Ki Tetze: Protecting the Home

Parashat Ki Tetze is exceptionally rich in mitzvot: it contains 27 positive mitzvot and 47 negative, for a total of 74. They are connected.

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Daniel Pinner,

Six Day War Paratroopers at the Wall
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David Rubinger

When a bird’s nest happens to be before you on the way, on any tree or on the ground – fledglings or eggs – with the mother roosting on the fledglings or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the offspring. You shall surely drive away the mother, and the offspring you will take for yourself, so that it will be well with you and you will prolong your days.

"When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, and you shall not place blood in your house if he who has fallen falls from it. You shall not sow your vineyard with an admixture [of different types of seed], for you will thereby forfeit the growth of the seed that you planted and the produce of the vineyard will become forbidden.

"You shall not plough with an ox and with a donkey together. You shall not wear an admixture [of different types of fibres], wool and linen together.

"You will make for yourself twined threads on the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself.

"When a man takes a wife and comes to her…” (Deuteronomy 22:6-13).

Parashat Ki Teitzei is exceptionally rich in mitzvot: it contains 27 positive mitzvot and 47 negative, for a total of 74, and these eight verses contain ten of them:

Not to take from a bird’s nest the mother and young together; to drive the mother bird away from the nest before taking the young; to remove all obstacles and dangers from all dwelling-places and to build every place appropriately such that danger will be avoided; not to allow obstacles and dangers to remain in our Land and in our houses; not to sow two types of produce in a vineyard; not to eat the produce of such an admixture; not to plough with an ox and a donkey together; not to wear a garment made of wool and linen woven together; and to marry a wife according to kiddushin.

This follows the mitzvah-count of Mahara”m Hagiz (Rabbi Moshe Hagiz, Israel 1672-c.1751), the Sefer ha-Chinuch, and others. The tenth mitzvah contained here is that of tzitzit (which the mitzvah-count already included in Parashat Shelach Lekha ).

The Midrash gives an incisive insight into the connexion between all the mitzvot contained in these eight verses: “[The Torah] says: ‘When a bird’s nest happens to be before you… you shall surely drive away the mother… so that it will be well with you and you will prolong your days’. It continues: ‘When you build a new house…’ – you will merit to build a house and to make a parapet. Then it says: ‘You shall not sow your vineyard with an admixture’ – you will merit to have a vineyard and to sow a field. Then it says: ‘You shall not plough with an ox and with a donkey’ – you will merit to have oxen and donkeys. Then it says: ‘You shall not wear an admixture’ – you will merit to have good-quality clothes made of wool and good-quality clothes made of linen. Then it says: ‘You will make for yourself twined threads’ – you will merit to fulfil the mitzvah of tzitzit. Then it says: ‘When a man takes a wife and comes to her…’ – you will merit to have a wife and children. This is in accordance with the teaching that ‘a mitzvah draws another mitzvah after it, and a sin draws another sin after it’ (Pirkei Avot 4:2). This is why [the Torah] juxtaposes these verses” (Tanhuma, Ki Teitzei 1).

The Ibn Ezra (Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra, Spain, Morocco, England, Israel, and France, 1092-1167) has a parallel, though startlingly different, understanding: “‘When you build a new house’ – This section is placed directly after [the section dealing with] warfare [which applies when] they are in the Land; it begins with the mitzvah of the home…and after the mitzvah of the home comes the mitzvah of sowing and planting, because after entering the Land, one builds a home and [then] sows” (verse 8).

Both of these views emphasize the inexorable connexion between the mitzvot, the chain from one mitzvah to the next.

The mitzvah to build a parapet around the roof of one’s house adds an extra dimension: many commentators pick up on the unusual expression “you will not place blood in your house if he who has fallen falls from it”: surely the Torah should have said “…if a person falls from it,” or words to that effect. Why the expression “he who has fallen”?

The Talmud (Shabbat 32a) and the Midrash (Sifri 229) explain that this refers to “one who deserves to fall…but nevertheless, let his death not be caused by you – the righteous should have their reward caused by the righteous, and the wicked should have their punishment caused by the wicked”.

This commentary clarifies the Targum Yonatan’s rendering of this verse: “When you build a new house, you shall make a railing as a surrounding to your roof; you shall not cause the sin of blood of a killer to be brought about in your house, lest he who deserves to fall, falls from it”.

And similarly the S’forno (Rabbi Ovadyah S’forno, Italy, c.1470-1550): “Thus in the event that a certain faller should fall from there, it will not be you that caused blood to be punished in your house”.

Keeping the mitzvot protects the Jew from external enemies, from natural disasters, and from becoming the agent through which God brings punishment into the world.

The Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, Spain and Israel, 1195-c.1270) introduces an additional idea: “The mitzvah of the parapet is a renewal, or an explanation, of ‘You shall not stand idly by your neighbour’s blood’ (Leviticus 19:16)”.

A brilliant insight into this comment of the Ramban’s is given by an almost-contemporary gadol ba-Torah: “We should not think that the mitzvah of ‘You shall not stand idly by your neighbour’s blood’ applies only after disaster has struck and a fellow-Jew is already in danger, that only then does the mitzvah of ‘You shall not stand idly by your neighbour’s blood’ begin to apply and we are then obliged to save him. Rather, the truth is that one is obligated to anticipate and to consider in advance what is liable to occur, and to avoid the problem. And similarly, one must understand in advance and help a Jew who is in distress before he asks for help” (Rabbi Meir Kahane Hy”d, Perush ha-Macabbee to Deuteronomy 22:8).

The Ibn Ezra, quoted above, mentions the significance of this mitzvah occurring specifically in the wake of the mitzvot of warfare, and this significance goes deeper. The parashah opens with the words, “When you go out to war against your enemies…” (Deuteronomy 21:10), on which the S’forno says very simply, “‘When you go out’ – outside of the Land [of Israel]”.

Rashi’s comment indicates the same conclusion: “The Torah speaks here of a voluntary war” – and since any war inside the Land of Israel is obligatory, Rashi also makes it clear that this speaks of a war outside of Israel.

Rabbi Meir Kahane, in a shiur in his Yeshiva delivered some thirty years ago, explained the context. The parapet around the roof of a house protects the house. “You shall not place blood in your house”: inside the house – inside the national home – must be a safe place. It is normal that blood not be shed inside the home. Wars should not be inside the Land of Israel: “you shall not place blood in your house” – if blood has to be shed, it must happen outside of your house, outside of your national home. It is normal that the house is a place of safety and refuge; it is normal that no blood be shed inside the house.

And this lesson is the national imperative today.






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