.
Let your eye have no pity.”
Rabbi Judah teaches: Here it says, “Let your eye have no pity,” and there, regarding false testimony and its punishment, “life for life, eye for eye,” etc. (Deuteronomy 19:16-21), it also says, “Let your eye have no pity” (Deuteronomy 19:21)—so just as there, in the case of false testimony, “Let your eye have no pity” was Talmudically associated with a monetary fine (instead of “life for life,” etc., cf. Talmud Bava Kamma 83b-86a), so also here, in the case of her grabbing hold of the other man’s private parts, the same words “Let your eye have no pity” should be Talmudically associated with a monetary fine (instead of “you shall cut off her hand,” cf. Mechilta Mishpatim 8)!
Should the monetary fine be applied only when she is unable to save her husband in any other way? No, only when she was able to save her husband in another way but instead grabbed hold of the other man’s private parts. When she is unable to save her husband in any other way, she “extends her hand” as would an officer of the court in discharge of his duty to save her husband and would therefore be exempt from penalty for indecency.
Yalkut Shimoni Psalms 896
“Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you went out of Egypt…,
blot out any remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.
Do not forget!”
“At Rephidim, Amalek attacks Israel.
Moses appoints Joshua to assemble a contingent of men
who will go out and fight against Amalek.
‘On the morrow,’ says Moses,
‘I will stand at the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.’”
“The Eternal will extend your mighty staff from Zion;
be dominant in the midst of your enemies!”
It was the staff of Jacob,
as was said:
“For with my staff I have crossed over this Jordan…”
It was the staff that Judah left with Tamar,
as was said:
“And she said…and your staff which is in your hand…”
It was the staff of Aaron that turned into a serpent,
as was said:
“Aaron threw down his staff before Pharaoh and before his servants…”
It was the staff that was in the hand of Moses
when Joshua and his men fought with Amalek,
as was said:
“…And the staff of God will be in my hand.”
Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 20:5
Righteousness After Ruin
“Sing for joy, O barren woman,
for the children of the desolate
shall outnumber the children of the married,
says the Eternal…
This is like the waters of Noah to Me…!”
Rabbi Abba bar Kahana finds an explanation for Isaiah’s prophecy through his interpretation of the words, “Your mouth (midbarech) is lovely (naveh)” (Song of Songs 4:3): What was the living abode (naveh) of God is now your desolation (midbarech)—they occupy the same space! Those who now violate the sacred space of the Temple’s ruin are not unlike those who violated the same sacred space when it was a living abode: when the Temple was standing, it raised up wicked kings like Ahaz, Manasseh and Amon.
But how shall “the children of the desolate
outnumber the children of the married?”
After the Temple was destroyed, it was the inspiration of righteous men like Daniel and his court, Mordechai and his court, and Ezra and his court. Rabbi Acha in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: There were more righteous leaders after the time of its destruction than there were at the time of its abode. “Like the waters of Noah was this to Me!”