Sign In Forgot Password

Parashat Teitzei

August 25, 2023
8 Elul 5783

Deuteronomy 21:10 - 25:19


Dear Friends,

The summer’s end is rapidly approaching. We are in the month of Elul, and our new year approaches as we get ready to begin again. The important thing to remember is that we are not going back to square one. The journey of self-reflection that is an integral part of our work during the month of Elul includes saying yes to who we are and always have been and doing our best make that self the best version of ourselves with the knowledge that this is a lifelong process.

This period of self-examination and reflection aligns with this week’s Torah portion in interesting ways. What we find in Ki Teitze, ”when you go out” (Deuteronomy 21:10 -25:19), is the longest list of laws found in any of the weekly Torah portions -- seventy four, to be exact. What do all of these rules and regulations have to do with self-reflection and preparing for the New Year ahead? Most of us like to know what the rules are, whether we follow them precisely or not. Knowing what to do in a variety of circumstances can be reassuring. It has the power to provide a sense of direction.

Moses' desire, as it is for many parents seeing their children go off to school for the first time (be it kindergarten or even college), is to impart what he knows to make the transition easier and smoother as he prepares to take his leave of the people that he has led for forty years.

What is striking about this list of laws is how much of it is about how we behave toward one another. Despite the wide range of laws concerning many different facets of life, much of it comes down to how we behave in different circumstances. Isn’t that what we are looking at when we review our own behavior over the past year? How did we respond to the joys and challenges before us?

Rabbi Yitz Greenberg points to one of the many commandments as an important life lesson: “If [walking] along the road, you chance upon a bird’s nest . . . and the mother is sitting over the fledglings or on the eggs, do not take the mother together with her young. Let the mother go and take only the young, in order that you may fare well and have a long life.” (Deuteronomy 22:6)

The Talmud teaches us that this is the easiest and least substantial commandment because it is easy to perform. Yet, why is the reward “a good long life”? After all, the reward is the same for honoring one's parents. For many, that can entail a lifetime of effort, and often involves a sense that what is ever is done is simply not enough.

Here we have two mitzvot. One requires a great deal of effort, emotional and otherwise, while the other is simple and effortless. Yet, the reward for both is the same. In this time of retrospection, it is a reminder that all of our actions matter. All of our interactions have the capacity to be pebbles creating all kinds of ripples. What we do matters, from saying thank you to a clerk to caring for a loved one in need.  None of it is trivial.

Wishing you a sweet Shabbat as we prepare ourselves to welcome the New Year.

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Thu, July 18 2024 12 Tammuz 5784