The Parsha Abounding in Mitzvot

 Dear Rabbi,

This week's reading, Ki Teitzei, contains 74 commandments, more mitzvot than any other Torah portion.This week's parsha is a potential treasure trove to explore. In my mind, some of these mitzvot would make excellent sermons.


First Aliyah: This section begins with a discussion regarding female captives of war, and lays down the conditions under which a soldier may marry a captive. (The beautiful captive.) Sex sells even in the Torah.
Second Aliyah: A Commandment discussed in this section: Speedy burial of the deceased. My parents meant everything to me and although they did not have too much money, I never lacked for anything I really wanted. They always had me and my sister in mind. I hope you don't experience this any time soon but there will come a time when you will have to bury your parents. To say that this is one of the lows in your life is a complete understatement. Just to show you how much they wanted to help me out, they made their own funeral arrangements. All I had to do was call the funeral parlor and the rest was already decided. Both my parents were buried in a traditional manner with shrouds and in a plain pine box, and the decision of what to do when the time came was not one of my problems. It was one of the greatest gifts they gave to me. 
Third Aliyah: A commandment discussed in this section: Building a safety fence around a flat roof. Though shalt not kill; honor thy father and mother; thou shalt not worship any graven idols; I could go on and on about the big ones and then this one makes it on to the list of 613. Big or small G-d tries to think of everything.
Fourth Aliyah: A commandment discussed in this section: maintaining pure and hygienic army encampments. When I went to Israel with the JJC, one of the true highlights was visiting an army camp on the border with the West Bank. To see the absolute devotion they had to the cause was extremely heartwarming. They loved having us for there many reasons but one of the main reasons was that because we were to eat with them, they knew they were going to have steak and other meats which apparently was a meal they hardly saw. They seemed to be fit but the conditions they were under left something to be desired. They never complained about the conditions. 
Fifth Aliyah: This section details the right of field workers to eat from the produce they are harvesting. Giving to those that serve others would be radical to some that are in power today. Making this a mizvot is something Jews should be proud of.
Sixth Aliyah: Another mitzvot: A newlywed man is exempt from military service for a full year. This could be taken in more than one way. The accepted one being that if one gets married he should enjoy this feeling of loving another before possibly going off to war to die. The second way may be from those men that were already married and were thinking "if I had to go through this, you should not be spared this tumult".
Seventh Aliyah: We are forbidden to withhold or delay a worker's wages. This one is also personal to me. I have taken great satisfaction during the pandemic in making sure that my employees were paid and more importantly, were paid on time.
As you know by now, I usually, take one part from the portion of the week and expand on it. If forced to chose this week, it probably would have been the one relating to burying my parents. But, like I said earlier, this week's parsha can lead one in many directions.
As a post script, there is one mizvot in the Second Aliyah that could be extremely provocative if explored, when the following is stated:
"A man's attire shall not be on a woman, nor may a man wear a woman's garment because whoever does these [things] is an abomination to the Lord, your G-d.
How does G-d look at today's manner of dressing. Forgetting about the obvious of putting on a dress, if a man dresses in a very flamboyant manner is this a breach? Where does a Scottish kilt stand? Is a woman in a pants suit breaking the rule? Even the one about putting on a dress, if this is done in jest, is the rule broken?




Dear Mordecai, 
As usual, you've read the portion closely and selected a point from each of the aliyot: 
  1. Female captives
  2. Speedy burial of the deceased
  3. Building a safety fence around a flat roof
  4. Maintaining pure and hygienic army encampments
  5. The right of field workers to eat from the produce they are harvesting
  6. A newlywed man is exempt from military service for a full year
  7. We are forbidden to withhold or delay a worker's wages
I like your point that "God tries to think of everything." You are right that if one wanted to really tackle a challenging topic it would be how "a man's attire shall not be on a woman" relates to our present discourse about trans people. You raise classic issues like a woman wearing pants. Outside of the charedi world, I believe that issue is moot even if many women still associate synagogue attendance with wearing a skirt. 

Female captives
In the world before movies, the main repository for sexual arousal was literature. The sex and violence that is present in the Bible is often raised as a fault of the text, but given that humans seem to gravitate to these behaviors for entertainment value, perhaps we should appreciate that the Torah, too, contains these entertaining topics. 

Speedy burial of the deceased

As I have shared with you on a number of occasions, I find stories about your parents particularly moving, and this one is no different. The honor and reverence that you hold them in never ceases to touch me. Even a verse in the Torah that is only tangentially related to your parents reminds you of them. They are clearly on your mind frequently. 

Maintaining pure and hygienic army encampment

How amazing to live in a time when the Torah's teaching about military matters actually has application. The IDF never ceases to inspire awe in me. 

The right of field workers to eat from the produce they are harvesting

I often think about how our limited experience with self-government prior to the French Revolution has trained our thinking around political issues today. Can we apply the same standards that were enforced when we governed ourselves - in say Eastern Europe - to the heterogeneous population of America today? No doubt that the liberalism of many Jews in the body politic is grounded in the teachings of the Torah and not just some Marxist repudiation of the capitalist order. 

A newlywed man is exempt from military service for a full year

The way I have come to understand passages like this is that while the Torah isn't banishing war, it's clear that war should not ever totally occupy our society. Total war is forbidden, while limited war is permitted. What I mean by limited war is that we allow the wellsprings of society to continue to flourish even in a time of war as opposed to dedicating all our resources toward prosecuting a battle. 

We are forbidden to withhold or delay a worker's wages

This again circles back to the right of workers to eat from the produce they are harvesting. Once again, we see that "workers' rights" is not just a Marxist idea. It has its ground in the Torah itself.