Ki Tetzei -- Deuteronomy 21:10 – 25:19

German Jewish thinker Hannah Arendt once remarked: "Only crime and the criminal, it is true, confront us with the perplexity of radical evil; but only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core."

How do we discern the difference between hypocrisy and evil? And then how do we confront evil in life? For modern people, it has become habit to dissect evil into two categories: natural evil and moral evil. Hurricanes and toothaches are examples of natural evils whereas murder and lying are examples of moral evils. From the Torah’s perspective, there are those inevitable moments when we confront moral evil of the most radical kind. The symbol of greater moral evil and the need for its effacement – Amalek — serves as the strong conclusion to this week’s Parashat Ki Tetzei reading, yet this awareness of evil also 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, the prohibition of charging interest on loans, dealing with wayward children, returning lost objects, sending away the mother bird before taking her birdlings, and erecting safety fences around the roof of one’s home. The greater evils emerge on the battlefield, so that the whole notion of whether war is obligatory or optional is also an emergent issue in our sacred text.

While pragmatism is important, Judaism teaches that there is little sense in compromise when it comes to accepting moral evil – rather every seeker is enjoined to always be moving toward the just and the good so as to live with hypocrisy-free integrity.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration of defaced wheatpaste posters on an urban wall is inspired by Deuteronomy 25:19: "...you shall obliterate the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the heavens. You shall not forget!" This biblical injunction is the basis for three of the 613 mitzvot: Remember what Amalek did to the Israelites; Wipe out the descendants of Amalek; Do not forget Amalek's atrocities and ambush on our journey from Egypt in the desert. If you’re an art aficionado and this portrayal of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named seems vaguely familiar, it’s because the portrait is a wild-haired riff on one of Austrian artist Egon Schiele’s famous self portraits. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Ki Tetzei -- Deuteronomy 21:10 – 25:19

Facebook_CoverDesign_KiTetzeiHow do we react to evil when we confront it in our lives?

For modern people, it has become habit to dissect evil into two categories: natural evil and moral evil. Hurricanes and toothaches are examples of natural evils whereas murder and lying are examples of moral evils. From the Torah’s perspective, there are those inevitable moments when we confront moral evil of the most radical kind. The symbol of greater moral evil and the need for its effacement – Amalek — serves as the strong conclusion to this week’s Parashat Ki Tetzei reading, yet this awareness of evil also 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, the prohibition of charging interest on loans, dealing with wayward children, returning lost objects, sending away the mother bird before taking her birdlings, and erecting safety fences around the roof of one’s home. The greater evils emerge on the battlefield, so that the whole notion of whether war is obligatory or optional is also an emergent issue in our sacred text.

While pragmatism is important, Judaism teaches that there is little sense in compromise when it comes to accepting moral evil – rather every seeker is enjoined to always be moving toward the just and the good.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration captures the fear that permeates much of the parsha. "...all Israel will listen and fear." (Deuteronomy 21:21) Our ancestors stoned to death wayward children and cut off the hand of a woman who inadvertently touched the "private parts" of a man other her husband – their moral code was clearly a corporeally enforced one. Fortunately, this violence would be reconsidered and tempered by the rabbis. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Special Message From Rabbi Glazer

Orlando_CBSLogoDear CBS Communal Family,

At the core of Judaism is our ongoing pilgrimage to be enlightened by the divine visage. As the Psalmist yearns: "To dwell in your house all the days of my life, to behold your glowing face." (Psalm 27:4).

This Shavuot, as we were in the process of this very pilgrimage through prayer and learning, tragedy struck at Pulse, a nightclub in Orlando. As Jews, we are commanded constantly to seek the glowing face of the other, and in so doing, to rediscover the divine image through which each of us is created. Therefore, the heinous murder of each and every LGBTQI community member this past weekend was a direct violation of the commandment. When that sacred relation is violated, the divine name imprinted on the face of the other is also desecrated.

Our community is grieving, with a deep sense of loss for those directly impacted by the massacre in Orlando, and CBS sends blessings of healing and hope. Let us strive to restore the sense of safety that we have all -- especially LGBTQI leaders! -- worked so hard to achieve over the past several decades, beginning in sacred spaces and moving out into the public sphere for the LGBTQI Community.

A Wider Bridge is holding a program tomorrow night at 7 pm at the Oasis, featuring a brief performance by the Jerusalem-based dance company, Catamon, followed by some discussion with the dancers and a brief memorial for Orlando. Catamon understands its ongoing obligation is to continue dancing with joy in the face of tragedy and tears.

What can each of us do? Among other things, we can respond to this heinous desecration of the divine image with compassion and caring in the following ways:

1. Give blood at your local blood bank. In the event of a tragic emergency like the Pulse attack, it’s the blood already on the shelves that can help save lives.

2. Support A Wider Bridge by donating.

3. Attend the vigil tomorrow evening (with Catamon) **

4. Join the local LGBTQI community through A Wider Bridge and its allies in Jerusalem in their Orlando vigils.


** CBS is invited to join this vigil and dance program in solidarity. The suggested admission fee of $18 is being waived by Wider Bridge in light of the Orlando massacre and the need for the community to gather. Please visit the event's Facebook page for program details.

Blessings of hope,
Rabbi Aubrey Glazer