Ki Teitzei – A Mitzvah that you can only fulfill by forgetting!

Ki Teitzei (Deut 21:10-25:19)

A Mitzvah that you can only fulfill by forgetting!

by Dr. Jacques Abourbih

This prasha is unlike any others.   First of all its title Ki Teitzei bears a strange resemblance to another earlier one in Shemot – Ki Tisa. The resemblance is not just coincidental. They share the same ethical themes and practical rules to live in a society. But that is not all.

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks reports this event: “One story in particular made a deep impression on me. Someone once asked Moses Montefior, “Sir Moses, what are you worth?” He thought for a while and named a figure. “But surely,” said his questioner, “your wealth must be much more than that.” With a smile, Sir Moses replied, “You didn’t ask me how much I own. You asked me how much I am worth. So I calculated how much I have given to charity thus far this year.”

Lofty as the Mitzvah of Tzedakah is, of all 613 Mitzvot incumbent upon us there is a strange one that you can fulfill only by being negligent, and when you become aware of your negligence you do nothing to rectify that shortcoming. It is the mitzvah of Shichechah, the mitzvah of “forgetting”.

“When you reap your harvest… and forget a sheaf in the field, do not go back to fetch it; it shall be for the stranger, for the orphan and for the widow ( 24:19)”

The Mitzvah of Shichechah (“forgetting”) opens a floodgate for similar mitzvoth with the common theme of sharing with those who have nothing.

“When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time … or when you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for (the most vulnerable and poorest among you,) the stranger, the orphan and the widowed.”

Notice that the Torah does not mention first the widow or the orphan. It seems “the stranger amongst you” is the weakest and most vulnerable. “Remember that once upon a time you were that weak and vulnerable stranger in Egypt.”

Let’s go back to Shemot Ki Tisa. Hashem requires that when taking a census every Jew must contribute a half-shekel as atonement for participating in the census.  By contrast in Canada, until recently at least you were fined for NOT participating in the census.

So what happens if you don’t cave in to Hashem demands and don’t pay that ransom of a half-shekel for participating in the census? That story is told in the second book of Samuel chapter 24.

The possible reason why Hashem demands atonement and there are several, is in this week’s Parsha. The assumption beneath every census is: there is strength in numbers.

Not so, says this week’s parsha Ki Teitzei: “Your real worth is only what you are willing to share with others, not how many you are.”

If you believe there is strength in numbers you will be disappointed. We are a tiny people; one fifth of one percent of the world population, an insignificant in number. This small fraction would be acceptable random counting error in the Chinese census. Yet we Jews have contributed to humanity throughout history in ways disproportionate to our numbers.

Perhaps for this reason the Torah says:

“The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.” Deuteronomy 7:7

May we continue to merit Hashem’s love for the children of Israel.

Shabbat Shalom

Jacques Abourbih