Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

My Photo
Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Parshat Ki Tetzeh

Defending the Indefensible

This week's parsha has many actions that are forbidden on moral grounds. We have discussed two of them in previous Sedra Shorts (see The Beautiful captive Woman and The Stubborn and Rebellious Son, below).

This week I would like to discuss the following three cases:

  • If a man has two sons from two different wives, he may not give the younger one the first-born rights, even though he may be the first-born of the favorite wife.
  • Girls may not be used in religious prostitution ceremonies (kedesha).
  • A person should marry wife of a deceased brother if she had no children (yibum).

I bring these three cases because we see Biblical heroes of the Jewish people actually doing these things.

Firstly, Yaakov had two main wives: Rachel and Leah. He loved Rachel while Leah was hated (See Bereshit 29:31). Leah was the first to give birth (Reuven). Rachel eventually had Yoseph. So while Yoseph was the first-born for Rachel, Reuven was Yaakov's first born.

Yet, Reuven did not receive the double portion of tribes that he should have inherited. Shortly before his death, Yaakov took Yoseph's two sons, Ephraim and Menashe, and said: "they are my sons" (ibid 48:8). Essentially, Yoseph became two tribes. He was given the rights of the first born and Reuven was disinherited.

A number of years earlier, we see Yehuda, the father of the tribe that brought Israel its kings, violating the rules of yibum. Two of his sons, Er and Onan died childless. According to the laws of yibum, Tamar, their wife, should have married his third son, Shela. However, Yehuda refused this relationship (See ibid 38:11)

This led to a violation of the third law. In order to induce a child, Tamar dressed herself up as holy prostitute and tempted Yehuda to be intimate with her (ibid 21).

How do we handle these violations of basic moral laws by our heroes? The same way the Bible does.

The Torah does not shy away from difficult decisions our ancestors took – whether it was the ones we just mentioned or Avraham calling Sarah his sister to protect himself, or whether it is King David's adultery and his committing of murder.

We accept that our heroes were human with human failings who sometimes made major mistakes. They were not angels or demi-gods who were flawless. Indeed they achieved greatness despite their flaws – that is what makes them great.

This message is a comforting message for us. We all are human. We all have weaknesses. We all make mistakes. Despite this, we can overcome this and we can achieve greatness.

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Ki Tetseh entitled: "The Beautiful Captive Woman" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat Ki Tetseh entitled: "The Stubborn and Rebellious Son" appears at

A further Sedra Short on Parshat Ki Tetseh entitled: "The Impaled Criminal" appears at

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home