Parashat Ki-Teseh begins with the exceptional law of Eshet Yefat Toar, which deals with the case of a soldier who encounters an attractive foreign woman while fighting a war, and desires her. The Torah allows the soldier in such a case to marry the woman after fulfilling certain conditions. The commentators explain that the Torah enacted this provision because the soldier would otherwise be likely to engage in forbidden relations with the woman. Human nature being as it is, G-d determined that it would be preferable to permit marrying an Eshet Yefat Toar so that soldiers would not be tempted to cohabit with women in violation of the law.
This section is followed by another exceptional law the law of the Ben Sorer Umoreh, the rebellious son. The Torah commands that under certain very rare and unusual circumstances, a child who ignores his parents authority and conducts himself in an unrestrained manner is put to death. One of the requirements for a child to be considered a Ben Sorer Umoreh is Zolel Vesobeh that he is a glutton, indulging in meat and wine. The Sages explained that if a boy displays an uncontrolled lust for meat and wine, he will reach the point where he robs and murders in order to obtain the money he needs to satisfy this lust. Therefore, he must be put to death already now, in his youth, to prevent his future criminal behavior.
Our Sages offered an explanation for why the Torah juxtaposed these two subjects the Eshet Yefat Toar and the Ben Sorer Umoreh. Namely, the Torah here warns that if a person marries an Eshet Yefat Toar, he will end up having a son who is a Ben Sorer Umoreh. Although marrying such a woman is technically permissible, it will likely result in the disastrous outcome of a Ben Sorer Umoreh.
The obvious question arises as to why this is the case. True, the Mishna teaches us that Abera Goreret Abera one sin leads to another. But in this case, the man did not commit a sin; he married a non-Jewish woman in a permissible fashion, as the Torah prescribed. Why will this result in a wayward, rebellious son?
The answer, as some have suggested, relates to the well-known comments of the Ramban in explaining the Torahs command in the Book of Vayikra, Kedoshim Tiheyu You shall be holy. This command does not require us to immerse in the Mivkeh several times a day or engage in deep mystical activities. Rather, the Ramban explains, it refers to moderation and avoiding excess in our mundane activities. Technically speaking, a person can go to a casino without violating any law in the Shulhan Aruch. He can order strictly glatt kosher food, drink kosher wine that is Mebushal, make sure to pray at the proper times, and keep his Kippa and Sisit on. Nevertheless, he has failed to fulfill the Misva of Kedoshim Tiheyu. A person can meet the highest standards of Kashrut but live a very unholy life if his life revolves around food and indulgence. Living a holy life means setting reasonable limits on our physical indulgence so we can pursue loftier ideals.
This is the problem with the man who marries an Eshet Yefat Toar. He has not violated any particular law, but it cannot be considered a holy thing to do. And such conduct has a profound effect on his children.
There are two ways to educate children, one of which is very effective, and one of which is very ineffective. The ineffective but generally more intuitive way is to tell children what they should do. More often than not, this only triggers resentment and pushback. The effective way to educate children is to model the desired behavior, to show them the right way to act. Children learn far more effectively with their eyes than with their ears. They learn from watching us, not by being told what to do. The expression goes, Practice what you preach. I would suggest modifying this expression to read, Practice, and then you dont have to preach. Actions speak louder than words, and so our greatest asset in influencing our children is the personal example we set, exhibiting the kind of behavior we want our children to emulate.
This is why marrying an Eshet Yefat Toar can lead to a Ben Sorer Umoreh. It sets an example to children of what the Ramban calls, Nabal Birshut HaTorah acting improperly within the limits of Torah law. Such a thing is technically permissible, but an inappropriate surrender to desire. A child who grows up in such an environment, where the parents strictly adhere to the nitty gritty of Torah law but overindulge and place too much focus on the physical pleasures of life, can easily become a glutton, and may eventually reach the point where he resorts to criminal behavior to satisfy his lusts.
We need to teach our children not just right from wrong, but also right from right. Even within right behavior, children must be taught to distinguish between whats appropriate and whats not. And the way they learn this distinction is by observing us, their parents, exercising appropriate restraint and maintaining a healthy balance between acceptable enjoyment and excessive indulgence.
The Mitzvah of Cancellation of Debts at the Conclusion of Shevi’it as it Applies to Women
In the previous Halachot we have explained the basic laws of cancellation of debts by Shevi’it in that any debt one is owed and has been incurred by another as a loan and whose time for repayment has already arrived is cancelled once the Shemitta year passes (this year, 5775, is the Shemitta year and this coming Rosh Hashanah of 5776 marks the conclusion of the Shemitta year). In such a case, the lender may no longer claim repayment for such debts since these debts have already been cancelled on the night of Rosh Hashanah 5776. We have discussed several detailed laws related to this.
We have likewise mentioned that if a woman lends her neighbor bread or milk and the like, since the woman does not expect the neighbor to return those same loaves of bread or cartons of milk, rather, she expects the neighbor to purchase new ones and repay her with those, it turns out that the loaves of bread were not merely “lent” to the neighbor (as one would lent a tool or other object); rather, these loaves were, in essence “loaned” to the neighbor (as one would loan money). Thus, the woman who has lent these loaves of bread must take care not to request repayment for them since the conclusion of Shevi’it cancels such debts and the neighbor is not obligated to return the bread or milk to the neighbor who lent them to her in the first place.
This law is based on the words of Rabbeinu Yosef Haim zt”l of Baghdad in his epic work, Ben Ish Hai (end of Parashat Ki Tavo). We can imply from his words that women are also obligated in the Mitzvah of cancellation of debts by Shevi’it, for the example he brings is one woman lending bread to another woman. Indeed, the Sefer Ha’Chinuch (end of Mitzvah 477) states explicitly that the Mitzvah of cancellation of debts by Shevi’it applies equally to both men and women.
It seems, however, that this should not be the case since we have a rule that women are exempt from all positive, time-bound Mitzvot (such as Shofar, Sukkah, Lulav which are all bound by specific times; this is unlike all negative Mitzvot, such as Shabbat and Yom Kippur where everyone is forbidden to perform work) and the Mitzvah of cancellation of debts by Shevi’it is likewise a positive commandment to release all debts owed to her (regarding the negative commandment of “He shall not exact it from his friend” which refers to the prohibition of claiming such a debt after Shevi’it, although this is a negative commandment which women are likewise obligated to abide by, nevertheless, in our scenario, the woman’s friend is coming of her own accord to return the loaves of bread to her neighbor and thus, the woman who lent them is not exacting them from her friend and is merely silently accepting what her friend owes her). If so, it would seem that women should not be obligated in this Mitzvah of cancellation of debts.
Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l deals with this issue at length in his work (Chazon Ovadia-Prozbul, page 38) and discusses several reasons to obligate women in the Mitzvah of cancellation of debts by Shevi’it. One of them is based on the words of Rabbeinu David Abudirhem (page 10b), the Orchot Chaim (Volume 2, beginning of Hilchot Milah), the Kol Bo quoting Mahari Anatoly in his Sefer Melamed Ha’Talmidim, and many others who write that the reason why women are exempt from positive, time-bound Mitzvot is because they are usually in the home more taking care of the children and the other household chores and the Torah therefore did not obligate her to perform such Mitzvot, for if women would indeed be obligated to perform such Mitzvot, it would be quite difficult for them to endure so many pressures and responsibilities. Thus, regarding positive, time-bound Mitzvot which are performed in a passive manner, such as the Mitzvah of cancellation of debts following Shevi’it which does not require the woman to actively do anything in order to release debts owed to her, there is no reason to exempt women from such a Mitzvah since its performance does not cause them any bother or burden whatsoever. The great Penei Yehoshua and others rule accordingly. Other reasons and clear proofs which obligate women in this Mitzvah of cancellation of debts are discussed as well.
Summary: Women are obligated, without a shadow of a doubt, in the Mitzvah of cancellation of debts following Shevi’it. Thus, if a woman lends her friend some loaves of bread or an amount of money and the Shemitta year has passed over such debts, the woman may no longer claim repayment of such debts from her friend. (Even if the friend comes of her own volition to repay the debt, the woman must tell her that according to Halacha, she is not required to repay this debt since it has already been cancelled by the conclusion of Shevi’it; only if the friend wishes to return it as a gift may the woman accept it.) Nevertheless, all of this applies if the woman has not written a Prozbul. However, if the woman has written a Prozbul, all debts owed to her are not cancelled, as we shall discuss in the following Halacha.
Haftara: Isaiah 54:1-10.
Study Notes by Avraham ben Yaakov
EZEKIEL CHAPTER 37
VISION OF THE VALLEY OF DRY BONES
“…And He set me down in the midst of the valley, which was full of dry bones” (v 1). Commenting on this vision, RaDaK writes that “the Holy One blessed be He showed Ezekiel this valley as a metaphor showing that the Children of Israel would leave their exile, in which they were living in a state comparable to that of ‘dry bones’. Alternatively, He showed him this to show him that in time to come He will resurrect the dead of Israel at the time of the redemption so that they too should witness the redemption” (RaDaK on verse 1).
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 92b) brings a variety of opinions among our sages as to whose bones these were. The different opinions are by no means mutually exclusive, since certain souls may be re-incarnated in different bodies time after time. Rabbi Yehudah considered that the vision was “in truth a metaphor” (BE-EMES MASHAL), while Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Eliezer (ben Hurknos) both considered that Ezekiel literally revived the dead. R. Eliezer son of R. Yose HaGlili stated that the dead that Ezekiel revived came up to the land of Israel, married and had children, and R. Yehudah Ben Beseira declared that he was one of their descendants, exhibiting a pair of Tefilin which he inherited from his paternal grandfather that had been handed down from them.
The opinion of Rav is that the dead bones were those of the members of the tribe of Ephraim who left Egypt before the appointed time and were killed by the native inhabitants of Gath (I Chronicles 7:21, see Targum Yonasan and RaDaK ad loc. and Rashi on our verse in Ezekiel.). Shmuel’s opinion is that these were the bones of people who had denied the tenet of resurrection, while Rabbi Yonasan said they were dry because they were the bones of people who “did not have in them the moisture of a mitzvah”, i.e. they did not observe any of the commandments of the Torah.
Rabbi Yochanan stated that the bones were those of the people who were killed in the Valley of Dura. This was where Nebuchadnezzar set up his sixty-cubit high idol, to which all the peoples bowed down, including all the Judean exiles except for Chananya, Mishael and Azariah (Daniel ch 3). When Nebuchadnezzar saw this, he was enraged, asking them if just as they had worshipped idols in their own land causing its destruction they intended to worship them in Babylon in order to destroy it, and he massacred them (Yalkut Shimoni). Another reason why Nebuchadnezzar carried out a mass slaughter of young Jewish men at that time was because “among them were youths who put the sun to shame with their beauty and when the Chaldean woman saw them they started running with blood (ZIVA) and told their husbands, who told the king, who had them trampled down. It was at the moment when the wicked Nebuchadnezzar cast Chananya, Mishael and Azariah into the fiery furnace that God told Ezekiel to go and revive the dead in the Valley of Dura” (Sanhedrin 92b).
Unraveling the exact identify of these bones is of less importance than grasping the essential point of Ezekiel’s vision, which attests to our perfect faith and belief “that the Resurrection of the Dead will take place at the time when it will be the will of the Creator, blessed be His Name” (last of the Thirteen Principles of Faith as formulated by Rambam). God has the power to take even dry bones (such as the tiny, indestructible LUZ bone from the top of the spine) and clothe them with sinews, flesh and skin to breathe into them the spirit of life (v 6).
“Come from the four winds (directions), O breath, and breathe upon these slain” (v 9) – “From every place where their souls went to wander in all four directions of the world they will be gathered in” (Rashi ad loc.).
“Behold, O My people, I shall open your graves…” (v 12). In the words of RaDaK (ad loc.): “If this vision is a metaphor, the lands of the nations where Israel is in exile are the graves. If it is to be taken literally, the meaning is plain. There is a division of opinion among our sages about the dead outside of Israel. Some held that they will arise from their graves in the Diaspora itself, while others said that they will come up to the Land of Israel by rolling (GILGUL) through underground passages (Kesuvos 111a). The present verse supports the view that they will come back to life in the Diaspora… for it says ‘I will open up your graves and bring you up from your graves’ and afterwards ‘I will bring you to the Land of Israel'”.
“Three keys are in the hand of the Holy One blessed be He and have not been entrusted to any agent: the key to the rains, the key to giving birth and the key to the revival of the dead” (Ta’anis 2b).
* * * Ezekiel’s vision of the Valley of the Dry Bones is read as the Haftara on Shabbos Chol HaMo’ed Pesach, the intermediate Shabbos of the festival of Passover. * * *
TWO STICKS JOINED INTO ONE
In a further inspiring prophecy of consolation in vv 15-28, God instructs the prophet to take two sticks and write on one “for Judah and the children of Israel his companions” – i.e. the tribe of Benjamin, which remained attached to Judah even after the split of the kingdom – and to write on the other “for Joseph the stick of Ephraim and all the House of Israel, his companions”. The latter are the Ten Tribes, because when the kingdom was divided, Jeraboam, who was from the tribe of Ephraim, became king, and accordingly the Ten Tribes were called by the name of Ephraim (verse 16 as explained by RaDaK).
The prophet was to join the two sticks together to make one stick (v 17) to symbolize that in the end of days the great fissure that has divided the Children of Israel since the death of King Solomon will be healed, and the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, who are called the “Jews” (cf. Esther 2:5), will be reconciled with the lost Ten Tribes and become “one in My hand” (v 19) – “they shall become ONE NATION before Me” (Targum ad loc.).
Verses 21ff prophesy the restoration of the scattered exiles of Israel to their land to become one people under one king. “And My servant David will be king over them” (v 24) –”Melech HaMashiach, who comes from the seed of David, will be king over them” (Metzudas David).
This will inaugurate an eternal covenant of peace between God and Israel with the return of the Shechinah to Israel and the rebuilding of the Temple, showing all the nations that HaShem rules (v 28).
* * * Ezekiel’s vision of joining the two sticks of Joseph and Judah (Ez. 37:15-28) is read as the Haftara of Parshas Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27) describing the reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers. * * *
THE WAR OF GOG AND MAGOG
Many people mistakenly believe that the war of Gog and Magog is a war of Gog AGAINST Magog, and the two have been represented in many weird and monstrous ways in popular folklore. But the truth is plainly visible in the opening verse of our present chapter. Gog is the name of the king or leader of an unholy alliance of nations, while Magog is the name of his people, whose founder was Japheth’s second son (Gen:10:2, see Rashi on the opening verse of our present chapter). It is clear from verses 8 and 12 of the present chapter that their war is against the people of Israel in the land of Israel.
The onslaught of Gog and his allies against Israel at the end of days was foreordained from the beginning of time and already spoken of “in old time by my servants the prophets of Israel, who prophesied in those days for many years that I would bring you against them” (verse 17). Thus the war of Gog and Magog is prophesied in Zechariah ch 14 and alluded to in many different passages in Isaiah and the other prophets. According to tradition, this war was also the subject of the prophecy of Eldad and Meidad in the wilderness in the time of Moses (Numbers 11:26, see Targum Yonasan ad loc. and Sanhedrin 17b). There is an historical inevitability about this war that will cause it to come about whether the nations want it or not. Thus God says to Gog: “I will turn you about and put hooks into your jaws, and I will bring you and all your army…” (v 4).
PRINCIPAL MEMBERS OF THE ALLIANCE
The peoples of Magog, Meshech and Tuval mentioned in verse 2 were all descendants of the sons of Japheth and are considered to have spread out from where Noah’s ark came to rest on Mt Ararat to the regions that became their original habitations in the northeast of Turkey, immediately south of the Black Sea, in Armenia, southern Georgia and the regions west of the Caspian Sea. It is highly likely that in the course of time these peoples wandered far and wide from there. (It is noteworthy that Meshech – Muscovy, Russia – has traditionally been one of the leading persecutors of Israel and Judaism, and its one-time dictator, Joseph Stalin, was from Georgia, embedded in the name of whose capital city of Tbilisi is the name TUVAL.)
Verse 5 mentions Paras or Persia, Kush (descended from the firstborn son of Ham, Gen. 10:6), identified either with Sudan or with the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan, and Phut, which is identified by some with Libya and by others with Somalia.
Verse 6 mentions Gomer, which the rabbis identified with GERMAMIA (=Germany, see Targum Yonasan on our verse and Yoma 10b) and Togarma, which was the traditional Hebrew name for Turkey. Verse 6 also mentions “many nations” as well as “the far sides of the north”, which might indicate anywhere across the northern hemisphere from North America to Northern Europe, Russia, China and Japan!
Verse 13 mentions Sheba, identified variously with east Africa (Ethiopia?) and Arabia (Yemen?), Dedan (=northeast Arabia, the Arab Emirates?) and Tarshish, which has different connotations in different Biblical texts and may indicate Tarsus in Asia Minor, North Africa (Tunisia) or Spain.
WHEN DOES THE WAR OCCUR?
Our text explicitly states that the war of Gog and Magog will occur “at the end of days”, when the nations will come “against the land that is brought back from the sword and is gathered out of many peoples…” (v 8; cf. verse 16). As a follow-on from Ezekiel’s prophecy in Chapter 36 about the return of Israel to their land at the end of days, our present text teaches that the assault of the nations occurs AFTER the ingathering of Israel, or the greater part of them, from exile, when they have come back to their land in the hope of dwelling there prosperously and securely, spread out unfortified habitations (vv 8, 11-12 & 14). It is plain that this refers to our present era, when for the first time in two thousand years a majority of the world’s population of Jews lives in Israel. Our texts state explicitly that the intention of Gog and his allies is to despoil Israel of their wealth (vv 12-13 of our present chapter) and appropriate their land (as stated in Ezekiel 36: 2 & 5).
THE JUDGMENT AGAINST GOG AND MAGOG
Verses 18-23 depict the divine wrath that will be unleashed against Gog and his armies (which is also the subject of the following chapter). Verse 19 speaks of a great “shaking” (RA’ASH) in the Land of Israel, which indicates a literal earthquake, as prophesied in Zechariah 14:4-5). Verse 20 says that the very fish of the sea, the birds of the heavens, the beasts of the field and all creeping beings as well as all mankind will shake at God’s presence. RaDaK (ad loc.) states that this verse may be taken both metaphorically and literally. (It is well-known that many animals are intuitively aware of earthquakes etc. even before they occur.)
Verse 21 teaches that the downfall of the nations will come about when tumult breaks out among the forces of Gog and Magog, who will fight “each against his brother”. Then God will judge them with “plague, blood and driving rain and stones of algavish (hail shining like the gavish jewel), fire and sulfur” (verse 22). The name of God will then be magnified and sanctified in the eyes of many nations and they will know that HaShem rules (v 23).
* * * Verses 18-23 of the present chapter together with chapter 39 vv 1-15 are read as the Haftara on Shabbos Chol HaMo’ed Succos – the intermediate Sabbath of the festival of Succos. * * *
Aside from knowing that we share some of the same religious texts, most Christians today are completely unfamiliar with the “modern” forms of Judaism (forms that go back almost 2,000 years). To close a small portion of the knowledge gap about our religious Jewish neighbors, here are nine things you should know Rabbinic Judaism.
1. In Judaism, a rabbi is a teacher of the Torah. Rabbinic Judaism, which is based on the “dual Torah,” was formulated in the 2nd century, making the religion, in terms of defining texts, younger than Christianity. By the 6th century it had become the dominant type of Judaism and is the foundation of all forms of Judaism practiced today. The three main branches of Rabbinic Judaism in North America are Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox.
2. The “dual Torah” is the Jewish concept that the Torah was revealed to Moses at Mount Sinai in two ways, one written (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) and the other transmitted by oral tradition through the prophets and the sages. The Oral Torah did not come to full expression in Jewish life until after the period following the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in AD 70. As Jacob Neusner explains, “the Judaism of the dual Torah set forth a twin ideal: sanctification of the everyday life in the here and now, which when fully realized would lead to the salvation of all Israel in the age to come. But what remained to be sanctified, as the Temple had been sanctified through its cult, now that the Temple was gone? One locus of sanctification endured beyond 70: the holy people itself.”
3. The Oral Torah is the tradition collected in a number of rabbinic writings known as the Mishnah (halachic or legal tradition which form the core of Rabbinic Judaism). Upon being recorded the Mishnah became the object of further study, commentary and amplification known as the Gemara. The term Talmud can be used to mean either the Gemara alone, or the Mishnah and Gemara as printed together. There are two Talmuds: The Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud. The Talmud is the heart of Rabbinic Judaism; after the Bible, the Talmud is the book most studied by religious Jews and the Hebrew Bible is read and interpreted in light of the Talmud.
4. The most universal and distinctive form of Jewish spirituality is Torah study. Despite the name, Torah study actually includes the study of related texts, such as the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud, and various rabbinical writings. In rabbinic literature, the highest ideal of all Jewish men is Torah study (women being exempt). Torah study is counted amongst the 613 mitzvot (“commandments”), but is considered more important than many of the other commandments, such as visiting the sick or honoring one’s parents.
5. Yeshiva is a Jewish institution that focuses on Torah study. Study is usually done through daily shiurim (lectures or classes) and in study pairs called chavrutas (Aramaic for “companionship”). Chavruta-style learning is one of the unique features of the yeshiva. Historically, yeshivas were attended by high level males only. Today, all non-Orthodox and a few Modern Orthodox yeshivas are open even to females.
6. Reform Judaism (also known as Liberal Judaism and Progressive Judaism) maintains that Judaism and Jewish traditions should be modernized and compatible with participation in the surrounding culture. Reform Judaism affirms the central tenets of Judaism (God, Torah, and Israel) and emphasizes Tikkun olam — “repairing the world.” Reform Jews are committed to the principle of inclusion, primarily in interfaith marriage, absolute equality of women in all areas of Jewish life, and commitment to LGBT issues. Reform Judaism is currently the largest North American denomination of American Jews.
7. Conservative Judaism (also known as Masorti Judaism) developed in 1850s Germany as a reaction to the more liberal religious positions taken by Reform Judaism. The term conservative was meant to signify that Jews should attempt to conserve Jewish tradition, rather than reform or abandon it. Conservative Judaism holds that the laws of the Torah and Talmud are of divine origin, and thus mandates the following of halacha (Jewish law). However, the Conservative movement also accepts modern methods of historical scholarship in analyzing Jewish texts and developing Jewish law.
8. Orthodox Judaism is an umbrella term for a variety of Jewish denominations and groups that refused to follow the path of Reform or Conservative Judaism. Orthodox Judaism believes that both the Written and Oral Torah are of divine origin, containing the exact words of God without any human influence. In terms of practice, Orthodox Jews strictly follow the written Torah and the Oral Torah as interpreted by the Medieval rabbis. From the time they get up in the morning until they go to bed at night, Orthodox Jews observe the commandments concerning prayer, dress, food, social behavior, etc.
9. In Rabbinic Judaism, the synagogue is the Jewish house of prayer. The buildings are not necessarily used for communal worship since Jewish worship can be carried out wherever ten Jews (a minyan) assemble. All synagogues contain a bimah, a table from which the Torah is read, and a desk for the prayer leader. The Torah ark — modeled on the Ark of the Covenant — is a cabinet in which the Torah scrolls are kept. Prayer and public reading of the Torah form the main components of Jewish liturgy.
Note on sources: Unless directly cited, all information was taken from Norman Solomon’s Judaism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 1996).