Torah portion exemplifies importance of compassion

Rabbi Dale Schreiber is a chaplain providing Jewish care coordination for Pathways Hospice and Palliative Care and has a private practice, Renewal-in-Action, specializing in resiliency, spiritual development and compassion fatigue recovery. Schreiber is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association, which coordinates the weekly d’var Torah for the Jewish Light.  

BY RABBI DALE SCHREIBER

Ki Tetze means “when you go out.” The people are standing before Moses, who is downloading, in one long song, his remembrance of years past and fervent hopes for the future.  They are standing at the edge of one world imagining, perhaps, the trials they will face not just in securing the land, but in building their collective and individual futures. He is telling them and us to pay attention. When you go out from the teaching of Torah, from the deeply impressed learning that shapes your walk in the world, know from whence you came and before whom you stand.  

Ki Tetze contains 74 precepts, which is more than half of the total number listed for the book of Deuteronomy. Last week, the portion focused on the appointments of magistrates, order keepers, justice, judgments, and a host of options and necessities to ensure building an enduring society. This week, the focus is on relationships critical to its development.

This notion of relationships begins within the Creation story as illustrated by this Hasidic tale:

When a distinguished Talmudist was asked what he learned from the Kotsker Rebbe, he said: “The first thing I learned in Kotsk, ‘In the beginning God created.’ ” 

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They asked him: “Did you have to travel all that way in order to learn that is already written in the first verse of the Bible?”

He answered: “I learned that God created only the beginning. Everything else is up to humans.”

All of the many relationships we form in the world are dependent upon our commitment to attend to what is not only legal, but also to what is right. If we can accomplish this, we create something substantial, something to nourish the soul of each individual 

Each year, this portion is read during the Hebrew month of Elul, an acronym for a verse in many wedding ceremonies.  This verse — “I am my beloved and my beloved is mine” —  signifies a relationship with the Divine based on love, respect and reciprocity. Love arouses our compassion, and Ki Tetze exemplifies the importance of compassion, particularly in adverse situations.  

Ki Tetze opens with an admonishment and sensitivity to the treatment of a beautiful captive woman acquired in a time of war. This is a situation requiring both guidelines and boundaries. Rabbi Shefa Gold writes how easy it is to be a decent human being when there is peace. There will always be battles, and any battle will try our decency, challenge our integrity and put every good intention to the test.  

The captive woman is a case study in applied ethics in its own time. We live in a different time, and when wars are waged, women and children are not likely to be treated with compassion. They are often treated violently and indecently. The outward manifestation of compassion is kindness. Where there is no kindness, there is despair.

In preparation for the High Holy Days, the rabbis would liken the captive woman to a personal state of self-captivity. We may be held captive by cultural filters shaping our thoughts and actions. This kind of captivity cages the human spirit. The directive from Moses is an important one, and the work of this month is to uplift and liberate our highest intentions. How do we accomplish this? 

Find in your self-accounting a yearning to be a better person. In the words of Rabbi Schneur Zalman, “Let go of who you think you are. You are more than what you know.  Who you think you are is captive garb. Take it off.”

May we all enter the New Year with an attitude and a pledge to sow more hope and healing for ourselves and our world.

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