Parashat Ki Tesseh- Don't BE Right, MAKE IT RIGHT
You’re driving down the road and you have the green light. The right of way is completely yours. All of a sudden from the periphery of your eye you sense a teenage driver speeding in from the right and he is about to pass through the red light on the road he’s on. Do you continue driving?
Of course not!
But why not? The right of way is yours completely! You did everything correctly! You obeyed the law to the fullest extent, you had your seatbelt fastened and checked your mirrors and drove under thirty miles an hour and had your license and registration neatly set in your glove compartment. You did it all! If you did everything correctly, don’t you at least deserve the right to continue driving down the road without anybody slowing you down?
However, if you did continue driving, you would get hit (has ve’Shalom). It’s true that you got your way, but did it really help you?
Sometimes, getting our right of way can work against us. Just because we are right, it does not necessarily mean that we have to exercise that right.
Parashat Ki Tesseh is laden with 74 precious Missvot. Many of these Missvot revolve around investing our individual right for a greater cause. For instance, if someone finds an object that is lost, it is human nature to want to take this object for one’s own self, however, the Torah HaKedoshah gives us specific instructions on how to return the lost object. In fact, there was even a place in Yerushalayim where anyone who lost an object or anyone who found an object would go to, and people would identify their object and restitutions were made. Mi Ke’Amekha Yisrael? Who is like your nation, HaShem? Only Yehoudim would do such a thing! Anyone else could rightfully keep the lost item, ‘finders keepers’ as they say—but even if we have this ‘right’, we are ready to give it up in order to do above what the secular law dictates.
HaShem tells us, if you are working in your fellow’s vineyard or olive grove, you are permitted to eat as many grapes or olives as your heart desires. However, you are forbidden from filling up your own vessel with this produce and take them home to eat later. It is true that we have the right to eat all of these delicious grapes and olives—HaShem tells us Help yourselves! However it does not mean we have to exercise this right, that is why it is forbidden to take these goods ‘to go’.
Another Missvah we find in this Parashah is the Missvah not to charge another Jew interest. In America, business owners can do as they please to exploit the customer. As long as a client is willing to pay, the businessman can charge him as he wishes—he has all the right to. However, the Torah HaKedoshah is so sensitive and understanding to both the client and the clerk. It’s true that technically one can charge another anything he likes, but just because he can doesn’t mean that he should. We see that a person has the right to charge interest—this is why we can charge goyim, but we also see that we cannot take advantage of this right—this is why we are forbidden from charging other Yehoudim interest. We Yehoudim have a special code of conduct that trandscends personal, selfish motives.
Another more dramatic account in the Parashah where we see the insight of not taking advantage of our rights is by Ben Sorer uMoreh, a wayward and rebellious son. The Torah HaKedoshah tells us that if a couple has son who meets certain (highly specific) qualifications of being a rebellious son, they have the right to justly kill him by stoning him to death. The Torah allows it! It is even a Missvah to do! However, just because parents have this right, does it mean they should go ahead and exercise it as they wish? Absoluetly not!! Which parent in their right mind do such a thing? It is for this reason the Talmud reveals to us, such a case never happened in history--ever. All these parents understand that just because they have this right, it doesn’t mean they should take advantage of it only to vindicate themselves. Just because they could kill their son who, it’s true he acted up, does it still ever mean that they should??
The incident where this concept is most prevelant in in the case of Eshet Yafat To’ar. When a Jewish man goes to war and sees a beautiful woman from the enemy’s side, surprisingly, HaKadosh Barukh Hu allows him to take her as a wife—but only if he follows proper protocol first. She must shave her head and grow her nails and sit at home as a mourner for 30 days, and only after this process, if the Jewish man still wants her as a wife, she is permissible to him.
Umm, HaShem? This doesn’t sound too Jewish to me. What’s going on here, how would You allow such a thing?
The truth is, this is the most Jewish concept there is. HaKadosh Barukh Hu in His infinite wisdom understands the nature of man. HaShem knows that if He forbids this, man would still go ahead and take her as a wife, thus being involved in a tremendous averah, transgression. Since He doesnt want us to trangress has ve’Shalom, HaShem gives us the option that if we want to do such a thing, we should at least do it the right way and not be held accountable for it. We technically have the right to take this Eshet Yafat To’ar.
However, the Torah HaKedoshah warns us, just because you have this right, it does not mean you have to exercise this right. The section in the Torah proceeding right after the section of Eshet Yafat To’ar is that of Ben Sorer uMoreh, a rebellious son, who is ultimately stoned to death. Ouch. How would such a son come about? Rashi explains that any man who takes an Eshet Yafat To’ar as a wife will ultimately have such a son who will rebel to this extent. Just because a man has the right to take a beautiful captive in war, it does not mean that he should exercise this right. Even though the law allows it, we must go above and beyond the law.
The word for going above and beyond the law is called ‘Hesed’. There is Sedakah, which is obligatory by law, and the next level above this is considered to be Hesed. By not giving in to the basic law and passing over our rights in order to attain a greater positive cause, we are, in effect, doing Hesed.
We are now in the midst of Hodesh Elul at full force. This is s time where we should be working on ourselves more and more each day. Although Sedakah is one of the antidotes to bring about Teshuvah, it is also worthwile for us to engage in this kind of Hesed in order to advance our Teshuvah. Starting this Hodesh, anytime we might feel that we have the right of way, let us stop to consider if exercising this right will be beneficial to us and everyone around us. If has ve’Shalom you feel an argument coming, EVEN IF YOU KNOW THAT YOU ARE COMPLETELY RIGHT, let it go. Someone took your parking spot? Let it go. Your sister borrowed your sweater without asking? I know you’re right, but let it go. Exercising your right won’t help you here, but loosening your ego and humbling yourself will.
Let’s try to make things right instead of trying to be right.
Be’Ezrat HaShem may we be massliah in mending broken relationships and maintaining the ones we have now. May we focus on working things out with others instead of just being preoccupied with our own personal rights and desires. Just as we are prepared to overlook other people’s ‘faults’, in this zekhout , may HaKadosh Barukh Hu overlook our faults. May we make the best of our Hodesh Elul and elevate ourselves above and beyond what we are destined to be!
Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom uMevorakh! Kol Tuv!
Make Your Neshamah Fly!