Ki Teitse: Metaphysical Undercurrents

There are two levels to the meaning of many of the commandments.

Rabbi Avraham Gordimer,

Rabbi Avraham Gordimer
Rabbi Avraham Gordimer
Rabbi Avraham Gordimer

Parshas Ki Teitse concludes with the topics of Midos U'Mishkalos (the prohibition of false weights and measures) and Mechiyas Amalek (the requirement to obliterate Amalek).

Rashi (on Devarim 25:17) invokes the explanation of the Talmud's Sages (Chazal) for the adjacency of Midos U'Mishkalos and Mechiyas Amalek: "If you deceive others by using false weights and measures, be prepared to face the arousal of the enemy." (Midrash Tanchuma 8)

It is interesting that the Torah, in presenting the prohibition of Midos U'Mishkalos, promises a specific reward to one who is honest in this regard: "You shall have a complete and accurate weighing stone, and a complete and accurate ephah, in order that your days be lengthened on the Land that Hashem your God gives unto you." (Devarim ibid. v. 15)

Why does the Torah reward longevity (in the Land) to one who is honest with his weights and measures? Is this mitzvah radically different than hundreds of other mitzvos for which such a reward is not promised by the Torah?

Earlier in our parshah, the Torah likewise provides the reward of longevity to one who performs the mitzvah of Shilu'ach Ha-Ken, Sending Away the Mother Bird when taking her eggs. (ibid. 22:7) Again, why is this mitzvah singled out for this specific reward?

The Talmudic Sages address this question: "Rabbi Abba bar Kahana explained that the Holy One, Blessed is He, stated: ‘A person should not sit and make a reckoning of the mitzvot in the Torah and decide that he will perform certain mitzvot due to their larger reward and not perform other mitzvot due to their lesser reward. Thus did the Holy One, Blessed is He, not reveal the reward of each mitzvah, in order that one perform all of the mitzvot with completeness…The Holy One, Blessed is He, did not reveal the reward of the mitzvot, with the exception of the most weighty and the most light mitzvot, which are respectively Kibud Av V’Eim (Honoring One’s Father and Mother) and Shilu'ach Ha-Ken, where did He reveal the reward, which in both cases is the reward of longevity…” (Devarim Rabbah 6:2)

The deeper message of the Midrash is that we cannot fathom and should not spend time pondering the reward for specific mitzvot, as mitzvot relate to the metaphysical realm, and we thus cannot understand the true profundity and spiritual impact of mitzvot. Hence, mitzvot of totally different importance are presented as sharing the same identical reward, evidencing the futility of human comprehension of the actual metaphysical effect of any given mitzvah.                         

Coming back to Midos U'Mishkalos, regarding which the Torah writes, “in order that your days be lengthened on the Land that Hashem your God gives unto you", we can perhaps now better appreciate its relationship with the mitzvah of Mechiyas Amalek. Chazal tell us that Amalek attacks when there is a lack of trust in God on the part of B'nei Yisroel. (V. Rashi on Shemos 17:8, from Midrashim.) Although Amalek personifies brazen denial of God and concomitant hatred of His People, the intentional adjacency in our parshah of Midos U'Mishkalos to Amalek sheds some very important light on what Amalek is really about.

Midos U’Mishkalos is a very straightforward prohibition; it is logical and is part of the laws of every civilized society. Nonetheless, it carries with it the mysterious reward of longevity, indicating that despite its logic and obvious purpose, there is something far deeper, something in the metaphysical realm, associated with this mitzvah (as with every mitzvah). The Torah is telling us not to look to the surface level of mitzvot, but to realize that there is also an imperceptible spiritual element.

This is precisely where Amalek fails and turns to rebellion and belligerence. Amalek only sees that which is before it and denies the existence of anything it cannot physically sense or logically prove. Just like B’nei Yisroel immediately prior to the war with Amalek asked, “Is God in our midst or is He not?” (Shemos 17:7; v. Rashi), despite their being in God’s total care yet unable to physically sense Him, Amalek acknowledges only that which it sees and hears, and it denies that anything else can exist beyond human sensory experiences or logic.

This sin of denial of the deeper and the metaphysical, and of anything that one cannot perceive scientifically, is symbolized by the adjacency of Midos U’Mishkalos, with its mysterious reward of longevity, to the mitzvah of Mechiyas Amalek. Just as one who views Midos U’Mishkalos solely on its surface and denies the deep, metaphysical angle of this mitzvah, thereby negates a critical and central aspect of the Torah, in like manner does Amalek only accept that which is obvious, logical and subject to sensory perception, while denying the existence of that which is beyond the limited human and physical realm.

Such denial is the source of most “logic-driven” faith crises and intellectual apostasy throughout Jewish history. Jews who have abandoned the Torah because they were convinced of the veracity of scientific theories or academic studies that denied our theology or the divinity of the Torah have so often assumed that whatever does not fit into a three-dimensional or logic/sensory perception set of parameters cannot be true and does not exist.

Parshas Ki Teitse in particular teaches us that there is much more to Torah than meets the eye. A profound level of the metaphysical underlies even the most simple and empirically-understood mitzvot and Torah concepts, such that one can never claim that the Torah is limited to that which is physically perceptible or can be proven and demonstrated by human logic.

This message was penned most eloquently and powerfully in the eternal words of Rav Yosef Dov Ha-Levi Soloveitchik zt”l in his essay U’Vikashtem Mi’Sham/And From There You Shall Seek (English version, pp.9-14):

“The divine mystery remains in place even in the field of scientific knowledge, whenever it transcends the limits of precise physical experimentation and enters the realm of philosophical or metaphysical thought. Science indeed admits that it cannot explain a spatiotemporal phenomenon by a transcendental idea, for it cannot transcend its own limits and escape the circle of categorical assumptions corresponding to critical scientific experience, which is limited to the domain of finite perception and thought...

“Were one to ask, ‘What is the irrationality hovering over the pure scientific conception?’ the answer would be that it is the realm of the qualitative and sensory. Modern physics, which has given such great prominence to the symbolic character of scientific constructions, knows that it cannot provide satisfactory explanations for one who aspires to penetrate the innerness and essence of being. In the qualitative reality as we experience it, there is no relativity, there is no quantitative reciprocity, nor are there mathematical equations. The world – as perceived by sensuality involving the process of stimulus and feeling, which fills our consciousness, enchants us with its variety of tones and colors, encompasses us completely, oppresses us with all the burden of its otherness, and amazes us with its size and its force – remains unexplained by science…

“…Just as consciousness of the world in general, and of the self in particular, do not involve logical demonstrations but constitute the spiritual essence of man, so too with the experience of the divine…The Deity is not subject to the intellect of His creatures, and the experience of God, infinity, and eternity is not confined to the particular extent of the finite, temporal mind…”              

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