Parashat Ki Teitzei
• Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do.
• Hate cannot drive out hate:
only love can do.
• Hate multiplies hate,
• violence multiplies violence,
• toughness multiplies toughness ...
(Martin Luther King)
I imagine one of the reasons people hold on, tightly to their hates so stubbornly, is because they sense,
once hate is gone,
they will be forced to deal with pain.
There is a verse in Ki Tetsei,
easy to miss,
appearing in the midst of a series of laws about
and escaping slaves.
Without any special emphasis or preamble,
Moses delivers a command so counterintuitive,
that I had to read it twice to make sure I heard it correctly:
“Do not hate an Edomite, because he is your brother."
" Do not hate an Egyptian, because you were a stranger in his land. (Deut. 23:8) "
What does this mean in its biblical context?
The Egyptians of Moses' day had
• enslaved the Israelites,
• embittered their lives,
• subjected them to a ruthless regime of hard labour
• forced them to eat the bread of affliction.
Now, 40 years later,
Moses speaks as if none of this had happened,
as if the Israelites owed the Egyptians a debt of gratitude for their hospitality.
Yet, he and the people were where they were,
only because they were escaping from Egyptian persecution.
Nor did he want the people to forget it.
To the contrary,
he told them to recite the story of the exodus every year, as we still do on Pessah,
so that the memory would be passed on to all future generations.
If you want to preserve freedom,
never forget what it feels like to lose it.
Our religion is not a religion of stories,
but a religion of memory !
Zachor! Remember !
on the banks of the Jordan, addressing the next generation, he tells the people,
"Do not hate an Egyptian".
What is going on in this verse?
To be free,
you have to let go of hate.
That is what Moses is saying.
If they continued to hate their first enemies,
Moses would have taken the Israelites out of Egypt,
but he would not have taken Egypt out of the Israelites.
They would still be there, slaves to the past.
They would still be in chains,
not of metal,
but of the mind,
and chains of the mind are the most constricting of all.
You cannot create a free society on the basis of hate or fear.
a sense of injustice,
the desire to restore honour by inflicting injury on your former persecutors
These are conditions of a profound lack of freedom.
You must live with the past,
but not in the past.
Those who are held captive by anger against their former persecutors are captive still.
Those who let their enemies define who they are, have not yet achieved true liberty.
We are continually urged to
The implicit message is:
• Limit slavery, at least as far as your own people is concerned.
• Don't subject them to hard labour.
• Give them rest and freedom every seventh day.
• Release them every seventh year.
• Recognise them as like you,
No one is born to be a slave.
• Give generously to the poor.
• Let them eat from the leftovers of the harvest.
• Leave them a corner of the field.
• Share your blessings with others.
• Don't deprive people of their livelihood.
The entire structure of biblical law is rooted in the experience of slavery in Egypt,
as if to say:
You know in your heart what it feels like to be the victim of persecution,
do not persecute others.
not to live in the past but to prevent a repetition of the past.
This raises an interesting point.
From Genesis (14:23)
to the book of Esther (9:10, 15, 16)
taking valuable stolen goods,
plunder from enemies,
Why then was Israel commanded to ask for gifts from the Egyptians?
The Torah itself provides the answer in a later law of Deuteronomy about the release of slaves:
If a fellow Hebrew, a man or a woman,
sells himself to you and serves you six years,
in the seventh year you must let him go free.
When you release him,
do not send him away empty-handed.
Give to him
as the Lord your G-d has blessed you.
Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your G-d redeemed you.
That is why, I give you this command today.
a freed slave must not depart laden with a sense of
Would this be the case,
he would have been
released but not liberated.
Physically free, mentally he would still be a slave.
When G-d told Moses to tell the Israelites to take parting gifts from the Egyptians,
it is as if He were saying:
Yes, the Egyptians enslaved you,
but that is about to become the past.
Precisely because I want you to
remember the past,
it is essential that you do so without hate or desire for revenge.
There must be an act of symbolic closure.
Hatred and liberty cannot coexist.
A free people does not hate its former enemies;
if it does,
it is not yet ready for freedom.
To create a non-persecuting society out of people who have been persecuted,
you have to break the chains of the past,
Redirect pain into constructive energy
Have the determination to build a different future.
That was Moses' message to those who were about to enter the promised land:
that a free society can be built only by people who accept the responsibility of freedom,
"Do not hate an Egyptian, because you were strangers in his land," said Moses, meaning:
To be free, you have to let go of hate.