Shabbat Ki Tetze: You Can’t Choose Whether, but You Can Choose How

The title of our parashat hashavua is ki tetze, “when you go out”. The Torah is continuing to give instruction for how we shall behave when we go out from our place, and a number of possibilities are offered here. What we come to realize is that there is a Jewish ethic for any act. These ethics are context-bound in their particulars, but we are able to discern what the theologian Louis Jacobs called the meta-message of the Torah: treat others as you want to be treated yourself. 

It’s interesting to note that the words ki tetze make it clear that one has no choice; one does “go out” into the world, out of one’s place. As an ethical teaching, this teaches several lessons:

1. We don’t have a choice but to go out: none of us are able to create a place to be which encompasses all of life – we have to leave it sometimes, as a bird leaves the nest, perforce, to find food.

2. When we do go out into the world from our place, we must carry the teachings – the ethics – with us. As it is said, “in your home and on your way”.

3. We also “go out” from our place in other ways: to truly live in the world, we are sometimes forced to leave our “comfort zone”, whether that be a comfortable assumption about the world, a friend or family member, or the story we are telling ourselves about our place in reality. 

I knew a Rabbi once who said that after twenty years of work with a particular congregation, “I finally had them where I wanted them. But then things kept right on changing!” As long as we live, we don’t get to choose whether we are going to “go out” from the comfortable assumptions and arrangements we have made – change does happen. Our only choice is to decide how we will greet the changes in our lives, how we will “go out” from our places.

As Jews we are expected to use our power to choose to maintain a certain ethic in the world, no matter where we find ourselves or what happens to us. The only sure support we have in a changing world is Torah. Keep studying, and keep seeking understanding – it’s very different from gathering facts!

Let these words from near the end of the parashah help you consider just how much more there is to discover in your understanding. The following verses are the basis for much Jewish business ethics, but there is one more teaching hidden within them:

 

לֹא-יִהְיֶה לְךָ בְּכִיסְךָ, אֶבֶן וָאָבֶן:  גְּדוֹלָה, וּקְטַנָּה.

You shall not have in your bag diverse weights, a great and a small.

לֹא-יִהְיֶה לְךָ בְּבֵיתְךָ, אֵיפָה וְאֵיפָה:  גְּדוֹלָה, וּקְטַנָּה.

You shall not have in your house diverse measures, a great and a small.

אֶבֶן שְׁלֵמָה וָצֶדֶק יִהְיֶה-לָּךְ, אֵיפָה שְׁלֵמָה וָצֶדֶק יִהְיֶה-לָּךְ–לְמַעַן, יַאֲרִיכוּ יָמֶיךָ, עַל הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ.

A perfect and just weight you must have; a perfect and just measure you must have; that your days may be long upon the land which your God gives you.

כִּי תוֹעֲבַת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, כָּל-עֹשֵׂה אֵלֶּה:  כֹּל, עֹשֵׂה עָוֶל. 

For all that do such things, each one that does unrighteously, is an abomination unto the LORD thy God. (Devarim 25.13-16)

The basic ethic here is that you must acknowledge the correct weight (that is, value) in buying and selling – whether in your traveling “bag” (laptop?) or at home. Notice the strong words of condemnation for one who acts unethically in this way. One who cheats is an abomination – the word in Hebrew refers to one who is not righteous, but the opposite. This word is much stronger than that used for homosexuality, which is to’evah, a word that relates to a local cultural norm. 

There is so much more in a sophisticated approach to the Torah than you can know – and more support for your ethical journey than you can imagine. Don’t go out there without it.

כתיבה וחתימה טובה – May you be written and sealed for a good 5776

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