Deuteronomy 21:10 – 25:19
(When You’ll Go Out)
Ki Tetze consists of a series of laws concerning family relations, acts of kindness and propriety, equity, and moral behavior.
ACCORDING TO MOSES MAIMONIDES, there are 72 mitzvot in this portion. A mitzvah is literally a “commandment” from God, but it can also be understood as an opportunity for “connection,” an opening to holiness. (The Aramaic form of this root means “to connect.”)
When we receive a mitzvah as a pathway to holiness, and then step onto that path, we have the opportunity of bringing blessing into the world through our actions. When we perform these actions with heightened awareness and clear intention, simple acts of everyday living can have a transformative impact on both inner character and outer universe.
When we dedicate the energy of living to the wholeness and holiness of Creation, our lives become a source of blessing.
KI TETZE IS A DIVERSE COLLECTION of social, ethical, legal, and ritual laws. Through these mitzvot it is possible to cultivate the qualities of clarity, stability, wholeness, kindness, compassion, generosity, honesty, and justice. The blessing comes through us when we integrate those qualities and begin expressing them through our every word, thought and interaction. But first we must receive the deeper meaning and power of a mitzvah, take it personally and learn to apply its principles to our real, everyday lives.
With these words, “When you go out to battle against your enemies,” Ki Tetze begins by acknowledging the struggle. It’s much easier to be a decent human being when you are at peace… but there is a battle to be waged and that battle will try our decency, challenge our integrity and put every good intention to the test.
THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE
THE FIRST TEST of Ki Tetze comes not from losing the battle, but from winning it. The very first commandment of Ki Tetze warns us that when we win that battle and bring away the spoils of war, we will try to acquire the beautiful woman who has become our captive. We will want to own her. And when the lust and delight for new acquisition has waned we may be tempted to sell her.
The commandment of Ki Tetze replaces the subjugation and acquisition of the captive woman with the requirement to establish a binding relationship with her, to know her as “Thou” rather than use her as “It.” To know our captive “Thou,” we are commanded to take her into our home, and let her be stripped of all the outer trappings of seduction. Her hair and nails are cut, the clothes of captivity are put aside, and she must be given a month to set her own heart in order.
Only after witnessing the simplified essence and subjective reality of our captive bride may we “come in to her” and live in sanctified relationship.
AS I TAKE THIS COMMANDMENT UPON MYSELF, I ask, “What is the victory that leaves me vulnerable to the forces of my own lust and greed?” As I take this commandment upon myself, I ask, “Where is the pathway to holiness?”
I GREW UP in a land of shopping malls surrounded by advertisements, inundated by commercials. No matter how we hide from the mainstream culture or create alternatives to the norms, consumerism is the de facto religion of the land. Though it may seem that this religion might open us to the beauty, peace, and satisfaction of acquiring and owning material wealth, in actuality consumerism sets us at war with the material world. Because of our addictions and insatiable desires for “MORE,” we are in almost constant battle with ourselves over how much is enough. This battle affects our relationship to beauty, wealth and the Earth itself. Consumerism degrades our relationship to all we see or touch in the world, because it teaches us that rather than just enjoy this beauty, we must try to acquire, own, and subjugate everything for our own use. We are conditioned to reach for the next thing, rather than taking the time to appreciate, honor, and celebrate what is already in our hands.
My world becomes a “captive bride” whose seduction lies in the fact that I have battled to own her; she is mine, to use, keep or sell. When my world is a “captive bride,” then the Earth and all her riches become commodities. That which is beyond price becomes nearly invisible. When everything in our lives becomes a thing that is to be grasped or appropriated for our own use and pleasure… then the ungraspable, unnameable, indefinable (in other words – God) ceases to exist for us. When my world is a “captive bride” I stop noticing the “spaces” between things where the mysterious force of relationship exerts its power, forming the connective web of Life. When my world is a “captive bride” then I am a slave to desires and aversions but true Love eludes me. Ki Tetze challenges us to acknowledge the destructive nature of this relationship and to transform it into one of loving mutuality. This is the pathway to holiness.
WHEN I LOOK AT MY OWN RELATIONSHIP to the “things” that I accumulate, I am reminded that the Hebrew name for Deuteronomy, D’varim, also means “things.” Though I take exquisite delight in the things of my life, I also feel that I am in an almost constant battle with clutter. If I don’t stay vigilant, it feels as if I will be buried in piles of paper or get lost in the things that I cannot manage to put in their proper place. One voice inside keeps saying that if only I would be more organized then the battle with clutter could be won. Another voice whispers that perhaps the problem is deeper and the solution more radical.
Ki Tetze challenges us to re-examine the very foundation of our relationship to the world. It says that as we transform our perception of the world-as-“Captive-Bride” to the World-as-Beloved-Manifestation-of-God, the path to holiness opens up before us.
“The Promised Land is a state of mind,” says a favorite reggae song.* The commandments of Deuteronomy are preparing us to enter that state of mind where milk and honey flow from the nurturing, simple, and sweet relationship that we establish with all of Life.
* “Promised Land” by Majek Fashek, on his 1997 Rainmaker album.
GUIDANCE FOR PRACTICE
HOW is that nurturing relationship with the world established? ONLY AFTER WITNESSING the simplified essence and subjective reality of our captive bride may we “come in to her,” and live in sanctified relationship. This witnessing is accomplished through a period of stepping back from the entanglement of compelling desire.
I suggest three practices from our inheritance that help us to step back from our habits and complicated attachments in order to establish and renew our relationship to material existence.
THE FESTIVAL OF PESACH, Passover, is our first practice. Passover commemorates our journey from Slavery to Freedom.
TO CELEBRATE, we are commanded to simplify our diets, eliminating all leaven. We return to the most basic food of Matzah, remembering that our freedom depends on our willingness to leave the securities of enslavement and venture into the wilderness where our faith can be renewed.
INSTEAD OF BUYING all those complicated Kosher-for-Passover highly processed foods, I make it a practice to spend that week (after the seder) eating simply. I eat mostly fruits and vegetables and do a kind of internal “spring cleaning.” Simplifying my diet and going back to the basics helps me to become conscious of the land’s rebirth and of my relationship with the earth. The change in diet breaks the patterns of habitual eating. I remember both my Freedom and my interdependence.
DURING THIS ONE WEEK, I re-sensitize my palate and become more conscious of how and what I consume. This practice, of returning to the basics, can influence my awareness as I continue through the rest of the year.
THE SECOND PRACTICE IS the celebration of Sukkot.
WE ARE COMMANDED to build a simple hut — just three walls and a flimsy roof — and live there for the week of the holiday. We remember our journey through the wilderness and the nomadic ways of our ancestors.
THE PRACTICE OF SUKKOT is a practice of remembering that we actually don’t need so much. Our return to the basic pleasures of celebrating the harvest and basking in the moonlight as it shines through our roof, reminds us that all of our elaborate appliances and furnishings are extra. It is a time of interrupting our patterns of addiction to technology; it is a time of stripping away the artifice of civilization. On Sukkot we renew our relationship with simplicity. We sanctify our relationship with the sheltering wings of Shekhina, the Divine Presence.
WHEN WE RETURN to our sturdy houses, we bring with us the knowledge of our fragility, the realization of just how temporary our possessions are, and the remembrance of our True Refuge in God’s Hand. We transform the “captive bride” of our possessions into a holy, simple, and grateful relationship with Home.
THE THIRD PRACTICE that I suggest, to rise to the challenge and receive the blessing of Ki Tetze, is the celebration of Shabbat.
EVERY WEEK we have the opportunity to simplify our lives and remember what is essential.
ON SHABBAT we take a break from being a consumer and allow ourselves to simply delight in the gift that is right before us. We put down the struggle, relax our desperate grip on the external world and just let it be. My friend Rabbi Arthur Waskow, who works so passionately for social justice throughout the rest of his week, turns off his computer before Shabbat and says, “The world will just have to save itself for the next 25 hours!” In that gesture of trust and surrender, the world as “captive bride,” is given her freedom. In freedom, her inner beauty shines out to awaken our unconditional love.
OUR PRACTICE FOR THIS WEEK of Ki Tetze is to relax our manipulations and release the “World-as-Captive-Bride” to her subjective experience and simple essence. Then we just may fall in love with each other and let that love inspire how we live.
SPEND ONE DAY this week fasting from media and consumerism. Do not watch TV, read the newspaper or listen to radio, and so forth. Do not buy anything. For one day honor and celebrate the simple pleasures of the world before you.
Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land
©2006 Shefa Gold. All rights reserved.