Reading the Torah

Parshat Ki Tetze: Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19; Isaiah 54:1-10

Do you know how many commandments there are in the Torah? If you answered 613, you are correct.

What do those many laws entail? Rabbi Hillel answered, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

Rabbi Arianna Gordon
Rabbi Arianna Gordon

This week’s portion, contains 72 commandments, the largest number in any portion. There are laws about the treatment of captives and rights of inheritance. There are rules regarding defiant children and returning lost items. There are commandments about clothing, adultery, loans, rights of a stranger and more.

It seems so disjointed, like a long list of all the things God and Moses are rushing to impart to the Israelites before they finally enter the Promised Land. Yet, there is a common thread. As Hillel declared, we must be kind and thoughtful of our peers. Deuteronomy 22:1 teaches us that “We are responsible for one another, tied together.”

How appropriate that this portion, which reminds us of our obligations to our friends, family, neighbors and God, also contains the commandment instructing us to wear tzitzit, the fringes hanging from the corners of our tallit (Deuteronomy 22:12). They represent our responsibilities to one another and to God, tying us all together, requiring that we not ignore one another.

In a world turned upside down, we need these reminders now more than ever. We are making different decisions about work and school and socially distant play dates. We have different levels of comfort when it comes to seeing family or walking into a store. And yet, we are knotted together, all intertwined. If we are lost, we need a friend to lift us up. If we are struggling, we need a neighbor to give a smile.

Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “One of the great liabilities in life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands. The end up sleeping through a revolution.”

Every time I wear my tallit, I play with the fringes, wrapping them around my fingers, remembering how I am tied to those who came before me and those will come after. I think about the way we are commanded to follow God’s laws, to teach them to our children. I think about how we are so entwined with and responsible for each other.

Each knot and each string is a reminder to wave hello, to pick up the phone, to offer a smile, to donate some groceries, to be a little kinder, a little more patient. The next time you wrap yourself in a tallit and fiddle with the tzitzit, consider the lessons we have learned from the past, but perhaps more importantly, the lessons we hope to pass on to our future.

Rabbi Arianna Gordon is the director of education and lifelong learning at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield.


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