D’var Torah: Ki Teitzei פרשת כי־תצא

This is a sermon I offered about 5 years ago on the upcoming Torah portion. As I re-read it, there are a few places where it sounds a bit too precious for my current taste, but I can live with that… Here it is:

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We continue this week making our way through the final book of the Torah, Dvarim in Hebrew, or Deuteronomy. Our parashah [weekly Torah reading] is called Ki Teitzei, and in it Moses continues to review and present the laws, statutes, and regulations that b’nai yisrael, the Children of Israel, are to observe when they enter the Promised Land without him.

Ki Teitzei may be most famous for being the Torah portion that tradition says contains more commandments, or mitzvot, than any other. There are over 70 laws covering a wide range of topics and scenarios:  property laws, burial of the dead, laws governing warfare, the humane treatment of animals, and what parents are to do if their son becomes a drunken and obnoxious no-goodnik. The parashah also addresses fair labor practices, the rights of the first born, our obligations towards the property of other people, safety requirements for roofs and balconies, slavery, sex, money, divorce, and kidnapping – and this was all before pay-per-view. Our parashah emphasizes respect and provision for the poor, the orphan and the widow, and insists that merchants in the marketplace use honest weights and measures. With such a wide range of rules and regulations, Ki Teitzei is almost a mini-Torah of its own, a little blueprint for how to establish a righteous and compassionate society.

I’d like to focus tonight on just one of those mitzvot – the one we find in chapter 22, verses 6 and 7. It goes like this: If, along the road, you chance upon a bird’s nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs and the mother sitting over the fledglings or on the eggs, do not take the mother together with her young. Let the mother go, and take only the young, in order that you may fare well and have a long life.

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