Others of Ki Teitzei’s mitzvot delve into new subjects—some of them seeming incredibly specific and, well, esoteric. We learn that when building a house, one must put a safety fence around the roof to prevent injury or death if someone should fall off. Wearing clothing with an admixture of fibers (shatnez) is forbidden. A person who is sentenced for a capital crime must be buried by nightfall following his execution. If one finds a lost animal, he must not avoid it, but rather, he’s required to bring it home and safeguard it until being able to return it. Conversely, if one has taken a pledge from their fellow in exchange for a loan, they are forbidden to enter the borrower’s house to retrieve it—they must remain outside. We are required to provide sanctuary for the escaped slave of our adversary who seeks asylum at a time of war. Forgotten or accidentally dropped produce, olives, or grain must be left for the destitute. One may not return to collect what has fallen. Mismatched animals may not be yoked together, and eggs cannot be taken from a nest while the mother bird is present.
Any one of these mitzvot, taken individually, makes sense. Taken in groups or sections, one can often see a thematic or symbolic through-line connecting these often tersely worded commandments (we’ll be discussing that on Shabbos morning!). While the logic and wisdom of these mitzvot is fairly self-evident (or can be revealed upon reflection), there are many of them which leave us scratching our heads wondering, “where did that come from?” Tzitzit? Shatnez? Removing a shoe and spitting on the ground to avoid marrying your sister-in-law?
The very fact that these seem to be incredibly niche commandments and that some of them read as somewhat redundant (in theme, anyway) is precisely the point. The mitzvot of Ki Teitzei teach us that there is no act, no situation, no time or place, where the morality, ethics, wisdom, and protection of the Torah cannot be interjected. By extension, of course, we are thus able to factor G-d into the equation, even in the most esoteric of situations. If the values of Torah and the presence of Hashem are omnipresent even in the narrowest recesses of our lives and daily experiences, that makes the big stuff be a significantly shorter leap.
A few weeks ago, we read the Shema. As many of you know, in the Torah scroll (and nowadays in most siddurim), the third and the last letters of the verse are enlarged. The Ayin and the Dalet spell “Eid,” or witness, attesting to the fact that when we recite Shema, we are the witnesses to G-d’s sovereignty and singularity in the universe. Here in Ki Teitzei, the letters take on an additional meaning. The gematria (numerological value) of Ayin-Dalet is 74, the same as the number of mitzvot in our parsha. We can be the ”eidim” to the presence and oneness of G-d. But by bringing the Divine presence into even the most subtle of situations, we can ourselves become the instruments of doing holy work as G-d’s partner, in everything we do.
Rabbi/Hazzan David B. Sislen