Parashat Ki Teitzei – Erev Shabbat 13 September 2019
Week of 8-14 September 2019
Torah Portion:
Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19 Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1-10
Theme: Remember!… Do Not Forget!

Do not forget!” resonates dramatically from the last line of Ki Teitzei. With dire urgency, it seals the fate of Amalek; but one might imagine it also reverberating back through the entire parashah, reinforcing each mitzvah of the legacy of Moses.

The strong, beautiful, and consoling haftarah from Isaiah provides a compassionate perspective for the reading of these chapters of Deuteronomy: “fear not, you shall not be shamed … the Holy One of Israel will redeem you … my covenant of friendship shall never be shaken” (Is 54:4, 5, 10). That tone is reflected in the very brief and poignant account of the bird’s nest (Dt. 22:6-7) which is almost lost amid the casuistic laws (conditional statements beginning with “if,” presenting particular cases) and apodictic legislation (general statements beginning with “you shall not”) that fill these five chapters. We might view the whole parashah through the lens of that little nest. Rashi notes that the Torah promises long life to those who observe the simple mitzvah of the bird’s nest, so how much more does the promise extend to those who do the difficult mitzvot (Plaut, 1490-91). One senses reverence in Rambam’s comment about the birds’ God-given instincts to care for their young, and so they suffer when they see their little ones endangered (Stone, 478). The wisdom to glean the lessons of life, and accountability to the source of all life motivate the seventy-two mitzvot that Maimonides counted in this parashah (Plaut, 1482).

An aura of consecration emerges in the directive to “sweep away evil from your midst” (cf. 21:21; 22:21, 22, 24; 24:27), as well as in the reminder that “your God walks in the midst of your camp … so your camp shall be holy” (cf. 23:15), and in the warning not to defile the land (cf. 21:23) nor to bring sin upon the land which the Lord is giving you as your heritage (cf. 24:4).

Four times the word “remember” echoes through the text. In 24:9, it is the warning: “Remember what the Lord, your God, did to Miriam” (cf. Num. 12:1-15); we derive from that experience an insight into “the uniqueness and superiority of Moses as mediator of revelation … and the unique intimacy of Moses’ communication with God” (NJBC, 85). In Dt. 24:18 and 22, we hear: “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt”; both verses urge generosity towards the stranger, the fatherless and the widow, in harvest time. Finally, in 25, we are told: “Remember what Amalek did to you … do not forget!” (17, 19). Recalling Amalek’s brutal refusal of hospitality and his vicious attack on the exhausted Israelites, Moses demands that they “blot out the memory of Amalek.” Here, faithfulness encompasses intimacy with God, care for the vulnerable, and the freedom of knowing what and how to forget.

For Reflection and Discussion: [1] Reflect on an event in your own life or in the history of your nation that is like a lens through which you understand or evaluate other moments in your story. [2] Write three wise directives for yourself, each beginning with the word “remember.”

Bibliography: Tanach, The Stone Edition, Mesorah Publications (New York, 1998); Brown, Fitzmeyer, Murphy, The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice Hall (New Jersey, 1990); Plaut, W.G., The Torah, A Modern Commentary, Union of American Hebrew Congregations (New York, 1981).

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