Ki Tesse – Perasha Synopsis

There are 74 commandments in this Perasha which highlight the value that the Torah places on the private domain of person and property.

The Perasha begins where Moshe directs the Israelites regarding female captives of war, and lays down the conditions under which a soldier may marry a captive. When a soldier brings home a gentile female captive whom he wanted to marry, he was to bring her into his house and have her cut her hair, prepare her nails, remove her captive’s clothing and spend a month mourning her parents. After that, he may take her as his wife. But if he no longer wanted her, he had to free her, and not sell her to slavery.

In the continuation, the right of a firstborn son to a double portion of his father’s inheritance is then described. Moshe instructs that Israelites that if a man had two wives, one loved and one unloved, and both bore him sons, but the unloved one bore him his firstborn son, then when he bequeaths his possessions to his sons, he could not favor the son of the loved wife as firstborn instead of the real firstborn of the unloved wife; rather, he was required to recognize the real firstborn, the son of the unloved one, and bequeath to him his birthright of a double portion of all his possessions.

Moshe next, instructs about the procedure for dealing with an aberrantly rebellious child. If a couple had a wayward and defiant son, who does not value the private rights of people or property and does not obey his parents even after they discipline him, then they were to bring him to the elders of his town and publicly declare their son to be disloyal, defiant, heedless, a glutton and a drunkard. The men of his town were then to take the necessary steps of castigation.

The Perasha continues with the commandment of a speedy burial of the deceased, even of an executed person. They were not to let his body remain on the stake overnight, but were to bury him the same day. Then the laws regarding returning a lost object to its owner are discussed. The finder could not ignore it, but was required to take it back to its owner. If the owner did not live near the finder or the finder did not know who the owner was, then the finder was to bring the thing home and keep it until the owner claimed it. Then, the obligation of aiding a neighbor when his animal has fallen because of its burden, is discussed. One could not ignore it, but was required to help the owner to raise it.

The prohibition against cross-dressing – transvestitism, is discussed. Moshe instructs that a woman was not to put on man’s apparel, nor a man wear woman’s clothing. The obligation to send away a mother bird before taking its chicks or eggs, is detailed. Moshe teaches that if one came upon a bird’s nest with the mother bird sitting over fledglings or eggs, then one could not take the mother together with her young, but was required to let the mother go first and only then take the young.

The law regarding guard rails and building a safety fence around a flat roof, is discussed. Moshe explained that when one builds a new house, one had to make a fence for the roof, so that no one should fall from it. Moshe continues with the prohibitions against sowing mixtures of seeds, plowing with a mixed pair of animals, or wearing a garment which contains a mixture of wool and linen (sha’atnez). Moshe instructs that one was to make Sissit fringes on four cornered garments that they wear.

As the reading continues, Moshe commands that if a man married a woman and falsely accused her with infidelity, he needed to produce evidence. If the accusations against the wife are true; the penalty for adultery is to be applied. If however, he defamed his wife, the penalty for the husband was determined by the court elders with punishment, fine and he was never to have the right to divorce her. The punishment for adultery; the penalty for rape; and certain prohibited marriages and incest, are discussed.

The prohibition against marrying an Ammonite or Moabite are detailed. The Israelites were not to concern themselves with the welfare or benefit of Ammonites or Moabites, because they did not meet the Israelites with food and water after the Israelites left Egypt, and because they hired Bilaam to curse the Israelites. Moshe, however, told the Israelites not to detest the Edomites, for they were relatives, nor Egyptians, for the Israelites were originally welcomed as strangers in Egypt.

Of utmost importance was maintaining pure and hygienic army encampments, the sanctity of the army camp ought to be maintained. Moshe taught that if a slave sought refuge with the Israelites, the Israelites were not to turn the slave over to the slave’s master, but were to let the former slave live in any place the former slave might choose and not ill-treat him.

The prohibition against prostitution is discussed, Moshe forbade the Israelites to act as harlots, sodomites, or cult prostitutes, and from using the wages of prostitution for holy purposes. Prohibition against lending with interest, and the obligation to honor vows are instructed by Moshe.

Following this, the Perasha details the right of field workers to eat from the produce they are harvesting. A welcomed visitor to enter another’s vineyard, can eat until full, but the visitor was forbidden to put any in a vessel or pocket to take away with him. Also, a visitor when entering another’s field of standing grain and may pluck ears by hand, but the visitor was forbidden to cut the neighbor’s grain with a sickle or a utensil.

The Torah then briefly discusses marriage and the bill of divorce. A divorced couple cannot remarry if the woman has been remarried to another man (and divorced again or widowed) in the interim. Moshe exempted a newlywed man from military service duty for a full year, so as to rejoice together with his wife.

Taking a millstone or accept utensils used to prepare food as security for a loan or to forcibly take a debtor’s possessions as collateral is prohibited, for that would be taking someone’s livelihood. And a poor man’s security must be temporarily returned to him on a daily basis.

Kidnapping is a capital offense. Regarding Sara’at – skin disease liked to Leprosy, the Israelites were to do exactly as the Kohen instructed. We are commanded to always remember what happened to Miriam when afflicted with Sara’at for speaking badly about Moshe.

We are forbidden to withhold or delay a worker’s wages. We are forbidden to abuse a needy and destitute laborer, whether an Israelite or a stranger, and were required to pay the laborer’s wages on time.

Relatives’ testimony is inadmissible in a court of law. Parents were not to be punished for their children’s actions, nor were children to be punished for their parent’s actions; a person was to be punished only for the person’s own crime.

Various mandatory gifts for the poor are discussed. Moshe forbids the Israelites to subvert the rights of the proselyte or the orphan. When the Israelites reap the harvest in their fields and overlook a sheaf, they were not to turn back to get it, but were to leave it to the proselyte, the orphan, and the widow. When Israelites beat down the fruit of their olive trees or gathered the grapes of their vineyards, they were not to go over them again, but were to leave what remained, for the proselyte, the orphan, and the widow

The procedure for corporal punishment is outlined and as warranted but with cruelty and disregard, so that the guilty one would not be degraded unnecessarily and excessively. It is forbidden to muzzle an ox while it was threshing.

The Missvah of Levirate marriage (yibum) is introduced: if a married childless man dies, his brother is obligated to marry the widow. If the brother refuses to marry the widow, he and she go through a Halissah ceremony, which frees her to marry whomever she wishes.

We are instructed to maintain accurate and honest weights and measures.

The Perasha concludes when Moshe enjoined the Israelites to remember what the Amalekites did to them on their journey from Egypt, ambushing them, surprising them and cutting down all the stragglers at their rear. The Israelites were enjoined never to forget to blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.



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