“What has Happened to Human Rights”?

This week’s haftarah portion for us is Isaiah 52:13 – 54: 10. Just as a note of interest, our sages removed chapter 53 from the weekly readings due to its controversial nature. It clearly speaks about a figure who we Jewish people have had trouble understanding because of the misinterpretations and mixed messages created by other religions. I do not believe in censorship as Yeshua told us, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”  The word “truth” in Hebrew is a euphemism for the name of God.  It means, “You shall know the Creator who will free you from anything that enslaves you, that holds you back from living a full and healthy life.”  We all have our own ideas about spirituality however, history shows us the harm that most religions have done when they become the ruling majority and impose their beliefs upon others by force and under penalty of death.

Parashat Ki Tetze, “When you go out”, contains the greatest number of injunctions – 74 of the 613. They are not in any specific order nor do they take any particular direction. In them, the Almighty is exhorting us to always take care of the weakest in society and the most defenseless among us. Basically, it is about Human Rights.

It begins (in Deut. 21:10 -14) with how humanely Hebrew soldiers were to treat captive women in times of war, as opposed to every other culture, right up today, whose treatment of these women is barbaric. We have heard horror stories about nations, such as Japan when warring against China and Korea, raped their women and kept them as sex slaves, as well as terrorist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram. In contrast, the Torah teaches Israel to be kind and merciful to the weakest and most vulnerable of people.  The soldier, who saw a woman among the captives of war and desired her,  had to take her home, shave her head, cut her nails, change her clothes, and allow her to mourn the loss of her parents and her family for one month. Then if he still desired her, he could marry her, but if he no longer desired her, he did not have the right to mistreat her in any way or sell her, rather he had to free her. See how advanced the Torah is and how it applies human rights properly.  In contrast, most of the so-called advanced nations who talk about human rights, are the worst violators and the greatest hypocrites in their application of them; they do whatever is convenient for them at the time.

This portion describes how to protect women and also the firstborn son in a family where the husband had more than one wife (Deut. 21:15-17).  Marriage, at that time, was a way of protecting women who, unlike today, had no means of supporting themselves outside the home. If he had two wives, the first wife beloved and the second one unloved, who both had sons, the husband had to give the firstborn of the unloved wife, the right of double inheritance, because he was the first fruit, the bechor, of his manhood.

Next, we read about how to deal with a rebellious son. The story about stoning rebellious children was not to be taken literally, rather it was instituted as a means of placing the fear of God in them and allowing them to understand the consequences of their behaviour in the community at large. Today we have lost the notion that it is wise to discipline our children and teach them to respect authority (vs 19-21). The liberal teachings of Dr. Spock in the 50s forever changed this mentality and we are now suffering the consequences. Instead of building more universities and schools, we are constructing more jails. Parents have lost their authority and we are failing our children.

For those of you who love animals, Deut. 22. 1-11, teaches us how to care for and protect them. For example, before removing the eggs from the nest, we were to allow the mother bird to first fly away instructing us to have mercy on even the smallest of creatures; we were not to mistreat them. We were not to yoke the ox and the donkey together since the ox was so much stronger and would be overburdened by the inability of the weaker animal to carry his weight.

We were to seek fairness even in the planting of our crops. If we planted a strong seed together with a weaker one, the stronger would overtake the weaker. In every sense, we were and still are to protect the weakest of His creation. If we are fair and just to the weakest of creatures, our lives will be richer and extended.  Human Rights begin with each of us.

We recently had a discussion about whether or not we should hate and wipe out our enemies. Here at the end of this parashah, we read that we were to blot out the memory of Amalek. It’s not about destroying people just for the sake of destroying. This is related to other stories that may also sound quite terrible unless we understand what the Creator is telling us. The rebellious son needed to be cut out of the community like the woman who got into a fight with a man and grabbed his private parts. Rather than being taken literally, the idea was that evil needed to be rooted out of society from the very beginning or it would destroy the society. That’s what is happening today. The world is filled with corrupt political leaders. There are even publications announcing the most corrupt of them yet these countries are heralded as examples of how to live.

The Creator is telling us to protect those who could not protect themselves. That is our calling – to care for the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner, the most vulnerable of all. Let’s not confuse this with what is happening in the world today where there is a mass migration of peoples fleeing their countries of origin. There are those who cry out that they are the weakest and need to be cared for; blaming the countries receiving them instead of those who are causing them to flee. This is like placing a small Band-Aid on a very deep wound. Our Creator teaches us to deal with the root cause of issues instead of covering them up.

This portion is about human rights, something that is sorely lacking in the world today, especially at the United Nations where Israel is constantly being singled out as a nation with the most human rights violations. The countries that actually commit the most atrocious crimes against humanity are ignored. That is the hypocrisy of the world. How dishonest we can be! If we cannot be just and honest with ourselves, how can we be just and honest with others?

Let’s get back to the Ten Commandments which are so basic but we don’t even keep one properly. The first three speak of our relationship with the Creator. Most of the world has eliminated Him from their lives and now consider themselves to be humanists. The next two, the Shabbat and honouring our parents are for us to preserve our very lives. Most say that they don’t need these anymore, but then complain about all their aches and pains, or that they are alone, complaining that they never see their families. Have you spoken to your family to make peace with them and deal properly with them over past issues? Don’t wait for others to change; it begins with us. Even if you don’t like your parents, you can still respect their position. The last five commandments point to our relationship with our neighbours. Our rights end where the rights of others begin. We need to respect the rights of others (including nations) even if we don’t like them. We are not called to be the force of moral judgment in the world, but we can and must speak the truth. We cannot change anyone; only the Creator can.

Ask yourself, am I living the Torah? It is not about how well I perform religious formulas but rather understanding that the Torah is inside us. We are a living Torah, which means we walk with the Creator. He is with us and His light shines through us. You are not holier than thou and you are not better than anyone else. Stop trying to be who you are not but be who you are meant to be. The Creator did not make a mistake when he created you. Each of us is wonderfully made and has a purpose; look for it and work on it, but do not blame others for your situation. When something goes wrong ask yourself if you are the one at fault or not.  It’s so easy to look for excuses, for the way out, instead of taking responsibility for your actions. Religions are good at that; there’s an expression: “Make a law and then find a way out of it.”

When the Creator said to destroy Amalek you need to understand what He was saying. Amalek is not a race; Amalek represents evil and destructive people who do not deserve to live, otherwise, they would destroy humanity. Sadly, people use religion to justify their crimes. Amalek demonstrated “Sinat Chinam” – free hatred, simply for the sake of hating. Why wouldn’t the Almighty ask us to destroy Egypt? Wasn’t Egypt also an evil nation that killed our firstborn sons and enslaved our people after a Pharaoh arose who did not know Joseph?  What was the difference? Pharaoh reacted out of fear and the desire to preserve his own nation; it was not out of Sinat Chinam, while Amalek killed for the sheer joy of killing, attacked the Hebrews slaves from the rear as they were leaving Egypt, slaying the weakest of them – the sick, the elderly and the children.

The Torah teaches us that society is greater when it takes care of its weakest. Why should we abuse an innocent animal? Today, for the sake of greed, we kill the weakest.  Our Creator weeps for what we are doing to His beautiful creation which He gave us for our enjoyment.  Each of us is responsible and change begins with us. Let’s not look to judge others, but rather look at what we are doing.  When I realize that I can improve, I can be better not only for myself but also for my family, my community, my country and finally my world.

When we give people enough rope they will always hang themselves, which means that they will eventually show themselves for who they are.  Most of us wear the mask of hypocrisy.  The Creator wants to take this mask away from us and allow us to be ourselves. We are made in His image and we need to unmask evil and show it for what it is. Evil loves the darkness but we are the light in the darkness. As Yeshua said, “There is no worse blind than he who does not want to see, no worse deaf than he who does not want to hear.”  Are you listening?  Are your eyes open? Are you available to serve the Creator?  Let us be a living Torah as we walk with the Presence of the Creator in us.

From Ranebi’s teaching 11 Elul 5777