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

Little Sister – Achot Ketana

This poem was written in the 13th century by Abraham Hazzan Gerondi of the Catalonian town of Herona. The poem consists of eight metrical stanzas; the acrostic gives the name of the author “Abram Ḥazzan.”

The opening words of the hymn are taken from the Shir Ha sherim (Song of Songs 8:8)”We have a little sister”: “We have a little sister, and as yet she has no breasts. What shall we do for our sister on the day when she is spoken for?” Verse 8:8, as for that matter the whole of Shir Hasherim is full of ambiguities, double meanings, and circular references that exploit numerous meanings. Here is the opening stanza of Abraham Hazzan’s poem “Little Sister”. Perhaps would it help you to formulate your own connection between the Little Sister of the poet Abraham Hazzan and the Little Sister in the Song of Solomon if I told you that Achot Ketanah is sung on erev Rosh Hashanah? The “Little Sister” is perhaps a symbol of the soul of the world or the children of Israel. The little sister prepares her prayers And intones her praises. O G-d, we beseech Thee, Heal now her infirmities. May the year and its misfortunes Now cease altogether.

Jacques Abourbih

The Journey of a Sefer Torah

The Journey of a Sefer Torah from Cairo, Egypt to Montreal, Canada

by Jacques Abourbih

The two decades following Israel’s war of independence in 1948 were a time of great upheaval for all the Jewish communities that had once flourished in many parts of North Africa and the Middle East.  The story of the Sefer Torah that is recounted here begins in one such community, the Egyptian Jewish community.  This community, one of the most ancient established societies dating back to before the 9th century C.E. , was very vibrant numbering over 100,000 members. Jewish institutions including schools, synagogues, hospitals, and old age homes had been established and the Jews had made over the years numerous contributions to the commercial, industrial, political and artistic life in Egypt. However, with the advent of Arab nationalism and the political turmoil following the war with Israel, Jews felt unsafe and no longer welcome in Egypt. Some were forcibly evicted following the war in 1956 while others were able to stay a few more years and leave in a more orderly fashion.

My family was among the later group. My parents, concerned with the safety and welfare of my grandparents and other family members, were hesitant to leave. There were also the unknowns associated with immigrating to a foreign land to contend with.  Would my father be able to find work? Would we be able to adapt to a new way of life? However, these considerations were quickly swept aside as the situation for the Jews worsened. My parents began preparing earnestly for our exit from Egypt. Although other family members had immigrated to many countries among them Israel, Chile, Brazil, Switzerland, France and Britain, the choices for my parents were quite limited.  In the end, my parents chose to apply to immigrate to Canada because we spoke French fluently and my aunt was already settled in Montreal and was willing to sponsor us. The necessary applications were submitted and after a tense year long wait, we received in 1961 the necessary visas conditional on passing the medical examinations.  The next step in the preparation was to gather the belongings that we were allowed to take with us. The laws in Egypt were strict. Only a limited amount of belongings could be taken out of the country.  The choice was quickly made to take mainly wool clothes, heavy coats and jackets. After all, we were going to the country that bordered the North Pole and that was blanketed in snow, something we had never experienced in Egypt!

As the Jewish community in Cairo was dwindling fast, there was concern for the numerous Sefer Torahs that were left behind in synagogues that no longer had active congregations. My father was approached and was asked if he would be willing to take two Sefer Torahs with him. He readily agreed. The two Sefer Torahs were packed along with our belongings.  Finally, in May 1962, we left from Alexandria on a small Greek passenger ship.  The ship made stops in Piraeus, Greece and Naples, Italy and arrived in Marseilles a week later.  To our dismay, we found out that during the transit from Cairo, some of our belongings had been looted. Furthermore,   some of the luggage had also been damaged during the loading and unloading from the ship.  My father quickly surveyed the damage and hired a handyman in Marseilles to perform the necessary repairs. Thankfully, the two Sefer Torahs were in a trunk that had not been damaged nor looted. We spent a month in transit in France and at the end of June we left from Le Havre on a Cunard Line ship. We arrived in Montreal, Canada a week later where we were met at the docks near Old Montreal by my aunt. My mother asked apprehensively about my grandparents who had stayed behind in Egypt and to our great surprise, my aunt told us that my grandparents had been able to leave Egypt and had arrived in Montreal before us since they had been able to come by plane.  On this positive and welcome news, we were able to put behind us the hardships that we had endured and to enjoy our newly found freedom in Canada.

My aunt had come to Montreal in 1957 and had worked for Rabbi Lavy Becker. In fact, Rabbi Becker had supported my aunt in her endeavours to sponsor us to Canada. Upon our arrival in Montreal, Rabbi Becker invited my family to join the religious services of the congregation that was to become Dorshei Emet.  Our first Jewish High Holidays outside of Egypt were celebrated with the congregation in the auditorium of the JPPS School on Van Horne and Westbury in 1962. We were made to feel so very welcome by everyone. Since the Sefer Torahs needed a permanent home, my father donated one of them to Rabbi Becker’s congregation. The second Torah was donated to the small Egyptian Jewish congregation that met in the small Chapel of the Young Israel Congregation.

My family made a long voyage when it left Egypt for Canada. The two Sefer Torahs that we carried with us throughout our trip kept us out of harm’s way and allowed us to arrive to our destination safely.

A Politically Correct Haggadah


by Jacques Abourbih

The Hague International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law:


It is now official: The Israelite slaves of the biblical times have been declared responsible for genocide of innocent Egyptians. “We must never forget the Holocaust of my people, even with the passage of 4000 years” declared the Egyptian representative at the United Nations, brandishing a Torah containing the evidence against the Jews written by their own hands.

The United Nations General assembly voted unanimously on a motion by the Philistine rep. condemning the Jews for use of excessive force during Operation Exodus that left all First Born Egyptians dead and caused starvation and epidemics as a result of economic plagues imposed by the Jews.

In this not-so-imaginary world, the headlines and video clips highlight stark images of blood flowing in the Nile and the devastation from frogs, boils, locusts and other plagues.

The BBC sends a team of reporters and producers to document the devastation in Egypt for a 10-part series – one for each plague.

In Canada, daily editorials in the Toronto Star attack the government for its pro-Israelite ideology, and the CBC Radio team of Carol Off and Barbara Budd hold moving interviews with carefully chosen Egyptian victims, reached in their servant-less Cairo villas.

These media stories are accompanied by United Nations Human Rights Council resolutions condemning the Israelites for brutal violations of international law and the disproportionate use of force. (European, accompanied by some Canadian diplomats, are seen squirming awkwardly in their seats and wagging their fingers at the Israelite delegation.)

In parallel, the leaders of moral non-governmental superpowers and watchdog groups, such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, hold press conferences and give sage-sounding interviews to voice their condemnations, while demanding independent investigations and prosecution of Moses.

HRW’s Middle East division publishes glossy research reports filled with Egyptian eye-witness testimony and characterizing each of the 10 plagues as collective punishment, a war crime on an unprecedented scale. The Richard Goldstone of the time is appointed to head a committee that collects all of these NGO claims into a United Nations report for use in the case against Moses, Aaron and the 70 Israelite leaders.

Nowhere in these reports is there any mention of the almost 400 years of slavery and brutal treatment that preceded the plagues and March to Freedom, with little more than hard crackers for food.

And Pharaoh’s order to drown the firstborn boys is explained as a legitimate form of “resistance”. Instead, in this narrative, the Israelites are presented as foreign occupiers who conspired with Joseph to steal the land of Goshen from the natives.

The record of failed negotiations, which could have ended the conflict peacefully, is completely erased, as are Pharaoh’s trail of broken promises (peace breakthroughs of the time) to let the Israelites go.

On university campuses, NGO activists mark Israelite Apartheid Week (actually two weeks, but who pays attention to such details?).

Frogs and red water are brought in to simulate the suffering caused by the plagues, and mock trials are held, which start with the conclusion that Moses is guilty. At Laurentian University in Sudbury, speakers at conferences and mass rallies call for a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions to punish and isolate the Israelites.

Then, as now, these condemnations and activities are supported by a small but noisy group of disgruntled Israelites, motivated by an exaggerated sense of self-importance and the belief that a rightwing conspiracy led by Moses is responsible for all of the problems.

Through grants provided by the New Israelite Fund, these “independent voices” join the demands that the Israelites return to Egypt immediately, apologize and provide compensation for damages.

And these problems did not end with the parting of the Red Sea, or Sea of Reeds , and the drowning of Pharaoh’s army (a weapon of mass destruction, and use of non-conventional warfare weapons prohibited by the Geneva convention) in hot pursuit of the runaway slaves.

Later, in the desert, as the Israelites prepared for returning to their homeland in the Land of Israel, first Moses and then, 39 years later, Joshua dispatched groups of spies to prepare for the invasion. The biblical text provides many details of these complex intelligence operations, including the role of double agents, but it doesn’t describe the nature of the passports they used, or whether they were disguised. Today, this action would have led to pompous denunciations about the invasion of Jericho’s sovereignty, and calls for more investigations, while self-righteous governments sanctimoniously expel an Israelite representative over the use of disguises to infiltrate Jericho.

Thus, as our generation struggles for justice, as did our ancestors, the Passover story and the Exodus remain very relevant. The names and details may change, but the overall situation has a great deal to teach us, 4,000 years later.

Join me as we prepare a week long program of events on campuses and in private homes denouncing the Biblical account of the Exodus!!!


Jacques Abourbih