Parshas Ki Seitzei
The First Jewish Family
By Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom
"DARSHINAN S'MUKHIN B'MISHNEH TORAH"
In the past few shiurim, we have focused on the Halakhot (laws) of each
given Parashah from a "broad" perspective - looking at an overarching theme
which binds these laws together and which explains their inclusion in Sefer
D'varim, as well as the sequence of presentation.
Before addressing this week's Parashah, one note about this perspective in
interpretation is in order.
The Gemara (in several place, e.g. BT Yevamot 4a) notes that although there
is a dispute among the Tannaim as to whether or not it is appropriate to
make contextually-driven inferences (known as "S'mukhin") in the Torah, this
dispute only obtains in reference to the first four books of the Torah. In
other words, whether we can infer details of one law from a "neighboring"
law simply by virtue of their juxtaposition is subject to debate among the
scholars of the Mishnah. This is, however, not true with regards to Sefer
D'varim - there is a consensus that juxtaposition is meaningful in D'varim
and that such inferences are valid. This principle is known as "Darshinan
S'mukhin b'Mishneh Torah" - we allow for juxtapositionally-driven inferences
in "Mishneh Torah" (D'varim).
What is the rationale behind the distinction? As we have discussed in
several shiurim on Sefer D'varim (see the first two shiurim: Introductory
Shiur and This is
the Torah), the entire endeavor of Sefer D'varim is educational - Mosheh
Rabbenu is educating the new generation and preparing them to enter the
Land. The scope of Mitzvot which are mentioned in D'varim as well as the
order of their presentation is not predicated on chronological
considerations (i.e. in what order they were originally given), rather on
pedagogic method - in what order their presentation will effect the most
critical educational and spiritual messages to the new nation. For that
reason, Hazal (the Rabbis) are comfortable maintaining a consensus regarding
the significance of order of presentation specifically in this, the final
book of the Torah.
NATIONAL UNITY - > LEADERSHIP -> FAMILY
As we discussed in our shiur on Parashat R'eh, the focus of the Mitzvot of
that Parashah is twofold: Actualizing the commitment we are to have towards
God (loving Him and declaring His Oneness) and realizing the essential
fellowship of all Jews. In our discussion of Parashat Shoftim, I pointed
out that the entire Parashah is geared towards the establishment of
leadership and the quatri-cameral government of the Jewish Nation.
Our Parashah, Parashat Ki Teitzei, contains many Mitzvot (along with
Parashiot Mishpatim and Kedoshim, Ki Teitzei is the most critical and dense
Parashah, from a legislative perspective). Unlike the Mitzvot presented in
Parashiot R'eh and Shof'tim, the Mitzvot in our Parashah are presented in
terse form, generally lacking the motivational features so prominent in the
earlier Parashiot. For instance, there are few references to the Exodus in
our Parashah, just as there are hardly any references to the ideal
relationship with God, so prevalent in the presentation of Mitzvot in the
previous two Parashiot. It would be easy to posit that, unlike the previous
two Parashiot, Ki Teitzei is merely a law compendium, restating many laws
which either expand on earlier presentations or are new laws, not seen in
earlier Humashim (see Ramban's introduction to D'varim).
There is, however, a theme which ties most of the Parashah together and
which is a likely candidate to follow the themes of R'eh and Shof'tim.
A subject which occupies a major part of our Parashah is marriage, divorce
and related issues (e.g. adultery, rape, levirate marriage ["Yibbum"] etc.).
Although there seem to be some exceptions to this generalization, the
Mitzvot in our Parashah are focused around issues of family. We have moved
from a definition of the national polity - both in mission and in
constitution (R'eh) to the national government (Shof'tim) to the micro-unit
upon which the success (or failure) of the national endeavor rests - the family.
As mentioned, there seem to be some exceptions to this categorization (such
as the Mitzvah to send away the mother bird and keep the eggs) and it might
take some homiletic gymnastics to "make everything fit"; yet, there seems to
be a subtle theme which runs through the Parashah and helps explain the
inclusion of some of these "poor fits" into our Parashah. In addition, it
may give us some insight into the nature and desiderata of the Jewish family.
THE FIRST THREE PARASHIOT:
AN INAUSPICIOUS BEGINNING
(I strongly recommend that you use a Tanakh or Humash to follow the rest of
Our Parashah opens with three brief parashiot:
A) "Y'fat To'ar" (beautiful woman taken as a captive in war);
B) "Ben haS'nu'ah" (firstborn of the rejected wife)
C) "Ben Sorer uMoreh" (rebellious son)
(Note that the Midrash, quoted by Rashi, connects these three and
understands that there is a causal relationship between them - i.e. if you
marry the "Y'fat To'ar", you will come to despise her and her son (who is
your first-born) - and that son will ultimately become a rebellious child.
Another example of "S'mukhin" in D'varim).
This is certainly an unpleasant slice of family life - taking a woman as a
"captive wife" on account of her physical appeal, "hating" a wife and your
own flesh-and-blood who you sired with her - and a rebellious child. Why
does the Torah begin the series of "family-oriented" Mitzvot on such a sour
"KADESH/K'DESHAH" AND "ET'NAN ZONAH"
There are a couple more Halakhot mentioned in our Parashah which don't seem
to "fit" with the theme. Besides the more obvious "intrusions", we find the
following law in the middle of Halakhot directly related to issues of family:
No Israelite woman shall be a "K'deshah", nor shall any Israelite man be a
"Kadesh". You shall not bring an "Et'nan Zonah" (fee for a whore)...[as an
offering]. (23:18-19) Note that these two laws, which are joined together in
one parashah, are presented in between laws directly related to family
(22:13-23:9 and 24:1 ff.). Why are they mentioned here?
An almost immediate passage is even more startling:
"If you make a vow to Hashem your God, do not delay fulfilling it..." (vv.
What is the reason for the placement of these verses here?
One final question: Even though the theme of this Parashah is family, as
noted above, the Parashah ends on a seemingly unrelated note: The Mitzvah to
wipe out - and preserve the memory of - Amalek and their wickedness. What
does this have to do with "family"?
In sum, we have several questions about the inclusion and sequence of
several Mitzvot in our Parashah:
1) Why does the Parashah begin with the laws of the Y'fat To'ar and rejected
2) Why is the Kadesh/K'deshah law, along with the "Et'nan Zonah" law, placed
in the middle of laws relating to family?
3) Why is a section relating to fulfilling vows in a timely fashion placed
in the middle of that same section?
4) Why does our Parashah end with the Mitzvot relating to Amalek and their
THE "UNDERCURRENT" OF OUR PARASHAH:
OUR FIRST FAMILY
Although we generally consider Avraham to be the first father of our people,
we do not refer to ourselves - nor does the Torah refer to us - as B'nei
Avraham (this is the appellation reserved for converts - a subject we will
take up in next week's shiur). We are not called B'nei Yitzchak either -
for the same reason. The nations of Yishma'el can equally claim lineage
from Avraham - and the seed of Esav can refer to themselves as the children
of Yitzchak. The first of our fathers who is our father and our father only
is Ya'akov - hence, we are known alternatively as B'nei Yisra'el (=Ya'akov)
or Beit Ya'akov.
The first "Jewish" family (certainly an anachronistic cognomen, considering
that the first person to be called a Jew lived roughly a thousand years
after Ya'akov) is the family of Ya'akov. Ya'akov and his two wives, his two
concubines, his twelve sons and one daughter - that is the first in the
chain of Jewish families.
The Torah seems to be reminding us of this identification specifically in
the Parashah devoted to family, as follows:
A) Ki Teitzei - Vayetze.
The beginning of our Parashah uses the verb "Y* Tz* A*" - to go out:
"When you go out to war against your enemies..."
Although certainly not a unique verb, it appears in the opening of only one
other Parashah - "Vayetze Ya'akov miB'er Sheva..." (B'resheet 28:10). Even
though he didn't know it at the time, Ya'akov was "going out to war" against
the man who would prove to be his most difficult enemy - father-in-law
Lavan. This subtle reminder at the beginning of our Parashah sets the tone
for the next two Parashiot.
B) Y'fat To'ar.
There is only one woman in the Torah who is described as "Y'fat To'ar" - and
that is the beautiful Rachel, the beloved of Ya'akov. (B'resheet 29:17).
Once again, we are given a strong reminder and association with Ya'akov and
C) Ishah S'nuah
In the next parashah, we are told about a man who has two wives - one
beloved and the other "S'nuah" (hated/rejected). Again, there is only one
wife or woman in the Torah who is described this way - Leah, the first wife
of Ya'akov and Rachel's "competition".
D) B'khor haS'nu'ah
The Torah here seems to take issue with Ya'akov's behavior.
"When he wills his property to his sons, he may not treat as first-born
(B'khor) the son of the beloved wife in disregard of the son of the unloved
wife who is older" (D'varim 21:16).
Looking back into B'resheet (or ahead to Divrei HaYamim I 5:1), we see that
Ya'akov did exactly what the Torah prohibits here. He took the B'khorah
(rights of the first-born) away from Re'uven, the firstborn son of the
"hated" wife, Leah, and gave them to Yoseph, the firstborn son of the
beloved wife, Rachel.
This brings up an issue which is quite beyond the scope of this shiur (but
will be addressed in the shiurim on B'resheet later this year) - namely,
how we regard those actions of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs which seem to
contradict Toraic norms or ethics. We may note, however, that S'forno does
address this problem in our Parashah and notes that if a firstborn son is
not worthy of that inheritance (which includes a double portion and a
position of power in the estate), it may be withdrawn from him and granted
to another brother. This is why, as S'forno points out, the verse in Divrei
HaYamim notes that Re'uven's sin with Ya'akov's concubine, Bilhah, was the
cause of his losing the B'khorah.
Be that as it may, the Torah again calls our attention to the "first family".
E) K'deshah and Et'nan Zonah.
One of the most central chapters in B'resheet - especially with regard later
Israelite history - is the story of Yehudah, his sons and Tamar (Chapter
38). In that narrative, we are told how Tamar dressed up like a harlot in
order to achieve union with Yehudah (read the chapter for the full story).
She is the only woman in the Torah who is called a "K'deshah" (see B'resheet
38:21,22). Furthermore, the goat that Yehudah sends for her payment is, of
course, the only instance of an "Et'nan Zonah" about which we read in the
Torah. Again, the Torah draws our attention to the family of Ya'akov.
F) Nidrei Hekdesh and Bal T'acher
As noted above, a seemingly incongruous parashah regarding fulfillment of
vows and not delaying such fulfillment (a prohibition known as "Bal
T'acher") is placed in our Parashah. Again, we look back to B'resheet and to
the life of Ya'akov for a clue. In the aftermath of the "ladder dream",
Ya'akov takes a vow (see our shiur on the topic: Ya'akov's Vow)
Until the Jewish people take a vow related to the first K'na'ani war
(Bamidbar 21:2), Ya'akov's vow is the only one recorded in the Torah. (the
slave’s commitment to Avraham was an oath - "Sh'vu'ah", not a "Neder"). Yet
again, the Torah is creating an subconscious association with Ya'akov and
his family throughout the Parashah.
G) Yibum - the levirate marriage
This one is almost too obvious to mention. The only instance of Yibum in
the Torah is, again, in the Yehudah/Tamar story. Yehudah's second son,
Onan, refuses to perform Yibum with his dead brother's wife, Tamar, and is
killed by God for this sin. Our parashah, with its strong words about anyone
who refuses to keep his brother's name alive, is a clear condemnation of Onan.
These "hints" are interesting - but why is the Torah using them to keep
Ya'akov's family in the background as it presents laws relating to family?
We might find an answer in the inclusion of the Amalek section at the end of
our Parashah - our final question above.
Much of our Parashah is devoted to inclusion and exclusion - who may marry
into the Jewish people and who is excluded. One of the properties of
exclusion is that it defines inclusion; i.e. by clarifying who may not
enter, we begin to understand the unique qualities of those who may enter.
As we read in the genealogy of Esav, Amalek is a direct descendant of
Ya'akov's brother. (B'resheet 36:12). Much as we maintain a powerful
connection with family - even when they err (e.g. Onan), our lines are drawn
around us and we can also define who is "not family". Although Amalek might
be considered a "cousin", the Divine selection which firmly placed Ya'akov
on the inside track - also pushed Esav out. His seed, though they may be
genealogically related to us, are not our family.
This exclusion, as mentioned above, helps define the inclusion which is the
undercurrent of the Parashah. Even if the sons and grandsons of Ya'akov
sinned - even if we need to question grandfather Ya'akov's behavior - we are
all still family with each
other and we bear the responsibility that comes with that relationship.
The strong and uncompromising exclusion of Amalek helps to define the notion
of Jewish inclusion for those who are truly of the family of B'nei Yisra'el
and Beit Ya'akov.
This message runs underneath the explicit laws of family which form the
basis of our Parashah and help us further understand our responsibilities
towards each other - expanding on the second theme of Parashah R'eh - "Banim
Atem laShem Eloheikhem" - You are children of God. (See my shiur there)
Text Copyright © 2011 by Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom and Torah.org. The author is Educational Coordinator of the Jewish Studies Institute of the Yeshiva of Los Angeles.