Friday, August 16, 2013

A Just Society

This week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, (Deut. 21:10-25:19) continues the theme of justice that began in last week’s portion, Shoftim.  Ki Teitzei sets out a list of miscellaneous laws, most having to do with communal and social behavior.  If you find a sheep or ox on the road, you must take it in and feed it until you are able to find the owner.  If you build a new house, you must put a wall around its roof’s edge so that no one will fall off.  If you miss a few sheaves when you reap a field, don’t go back for them; leave them to be gleaned by the poor.  Use honest weights and measures.  Pay a laborer his wages on the same day on which the work was done, because he needs the money.  

The Torah then gives several examples that bring the point home: “You shall not subvert the rights of the stranger or the fatherless; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pawn.  Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and that the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore do I enjoin you to observe this commandment” (24:17-18). Having been enslaved, even in past generations, should make us forever watchful that we uphold the rights of the disadvantaged in our societies. 

The portion ends with a reminder of the people Amalek, who assaulted the Israelites in the wilderness, shortly after they had escaped Egypt, when they were hungry and tired.  The Amalekites attacked Israel from the rear, where the slow, the old, and the sick were trying to keep up the pace.  The Torah paradoxically enjoins us to “blot out the memory of Amalek.  Do not forget!” (25:19) How are we supposed to remember to forget Amalek?  Perhaps by building a society where the strong protect the weak, where the poor, the old and the sick don’t need to worry about defending themselves, because others will take care of it.

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