Parsha Ki Tetze - Debarim/Deuteronomy 21:10 - 25:19
What are three words your friends and family would use to describe you?
… (take a second to think about it) ...
It may vary a little depending on who you ask, but as Yahudim, there are three words that should be near the top of the list, and this week’s readings reveal what they should be.
In Parsha Ki Tetze, Moshe nears the end of his second speech preparing Yisrael to enter the Land. He continues to review a long list of a wide variety of mitzvot (commandments).
In previous parshas, we talked about how these mitzvot help us form a strong, lasting bond with YAHUAH and be set-apart among the nations. In this parsha, another important aspect of the mitzvot shines through.
Through all these seemingly disconnected mitzvot, we see the type of people YAHUAH wants us to be.
YAHUAH wants us to be humble, kind, and compassionate.
Two Types of Mitzvot
In the Torah, all of the commandments can be classified into two categories: mitzvot bein adam l’Makom and mitzvot bein adam l’chaveiro, commandments between man and Elohim and commandments between man and fellow man.
Almost all of the mitzvot in Parsha Ki Tetze fall into the second category of bein adam l’chaveiro, between a man and his fellow man.
The list of mitzvot involve: marital relationships, raising children, returning lost objects, compassion for animals (and by extension, compassion for people), protecting others from injury, who not to marry (unkind ones), treatment of runaway slaves, applying interest, keeping our word, guarding our tongue, making loans, treatment and care for employees, giving to the needy, compassionate discipline, preserving the family, honesty, and more.
These mitzvot bein adam l'chaveiro not only help us form a righteous and peaceful society, but they also help us develop the inner qualities that YAHUAH wants us as individuals to have.
Though some may require us to dig through a few layers of understanding, every one of the mitzvot in this Parsha in some way concerns our involvement with another person. They may not be typical acts of kindness, but in some way, they all require us to think and see from another person's perspective.
YAH is instructing us on how to treat others, and if we follow these mitzvot bein adam l'chaveiro and treat others rightly, we'll develop the inner qualities of humility, kindness, and compassion.
Humility, the Foundation
To be genuinely kind and compassionate individuals, we must be humble. Humility is esteeming YAHUAH and others more than oneself. It’s seeing the greatness of Elohim and the goodness in all of His creations. Humility is lowering oneself in order to lift another up.
This is not always easy to do. There are some people who have a natural tendency toward humbleness, but most of us have to work on it.
All humans are born with a “me-first” instinct. This is why babies cry when they’re hungry with no regard to the fact that you’re sleeping or busy. All they know is what they need at that moment.
As we grow, we learn to restrain ourselves and think of others. (At least, we’re supposed to.) This growth must continue well into adulthood in order for us to truly become humble.
The mitzvot bein adam l’chaveiro help us with this type of growth. When we keep them, we learn to think of others - to be considerate and mindful of the needs, wants, and desires of another person. We learn to consider situations from their perspective, not just our own.
This curbs our “me-first” instinct. It deflates our ego, suppressing pride and arrogance, and defeats the i-dol of self.
Once we take our self out of the way, then we can truly care about somebody else. If I’m too full of myself, then I have no room in my heart or mind for another. I can’t see someone else’s situation if I’m too busy with my own.
Few of us would describe ourselves as being selfish. We’re good people, and we have a good heart. It’s just that sometimes we have so much going on in our own life that we just don’t see what’s going on in someone else’s. Sometimes our problems are so big (in our own estimation) that it blocks us from seeing anyone else.
We don’t mean to be oblivious, callous, or unkind. It's an unintended side effect.
To cure it, we need humility.
Humility allows us to put ourselves aside so we can see and consider someone else. It allows us to see another person’s situation despite what’s going on in our own life. It allows us to give and to help despite being in need ourselves.
Humility makes room in our heart for someone else. This is why some of the kindest people you'll ever meet are also the most humble.
The more humble we are, the kinder and more compassionate people we can be.
Kindness & Compassion
True kindness (chesed) is seeing someone else’s need and doing something about it.
It’s more than just being “nice.” It’s more than just good intentions and sympathetic thoughts or feelings.
Kindness causes us to do something to uplift another person to the extent that they are truly helped and sustained. It’s acting according to what someone needs, not according to what I want to do.
Kindness acts out of a sheer desire to help another person’s situation. It has nothing to do with guilt or obligation.
Sometimes, kindness is proactive, acting before being asked or even to prevent a need from arising.
Compassion goes deeper.
Compassion is not just seeing a need but truly feeling what another person is going through. It’s being finely attuned to another person’s situation. It’s sensitivity to their thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
Compassion is not just helping from the outside. It’s immersing ourselves into another’s situation so that we feel what they feel, see what they see, and think how they think. Compassion causes us to join another person right in the midst of their circumstances.
Compassion also leads us to act even if we feel the person doesn’t deserve our kindness.
YAHUAH is kind and compassionate. If we’re made in His image and likeness, then we too are kind and compassionate. We’re already hard-wired to be that way. We just have to get ourselves out of the way (be humble) to let it flow.
If we ever feel reluctant to help another person, then we need to stop and ask ourselves why.
Am I being arrogant in some way?
Am I just being callous and uncaring? Or insensitive?
Do I feel this person doesn’t deserve it for some reason?
If we’re honest, we’ll find that more often than not, it has more to do with us than with the other person. Once we correct ourselves, it becomes more than easy to give.
The truth is: If we desire kindness and compassion from YAHUAH, then we must be kind and compassionate to others.
When we are, it opens the door for kindness and compassion to flow down into our lives from Heaven Above.
This is why it’s taught that if we have a specific need, then we should pray for someone else who has the same need. Our kindness to pray for someone else not only blesses their life, but it also brings YAH’s kindness upon our life.
If our kindness and compassion towards one another can open up the gate for more kindness to flow from Above, then what does that mean for the world?
If we want the world to be a better place, then it really does begin with us. If we can just learn to put ourselves aside a little more often, to do something for someone else - regardless of whether they deserve it or not - then slowly the world changes.
Our actions will not only make a difference in that person’s life (and hopefully cause them to “pay it forward”), but it also opens up a flow of kindness and compassion to the earth from Heaven Above.
YAHUAH’s kindness is already so great. He sustains the whole world every day, even supporting ones who don’t believe in Him.
So, imagine the difference it would make if we all begin to show just a little more kindness - open the gates from Heaven just a little bit more? To put ourselves aside for the sake of the world?
We may never know the far-reaching effect of our act of kindness. One act - between a man and his fellow - can make a difference in the lives of people we've never met.
Three words: Humble, kind, and compassionate.
May we all strive to live by the mitzvot bein adam l’chaveiro and open the gates of Heaven to bring peace to this world.