Parashat Ki Teitzei – Erev Shabbat 25 August 2023 (5783)
Week of 20-26 August 2023
Torah portion: Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19 Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1-10
Theme: Righteousness in our relationships
In this week’s parasha, Ki Teitzei, it is said that we find 74 of the 613 mitzvot given by Moses to Israel about practical matters which will guide Israel once they settle in the land. These mitzvot set aright one’s dealings with others in various circumstances. These consist of dealings in various situations and people: from dealing with a captive woman to be taken as wife, to dealing with wayward sons, to imparting justice to quarrelling kinsmen, to wages for one’s workers, to matters of divorce, incest, and adultery, to exacting interests and collaterals on loans, and dealing with other nations. It is interesting to note that these do not only include dealings with fellow human beings but with non-humans as well.
Lynn White, Jr., in 1967, published an article that places a great blame on the Judeo-Christian religion for its contribution to the destruction of the environment. He points out that “Christianity inherited from Judaism … a striking story of creation where God planned all of creation for man’s (sic) benefit and rule: no item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve man’s purposes.” However, we can find that there are texts in the Scripture, specifically in this week’s parasha, that challenges White’s accusation. In the various verses which mentioned a reference to a non-human creation, we can notice that there are different ways in which the non-human is treated in the text. One way is when the non-human is to be treated well because it is an extension of the human owner (Dt. 22:1-4). Another way is when the non-human is used for the welfare of the humans, especially the poor and the vulnerable (Dt. 23:24-25; 24:19-21). Finally, there are references to the non-human where they are taken care of for their own sake and welfare (Dt. 22:6-7; Dt 22:10; 25:4).Reflecting on the mitzvah on sending the mother bird away, Rabbi Sacks mentions that Rambam takes on conflicting yet valid positions of why the mitzvah is to be followed: first because it is the Divine Decree, second, out of concern of the welfare of the creature, and third, because it forms our values and teaches us compassion.
It is true that Judaism and Christianity believe that non-humans were created for human welfare, but this is not without any limits. In fact, human beings are charged with the responsibility to “till and keep” the creation entrusted to them (Gen. 2:9). However, there is also a space for respect and care for non-humans as they are, independent of their use or connection to us humans. In a sense, according to the Jewish Philosopher Martin Buber, they are to be treated as “Thou” not an “It.” This is reflected in Pope Francis’ reflection on the non-human creation, “The laws found in the Bible dwell on relationships, not only among individuals but also with other living beings… Clearly, the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures…the Church does not simply state that other creatures are completely subordinated to the good of human beings, as if they have no worth in themselves and can be treated as we wish.” (Laudato Si 68-69). This demands tzedaqah, righteousness, which is not merely doing right according to any statute or law but by doing right by fulfilling the demands of any and all of our given relationships, including that of our relationships with G-d, and with our fellow creatures, human and non-human alike.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. How have we fared in our relationships with people; with our fellow creatures/non-humans; with G-d? 2. How have our relationships with non-humans brought us closer to G-d;affected our relationships with fellow humans?
Bibliography: Pope Francis, Laudato Si: On the Care for Our Common Home (24 May, 2015: https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html); Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Animal Welfare: Ki Tetzei 5768, 5779(https://www.rabbisacks.org/covenant-conversation/ki-teitse/animal-welfare/).
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
John Paul A. Bolano, Philippines, Bat kol Alumnus 2017