The range and variety of Parshat Ki-Tetze is astounding. I remember even as a ten-year-old studying chumash how I was attracted to this parsha as it lurched from one colourful topic from the next. Our parsha deals with the mundane and the grotesque, the most serious of crimes and the ordinary, without so much as batting an eyelid. We have the story of the rebellious son – an adolescent who is sentenced to death – and then the daily law of tzitzit. We have laws of rape alongside the instruction to assist on a roadside breakdown. Business honesty, marriage and divorce, Amalek, lashon hara, are but a few of the topics contained within Ki-tetze. The diversity is striking. One feels that one tastes from every far-flung corner of Torah as one traverses the lines of the Parsha.
Which of course leads us to that “structure” question. What is the basis of the order of Ki Teze? How do all the little details link together? What is the master plan?
At the outset, I must confess that I am going to disappoint you. I have – so far – been unsuccessful in finding an overall structure that will solve every problem of placing and organisation. In reality we are going to deal with Rashi’s midrash-based approach and its theological underpinnings. However, before we look at Rashi, let us first examine an approach suggested by modern thinkers.
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS AS A MODEL
Rav David Tzvi Hoffman in his commentary to Sefer Devarim describes the entire structure of Sefer Devarim as relating to the Ten Commandments. (For a good summary of this view see Rav Menachem Leibtag’s internet shiur at www.Tanach.org.)
As we all know, the Ten Commandments contain a “God” section (the first 5 commandments) and a “society section” (the last 5). Within this context, R. David Tzvi Hoffman traces the pattern of ideas within Sefer Devarim and sees a correlation between Sefer Devarim and the flow of ideas within the Ten Commandments. In that model, he places Parshat Ki Tetze as parallel to the Bein Adam Lechavero laws – Murder, adultery, robbery, false evidence in court and envy – the societal laws that form the last five of the Ten Commandments.
He therefore gives us a framework for understanding the parsha. Ki Tetze is a potpourri of personal and family law; laws which vaguely relate to murder, adultery, property, truth and honesty. This is the exact emphasis and scope of the last 5 of the Ten Commandments. Now this focus on family and personal living is starkly opposed to Parshat Shoftim, which deals with life on a national level, or to Re’eh, which focused upon Temple matters. Here is a distinctly societal parsha.
Rav Hoffman’s theory is all-fine as regards the general heading , the context for the Parsha. However, when we get into details Rav Hoffman asserts “There is no order to these mitzvot.” At the same time, Rav Hoffman is not to bothered by this, for two reasons:
First, he suggests, Parshat Ki-Tetze contains all the left-over from the rest of the Torah. Ki Tetze is the last “mitzva” parsha in the Torah and to that end it contains all the mitzvot that Moshe had not yet transmitted / written. R. Hoffman feels that this goes some way to explaining the “disorganised” nature of the Parsha. The opportunity for Moshe Rabbeinu to transmit this varied selection of mitzvot is of the essence and thus the order is not of utmost importance.
Which brings us to his second point. According to Rav Hoffman the relationship between the various mitzvot of the parsha should be seen as “associative” – the free association of ideas flowing into one another. Since Moshe is moving from topic to topic, we should not expect a general masterplan for the Parsha. At most we may look for a connection between one particular detail and the next.
Rav Leibtag seems to take the approach more rigorously and in his Parsha shiur he goes back to the Ten Commandments idea and lists the various mitzvot of the parsha that fit into each “heading”. Rav Leibtag’s listings attempt to give us the feel that the Parsha is indeed organised under fixed headings. However in the final analysis, even Rav Leibtag gets stuck. He asserts
“not all the mitzvot line up perfectly as toladot of each dibbur in order. Nonetheless almost all of the mitzvot of this Parsha are “toladot” of at least ONE of the last five “dibrot”.”
So the method works, but it is a little shaky
If we abandon the quest to seek a masterplan, we see that the mepharshim dealt with the discreet connections between one particular mitzva and the next. Anyone who studies Rashi will be familiar with the question: “Lama nismecha …” – Why is Parsha X put next to Parsha Y. This is a question, which is asked wherever Rashi cannot see how a particular detail fits into the general picture. In our parsha the order is so baffling that Rashi is joined by the Ibn Ezra  and others in asking this question with great frequency.
Rashi’s answers to this question are an approach based on Midrash and it is the comments of Rashi, which shall occupy us. Let us look at his opening comments on this topic. (To understand the Rashi’s better, you would do well to skim the topics contained within the first section of the parsha – to at least 22:13):
“The Torah gave this mitzva (Yefat To’ar) to counter the Yetzer Hara; if God would not let her marry in a permitted manner, he would take her against the law. But he will end up hating her, as it states afterwards (verse 15) ‘When a men has two wives … one who he hates’ and in the end she will bear him a son who will be a rebellious son (ben sorer u’moreh). This is the reason for the order of parshiot here ” (Rashi to 21:11)
“When a man is sentenced to death: The order of parshiot here tells us that if his parents have pity upon him, he will end up in a world of crime and will perform acts which will have him sentenced to death.” (Rashi 21:22)
“When you build a new house: If you keep the mitzva of sending away the mother bird, you will end up building a home and will fulfill the mitzva of building a railing for the roof of your house, for one mitzva drags another (mitzva gorreret mitzva). You will then come to a stage when you will have a vineyard, a field, nice clothes; hence the ordering of these parshiot.” (Rashi 22:8)
These comments by Rashi are based on the Midrash Tanchuma. What is Rashi telling us? He states that the opening passages of our Parsha are organised in the form of a “chain reaction.” If you do one bad thing, then that will lead you into another which will in turn lead you in an ongoing downward spiral. In contradistinction, one good deed, each mitzva, will lead to another mitzva. Hence we have a “series” which can go in two directions.
This is the way that Rashi draws the strands of our parsha together. To his mind, we have lists of consequences; processes which are linked together by cause and effect. The strange connections of unrelated mitzvot are indeed deliberate. They are connected not by mutual topic heading, but rather as series of links in a chain. Each parsha is the consequence of the previous parsha.
MITZVA GORRERET MITZVA
One of the earliest places in which this principle can be found is in the Mishnayot of Pirkei Avot (4:2):
“Ben Azzai said: Run to do even the slightest mitzva and flee from all sin, for one mitzva will lead to another mitzva and one sin to another sin; for the reward of a mitzva is a mitzva and the recompense of a sin is sin.”
Now when I look at this Mishna, I see two clauses, two statements which each would appear to say a different thing, each would seem to express a very different dynamic. Let me explain.
- “one mitzva will lead to another mitzva and one sin to another sin” :The Mishna explains why one should run to a light mitzva and flee from a light transgression. The reason is that one mitzva will lead to another etc. Here the idea would seem to be that the mitzvotorganically lead into each other and the reverse for sin. The process here is most natural. For example, a person decides to go to a student Friday night program and finds that he gets into jewish group of friends. He soon begins to attend shul regularly and soon finds himself attracted to the range of shiurim there etc. etc. I visit an old lady and the experience strikes me to the point whereby I care for her regularly. I end up with a career in caring for the elderly. Or in the reverse; a person lies in a particular situation and then gets caught in a more and more elaborate set of fabrications in order to cover up. Or the reverse student situation. A person who wants to try out new experiences in college and finds herself getting involved with a group of non-Jewish friends; soon negiah is a non-issue and Friday nights start becoming a source of tension etc. etc.
- But there is a second clause in the Mishna “the reward of a mitzva is a mitzva and the recompense of a sin is sin.” Here the process seems more artificial, more mechanical. Here is reward, not natural consequence. God rewards my mitzva with a chance to do another. It is not my action that causes the next action. My action prompts God to move to the next stage, so to speak.
In the first model the process is free-flowing. My next act of good/bad is an outgrowth, a result of the first. In the second model, the good or bad that I experience is a card dealt to me by God. God will deliver opportunities to me. If I tend towards bad things, God will give me situations in which I am likely to do bad.
Rashi seems to combine the two approaches somehow. On the one hand, the process he describes of – eshet yefat to’ar> the hated wife > the rebellious son – would seem to be an organic process. It is a process where we can clearly see a natural cause and effect. A moment of unbridled passion causes a man to choose a wife who is in the long run, unsuited to him and his socio-cultural context. In the run of time he begins to resent her and distance himself from her and her offspring. His son from this marriage develops serious behavioural problems. Makes sense. And here, one thing definitely leads to the next. Here, aveira gorreret avaira.
However if we use Rashi’s next example from our Parsha: I build a railing on the roof of my house. In response, God rewards me by giving me the wealth to buy a vineyard. If I keep the laws of the vineyard, then God will give me an added prize. He will make me wealthy enough to buy new clothing. Then if I keep sha’atnez …. etc. In this model, God is moving the person from stage 1 to stage 2. Building a railing for the roof of a house does not in any way cause a person to own a vineyard. This would appear to be the epitome of the model of s’char mitzva mitzva – that the reward of a mitzva is a mitzva.
When you think about it, this whole philosophy is rather frightening. The extent to which our actions will have influence is unnerving. Hirsch comments:
“Should you have an opportunity to perform a mitzva, do not let it pass by; perhaps the Mitzva seems so easy that you might think there would be ample opportunity to do it at other times …. Yet nothing should deter you from fulfilling it, for you cannot afford to overlook the consequences both seen and unseen of any mitzva. The good that you do will lead to more good, and every act of duty done bears its own reward. The knowledge that you have done the will for your father in heaven will bring you closer to Him; it will enrich your spirit with the happy awareness of having done the right thing, and reinforce your moral capacity for doing good. The reverse is true of sin. Do not underestimate the consequences of even the most trivial wrong.” (Commentary to Avot)
Mitzva Gorreret mitzva is the realisation that my actions have consequences. Whether good or bad, my actions are not an isolated incident, here today, gone tomorrow. No! my actions leave an indelible mark upon me and upon my environment.
It would seem quite clear that Rashi – again reflecting ChaZal – applies this philosophy to the case of the rebellious son. We say that the rebellious son – the Ben Sorer U’moreh – is a kid who is rather wild. He is drinking and partying. So why kill him? He hasn’t yet done anything that warrants the death penalty! He has done some petty-robbery from his parents. So lets work on it. Why kill him? Rashi (quoting the Gemara) tells us that he will end up as a widescale criminal. He is judged in accordance with the (inevitable) end-point of his actions: “let him die innocent and not guilty.” (Rashi on 21:20) This philosophy would seem to take a rather deterministic stance upon our future. Our future is inexorably fixed based upon my past actions.
In this vein, let us read together some comments from the Rambam’s Hilchot Teshuva:
“Every individual has good traits and bad; credits and sins … A person should view himself at all times as if he is 50:50 : half guilty and half innocent. And the whole world too should be viewed likewise : half guilty and half innocent, balanced with precision. Just one sinful act and that person, indeed the entire world, will be determined as guilty and sentenced to destruction. Just one mitzva and that individual along with the whole world will tip the balance towards the side of innocence , salvation and safety.” [3:1,4]
Hmmm! the power of a single act!
Lest we become despondent. Lest we feel that we are a product of our prior decisions. Lest we feel that it is hopeless, that we will never change, the Rambam has something else to say: