Ki Tetze is a portion that will keep any Torah study participant busy for hours. It has combination of themes from social justice issues to treatment of captives, from medical ethics to marriage and divorce. We learn about rituals such as the chalitzah procedure and are again reminded about the treatment of the stranger and the needy. Commentators remind us that this portion contains more mitzvot than any other portion; a not-so-subtle acknowledgement that society, if it is to function correctly, must be bound by laws and regulations. There is the message in this that the collective good usurps individual desires and needs. That alone is a subject worthy of discussion in this age of “entitlement”.
There is another issue that the portion raises that I want to bring to our attention. It seems quite relevant given the time of year. Elul is here and we focus on preparing for the Holidays and the theme of forgiveness. It also speaks, in a w ay, to how we, as we get older, need to let go of past hurts. Carrying a grudge or estrangement does damage to our bodies and souls. But is there a limit to forgiveness? At the very end of the portion, we read (25:17-19) “Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt—how undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on your march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear. Therefore, when God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget”
What does that mean to “blot out the memory of Amalek”? In our tradition Amalek represents evil. Is there no place for forgiveness or, in the face of pure evil, that evil must be blotted out. As one commentator notes: “Amalek crossed the line of basic humanity by its cowardly attack against the weak and defenseless. Therefore, they are not entitled to the humane concerns that underlie a civilized society.” (“The Biblical Path to Psychological Maturity”. Vivian B. Skolnick. 232) So, the Torah recognizes that there is pure evil, and that evil must be fought and eradicated for the good of all. But, and this also is a tough subject, what if that Amalek is not from a source outside of our self, what if the Amalek is “an internal enemy that threatens one’s psychological welfare”? How do we blot out that internal enemy which may be no less dangerous that the threat from outside. What internal drives, passions, impulses, and desires rest within each of us that still, even as we get older, control who we are and how we act?
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.