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Torah Portion: Ki Tetze
Book of Deuteronomy
Chaps. 21:10-25:19
August 28, 2015

We are living in a time of black or white, right or wrong, yes or no.   If one is not pro life, does this mean he/she is pro death?  In the US, if one is labeled a Republican, he/she must want to deport illegal immigrants, make abortion illegal, outlaw gay marriage, and protect gun ownership.  One labeled a Democrat must want amnesty for illegal immigrants, legal protection of women’s health issues, civil rights for all including GLBT, and stricter laws for gun ownership.  In today’s world there is no appetite for compromise.  It is “My Way Or The Highway”!

In relation to the above, Judaism may be considered “counter-culture.”  For Jews, moral/ethical rightness is not always discovered in the black-or-white, but more often in the gray.

This week’s Torah portion begins, “When you go out to war against your enemies. . . . “ (Deut. 21:10).  The Torah understood that regardless of best intentions, there are times when humankind has no choice but to go to war.  However, it is only when all possible alternatives, or choices, have been exhausted.  Even then, consideration must be given to the slim possibility that the taking of human lives can be prevented.

Rabbi Danny Landes, who lives and works in Israel, shares two stories illustrating how easy it would be to live within a totally black-and-white morality and how difficult, yet necessary, it is to seek truth within the gray.

Story One: “An 18-year old entered an Israeli combat unit and was stationed at a border crossing.  A group of Palestinian laborers with work papers who crossed into Israel every day were ordered to strip for a search before they would be allowed to enter Israel proper.  This went on for a week, until this young soldier could no longer tolerate this affront to human dignity.  He articulately protested this treatment to his captain, within earshot of the Palestinian workmen.  The next day, when the work crew showed up at the crossing, the captain once again ordered a strip search.  One of the workmen was found with a significant amount of explosives taped to his body.”

Story Two: “[Rabbi Landes’] son and his group were guarding a blockade crossing outside Nablus (in the West Bank), a hotbed of radicalism, where a strict curfew was being enforced.  Late one night, a car approached.  The driver was a man with papers stating that he was a medical doctor.  He had a problem.  He was called out of a wedding in village A to attend to a man in village B.  Now, his wife and kids were stranded in village A, and he wanted to take them home.  The rules are clear; it is forbidden.  The soldiers consulted with each other, took his papers, and allowed him a quick but doable period to get back.  Their actions put them in danger of court-martial, and worse.  The doctor returned with is family, the soldiers returned his papers to him, and the doctor got his family home.”

What would you have done?  Are there times when rules must be broken, when justice is unjust?  Are there times when one is required to go strictly by the book, regardless of the pain and suffering that may result from an unbending stance?  When are these times and how are they determined?  When is it black-or-white, and when is it gray?

Rabbi Howard Siegel

© 2017 Beth Tikvah Synagogue, Richmond, BC, Canada
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