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Ki Tetzei 5768

Ki Tetzei (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19 )

by Kalman Packouz

GOOD MORNING! No one is perfect. Luckily, I have lots of readers ready and willing to help me see where I fall short. And, to tell the truth, I am grateful. If I make mistakes I want to know. If I am wrong, I want to make a correction. I often think of the response of Sadaharu Oh, "The Japanese Babe Ruth" (868 lifetime home runs!) who was once asked by a reporter what he thought of opposing pitchers trying to strike him out. Responded Mr. Oh, "They are my partners in hitting home runs."

Two weeks ago I published a piece explaining the Torah's definition of good - articulated in the verse, "See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil" (Deut. 30:15). Here the choice between good and evil is equated to a choice between life and death. Good is life. Evil is death." A reader expressed great displeasure over the following: "The meaning of the Torah can be made clear if we examine what choosing life or death really means. The classic example of someone who actually chooses death is a suicide.' " ... "So to be good means to choose what contributes to real living - meaning, awareness. To be evil means to choose to escape from life."

Wrote the reader, "I am very disturbed by your description of suicide as evil. Evil is chopping off someone's head! Evil is what the Nazis did to the Jews! People that complete a suicide are far from evil. You make it sound like they made a rational decision. Suicides have such mental anguish, so much pain, that the only way they see out of their pain is through death. They do not go out to hurt other people like the true evils of the world do. You have caused a lot of pain to your readers who have had a suicide in their family. I hope you never have to experience a loved one taking his or her life. If, God forbid, you did, I doubt very much that you would consider your loved one to be evil."

I wrote back and profusely apologized for my insensitivity and the pain caused ... and then immediately wrote my esteemed colleague, friend and author of the piece, Rabbi Chaim Willis, to clarify and expand upon the article he wrote 30 years ago. Below is Rabbi Willis' illumination on the Torah's perspective regarding suicide and what he felt - with the perspective of hindsight - should have been included in the original essay:

"Judaism understands that 'suicide' - deciding that life is not worth living, and that it is better to end it - is, at worst, a terrible crime of a person against him or herself (and others who are affected), but, in most cases, it is a terrible and tragic mistake. This is in contrast to much of prevailing Western thought, which considers suicide an acceptable personal choice (witness someone like the writer Hunter Thompson, whose suicide, in the middle of a telephone conversation with his wife, was considered by many the last creative act by a literary genius).

"The word 'suicide' covers in English many situations which are not the same. Just as there are different types of 'murder' in the English language (cold-blooded murder, murder in a crime of passion, manslaughter, accidental killing, murder that is not culpable through reasons of insanity), there are different types of suicide. A person who kill himself as a result of a thought-out choice (very rare), a person who kills himself to escape a painful life situation, and a person who kills himself because of what is to him unbearable physical or emotional pain, are all referred to as 'suicides.'

"Jewish law recognizes the differences between these different situations, and only the person who kills himself through an unemotional thought-out choice is denied burial in a Jewish cemetery. To him, the word 'evil' can be applied, just like it can to a cold-blooded murderer of another person. Other suicides are considered to be tragic errors by people who were not in full control of themselves, and can't be judged for their actions.

"But it is still true that the more a person has inculcated Jewish values and ideas, the more he or she appreciates what life is about -and that 'choosing life' applies even in very painful circumstances. The growth we get from life experiences, even painful ones, is lasting, and is worth the pain. We can feel empathy with the person who was not able to live with his or her pain (and also with the pain experienced by his or her relatives and friends), but we need to reiterate to anyone who is facing such a situation, and considering taking his or her life, the value and opportunity of living."

For more on "Choosing Life" go to!

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Torah Portion of the Week
Ki Tetze

Topics in this week's portion include: Women Captives, First-Born's Share, The Rebellious Son, Hanging and Burial, Returning Lost Articles, The Fallen Animal, Transvestitism, The Bird's Nest, Guard-Rails, Mixed Agriculture, Forbidden Combinations, Bound Tassels, Defamed Wife, Penalty for Adultery, Betrothed Maiden, Rape, Unmarried Girl, Mutilated Genitals, Mamzer, Ammonites & Moabites, Edomites & Egyptians, The Army Camp, Sheltering Slaves, Prostitution, Deducted Interest, Keeping Vows, Worker in a Vineyard, Field Worker, Divorce and Remarriage, New Bridegroom, Kidnapping, Leprosy, Security for Loans, Paying Wages on Time, Testimony of Close Relatives, Widows and Orphans, Forgotten Sheaves, Leftover Fruit, Flogging, The Childless Brother-in-Law, Weights and Measures, Remembering What Amalek Did to Us.

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah commands us to assist others physically in their time of need:

"You shall not see the donkey or the ox of your brother stumble on the way and hide yourself from them. Rather, you shall lift them up with him" (Deut. 22:4).

Why does the Torah specify the words "with him"?

The Sages clarify in the Talmud that if a person who needs help tells you, "I'm going to rest right now. You have a mitzvah to help me, so help me all by yourself," then you are not obligated to help him for the Torah states "with him." You need not allow someone to take advantage of you just because you want to do kindness and he is lazy.

It is important to understand the Torah's definition of what constitutes being taken advantage of. If a person always refuses to lend you his things, but then one day he comes to request that you lend him something, what is your obligation? Here the Torah position is very clear that you are obligated to help him and to refuse is a violation of the commandment, "Do not take revenge" (Leviticus 19:18). What is the difference between this and the above?

The principle is that whenever a person sincerely needs your help you should help him - even if he does not reciprocate by helping you in return. This is true even if he will never help you. As a matter of fact, the highest level of kindness, chesed shel emes (true kindness), is to do a kindness when you know you will receive nothing in return. (Preparing a person for burial and burying him is the usual example; there is no way the individual can return the kindness.)

Therefore, if a person has a valid reason that he is unable to work with you, then you should help him in any event - and focus on the pleasure of helping without any resentment!

CANDLE LIGHTING - September 12
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Jerusalem 6:14
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New York 6:52 - Singapore 6:47 - Toronto 7:15


The purpose of life is a life of purpose.
-- Robert Bryne

In memory of our brothers
Earl B. Slavitt & David S. Sher
With love,
Richard and Nancy Sher

5 Levels of Pleasure

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Kalman Packouz

Click here for Rabbi Packouz's bio
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