In contrast, the parasha of Ki Tetzeh reminds us of Mishpatim in the book of Exodus and of Kdoshim in the book of Leviticus. These portions are chock full of commandments, halachic directives, and a wide variety of practical instructions for every sphere of life – between man and his G-d, and between man and his fellow man. Ki Tetzeh is the same. It contains commandments regarding war; marriage, divorce, and prohibitions relating to proper family life; laws about the relationship between parents and children; commandments guiding behaviors toward the poor, workers, lenders; directions for judges and the Jewish justice system; and more…
This raises an obvious question – Why was the continuity of the story connecting the Jewish nation’s past and future cut so that the speech could review a succession of halachic directions on such a wide range of subjects?
It seems that the parasha of Ki Tetzeh acts as a central axis for the entire book of Deuteronomy. The message we are meant to infer from this parasha is that the Jewish people’s national life is inextricably bound with each and every one of the practical commandments and is dependent on the individual’s willingness to abide by the Torah’s regulations and guidelines that are meant to shape the entirety of Jewish life.
Halacha (Jewish law) and commandments define the Jewish nation, they are both the basis of its unique character that links one generation to another, and the guarantee of its future.
So, Ki Tetzeh is not really exceptional in the book of Deuteronomy. The many commandments detailed in this parasha do not actually deviate from the book’s central thesis. On the contrary. Such a detailing of the commandments is the main trait of the Jewish people. Judaism puts an emphasis on practical commandments because Judaism is not just about principles of faith, but about lifestyle guidance that helps a person advance toward his purpose.
Ki Tetzeh is always read during the month of Elul, a month of introspection in preparation for the High Holidays of the month of Tishrei: Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. During the month of Elul, which is the last month of the year, we examine our spiritual status, what accomplishments we should be glad about, and what areas in our lives we need to improve.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first rabbi of Chabad Hassidism, described the essence of the month of Elul using an allegory about the relationship between a king and the citizens of the kingdom. When the king sits in the palace, only very few people can enter to see him, ministers and respected people, and even they need special permission to enter. An ordinary citizen cannot enter the palace to talk to the king. But sometimes, the king leaves the palace to walk to the fields where even simple citizens can gain access to him, and the king always receives them kindly. When the king is in the field, the citizens have a unique opportunity to connect with him and make requests.
During the month of Elul, said Rabbi Shneur Zalman, “the King is in the field.” This is a unique time when man’s emotional access to G-d is easier. Spirituality is more readily available, and with a bit of honest desire, we can make huge progress!
During this month, we read the Torah portion Ki Tetzeh which reminds us of the significant emphasis put by Judaism on the Jewish-practical lifestyle. This emphasis can direct us more accurately toward the practical areas in which we want to improve – and there is no one who does not have areas that need repair. During the month of Elul, we have an opportunity to summarize the past year and prepare for the beginning of the new year with its good tidings, hopes and successes.