<I>Ki Tetzei</I>: Care, Kindness and Responsibility

Unity evolves from collective responsibility.

Moshe Burt,

Parshat Ki Tetzei teaches numerous mitzvot, such as: returning lost items to their rightful owners; loaning money to one's fellow Jew free from interest; what one is permitted to or prohibited from taking from another Jew as loan security, shatnez (wool and linen together); tzitzit; and dealing fairly and truthfully with one's fellow Jews in business. The Maftir aliyah of our parsha tells us collectively to remember, for all time, the actions of
...a differentiation between altruistic kindness and being taken advantage of.
Amalek, who attacked B'nai Yisrael when they were weak, while blotting the remembrance of Amalek from the earth. We remember the Amalek without, as well as the Amalek within; lo nishcach v'lo nislach - we won't forgive and we won't forget.

The parsha speaks about other mitzvot, such as sending a mother bird away before taking the young or the eggs, helping one's fellow Jew load and unload a burden, fencing in a roof area, and not harnessing together different species of animals on the same yoke.

In short, our parsha emphasizes the unity that evolves from collective responsibility, kindness, caring and fairness for and with each other. Being fair, straight, and caring for another person is kinder than the insensitivity, indifference and disunity of making up any and every excuse or non-reason under the sun for an action or kindness not done. Collective unity - responsibility, kindness, caring and fairness for and with each other - negates the possibility of a kindness not shown, whether the action relates to shidduchim, to employment searching and interviews, to giving tzedakah, etc., or merely making the effort to hold a bus driver for another few seconds while his fellow huffs and puffs as he runs to catch the bus. This relates to each Jew individually and toward his fellow Jew.

At the same time, there is, as Rabbi Pliskin's Growth Through Torah indicates, a differentiation between altruistic kindness and being taken advantage of.

Rabbi Pliskin quotes the posuk in our parsha, "You shall not see your brother's donkey or his ox fallen down by the way, and hide himself from them; you shall surely help him to lift (them) up again." (Sefer Devarim, perek 22, posuk 4) He explains that, while we are obligated to help a fellow Jew whose animal has fallen under the weight of the heavy load on his back, Torah makes a stipulation in the words "help him," which indicates "with him." Rabbi Pliskin then notes that Rashi cites the sages in saying that if a person needing help tells you, "I'm going to rest now. You have a mitzvah to help me, so help me all by yourself," then you are not obligated to help him.

Rabbi Pliskin then goes on to contrast the laziness of a person that leads him to take advantage of and manipulate another person with the mitzvah to lend another Jew what he sincerely needs, even though the other person always refuses to help or lend his things or does not reciprocate by helping others in case of need. Rabbi Pliskin states that "the highest level of kindness, chesed shel emes (kindness which is true), is when you do a kindness when you know you will receive nothing in return."

Rabbi Pliskin explains that there are other situations where people ask their brother "to do things for them when those people could do these things themselves without too much effort." The other person does "the favors because they tell themselves that they would feel guilty if they refused." By internalizing a Torah perspective, "a person will feel joy when helping another person who really needed help, even though the other person does not do him favors in return and expresses no gratitude."

Torah distinguishes the mitzvah of helping one who is sincerely in need from a tendency of asking one to allow himself to become manipulated or taken advantage of by a lazy person (Growth Through Torah, parshat Ki Tetzei, pg. 437-438).

Shem MiShmuel writes, quoting Rabbi Abba bar Kahana, "HaShem says, 'Do not sit and weigh the mitzvos of the Torah.... Don't say, "Since a particular mitzvah is significant, I will do it because it's reward is great, and since another mitzvah is less significant, I won't do it."'"

Shem MiShmuel then presents the concept that "HaShem did not reveal to his creations the reward for any particular mitzvah. so they should perform each mitzvah with perfection." (Shem MiShmuel on parshat Ki Tetzei, pg. 409)
Who among us mortals can know which mitzvah... might just tip the scales?

I equate performance of mitzvot with a scale; who among us mortals can know which mitzvah, even the smallest "Eikev" mitzvah, might just tip the scales, both in terms of any particular individual or on behalf of the collective national redemption of B'nai Yisrael? In short, having just entered the Elul season, "the Days of Awe" and the run up to Yom HaDin, the Day of Judgment, we try honestly and objectively to look back, review and examine our actions over the past year and longer. Our lives and our hopes for a good year and good things to come hang in the balance - the cheshbon, if you will, between our mitzvot (good deeds) and our aveirot (sins or violations of Divine law). Once again, it's "clutch time" and, as the Coach says, "Our mitzvot aren't everything, they're the only thing."

May we, B'nai Yisrael be zochim that our brethren, the refugee families from Gush Katif, be permanently settled and be made totally whole, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard and the three captive soldiers and the other MIAs be liberated and returned to us, and that we fulfill HaShem's blueprint for B’nai Yisrael as a unique people - an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with among the nations; and may we be zochim that the Moshiach, the Ge’ulah Shelaimah, as Dov Shurin sings, "Yom HaShem v’kol hagoyim," the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayra v’yameinu - speedily, in our time - Achshav, chik-chak, miyad, etmol!




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