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Torah Sparks

September 1, 2001 - 5761

Prepared by Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg
Temple Sinai, Hollywood, FL

Edited by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Deut. 21:10-25:19; Hertz Chumash, p. 840
Triennial Cycle III: Deut. 24:14-25:19; Hertz Chumash, p. 852
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1-10; Hertz Chumash, p. 857

(21:10-22:12) Miscellaneous laws: treatment of a woman captured in war, the first-born son's inheritance, a rebellious son, returning lost property, helping a fallen animal, prohibition of cross-gender dressing, sending the mother bird from the nest before collecting fledglings or eggs, building a railing around a roof, prohibition of mixed seed, the law of tzitzit (fringes) on the garment.

(22:13-23:7) Laws of marriage.

(23:8-24:13) Miscellaneous laws: not to abhor an Edomite or Egyptian, preserving the purity of the camp of Israel during war, prohibition of returning a runaway slave, prohibition of sexual immorality, prohibition of taking interest, keeping vows, maintaining the rights of a laborer, on divorce and marriage, on the taking of pledges and kidnapping, on leprosy, limits on collecting pledged items.

(24:14-22) Laws concerning the treatment of workers, individual responsibility, and justice for the most helpless members of society. The laws of gleaning, forgotten sheaf, and the field corner.

(25:1-16) Miscellaneous laws: regulating and limiting the punishment of lashes, kindness to animals, "yibbum" (the law of the childless deceased brother), on unfair fighting, honest weights and measures.

(25:17-19) The commandment to remember Amalek.

Theme 1: "Father" Knows Best? I Don't Think So!

Parents should not be put to death for children, nor children be put to death for parents: a person shall be put to death only for his own crime. (Deut. 24:16)

  1. (There are three occasions when Moses spoke to G-d and G-d said "You have taught me." This is one of them) ...When G-d said "He visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children," Moses said, "Lord of the world, many wicked fathers beget righteous sons. Should these bear the iniquities of their father? Terah was an idolater, Abraham was righteous; Ahaz was a sinner, Hezekiah was righteous; Amon was a sinner, Josiah was righteous. Is it fitting that the righteous should be punished for the sins of their fathers?" Then G-d said, "You have taught me; I abrogate my word, and confirm your word, as it is said, "The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor the children for the fathers" (Numbers Rabbah Hukkat 19:33)
  2. Our daughters ask: In the Ten Commandments, G-d promises to visit the guilt of parents upon their children for three or four generations. How does guilt "visit" children? Our Mothers answer: Behavior modeled by parents usually repeats in the next several generations. So do parents' beliefs, their family myths and their emotional responses to the world. In this parashah, we're warned not to make things worse by legislating inter-generational guilt. As it is written, "A person shall be put to death for his own crime." We're advised to leave such visitations to G-d. (Ellen Frankel; The Five Books of Miriam; p. 283-284)

Discussion Sparks:

It seems that Deuteronomy is changing an intention in the Ten Commandments! Perhaps here we see the change from something back in Exodus (see Ex.20:5-6) that made us queasy at that time. How do the Rabbis (and "our mothers") change the law that comes explicitly from G-d? Why do they make this change? Can G-d be wrong? Can G-d make a mistake? Is it possible that G-d can learn from humanity what is just and righteous? What does this say about G-d? What does this say about the human's role in the world and history?

Theme 2: Another Story Leave Us Queasy

Therefore, when the Lord your G-d grants you safety from all your enemies around you in the land that the Lord your G-d is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget! (Deut. 2:19)

  1. Why were Pharaoh, Amalek and Haman punished when all they did was carry out the Divine decree? The reason is that they never intended to fulfill G-d's wish, but rather, in their wickedness, they did what they did from hatred for Israel. For this reason it says "Remember what Amalek did to you" even though, "you were tired and weary and did not fear G-d." In other words, the punishment came upon you (not from Amalek, but) from heaven. And this is the reason why you shall "blot out the memory of Amalek." What comes with his memory - how his intention was (not to fulfill heaven's decree but) to do evil to you - you shall not forget. And in your battle with Amalek, be careful therefore that you yourself do not act from vengeance and hatred (as he did) but in order to fulfill G-d's command. (Abraham Shemuel Benyamin Sofer; Ketav Sofer; in L. Kushner and K. Olitsky; "Sparks Beneath the Surface"; p. 243-244)
  2. As uncomfortable as its theme may be, these biblical verses calling for Amalek's destruction continue to be relevant in our day. Our challenge is to rediscover their relevance in an age when anti-Semitism has been declared DOA and Jews live at the top of the social food chain. Some say that the mitzvah of "zechirat Amalek" is only meant to help us drive sin, racism and hate out of our own hearts. Perhaps they are right. It is also possible, however, that Amalek is still out there in spirit. Assimilation killed off that hateful nation's body, but perhaps its soul continues to walk the Earth. Where might Amalek's soul be hiding? In terrorist organizations that blow up buses in Israel? In certain kinds of cults? Neo-Nazi groups? Or do you think that Amalek is not only physically extinct but spiritually extinct as well? (Eli Garfinkel; Mikraot Ramah; Camp Ramah (Wisconsin) p. 396)

Discussion Sparks:

Will there ever be a time when hate will no longer exist? Must all who hate come to an end or does this apply only to those who hate Jews? Is it ever justified to hate some other person or group? What is it about the destruction of Amalek that makes us queasy? Can genocide ever be justified? How else can we uproot hate? Think of all those in the world today who live to hate. How can we ever put the hatred to rest without destroying all those who hate?

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