Ki Tezei

“No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.” Such optimism in humanity, evinced in this remark by Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), may seem naïve in our own day and large. From the Torah’s perspective, there are moments when this kind of optimism may even be unwarranted. Those moments are precisely when we confront radical evil. The symbol of greater, radical evil and the need for its effacement— Amalek—serves as a strong conclusion to this week’s reading in Ki Tezei, yet this awareness of evil permeates the 74 other laws of the 613 recorded here that deal with lesser evils. Lesser evils all focus on the most granular of human interactions, including: eating on the job, proper treatment of a debtor as well as the prohibition of charging interest on loans, wayward children, returning lost objects, sending away the mother bird before taking her birdlings as well as erecting safety fences around the roof of one’s home. The greater evil emerges on the battlefield, so that the whole notion of whether war is obligatory or optional is also an emergent issue here. While pragmatism is important, Judaism teaches that there is little sense in compromise, when it comes to accepting evil, rather every seeker is enjoined to always be moving toward the just and the good.