Torah Thoughts on Parashat Ki Tetze 5780
By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
This week we read parashat Ki Tetze. Like in other sections in Deuteronomy, we can find in this parasha a paragraph that instruct us on how to improve the society and discipline its members. At the end of some of these paragraphs, especially when an exemplary punishment is described, we can find the phrase, “And you shall wipe out the evil from among you, and all Israel will listen and fear” (for example, in this week’s parasha, on Deuteronomy 21:21).
In the original Torah text in Hebrew, the “among you” is conjugated in the second person singular (bekirbecha). Therefore, the phrase could be paraphrased as, “first you need to clean out your own evil (singular) and then all Israel will hear and fear.” Based on this particular conjugation, Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum explained that a person always needs to begin by removing the evil inside him/her. Only after that, he/she will be able to influence others and hence people will become more pious.
This same idea is expressed in the Talmud (Baba Metzia 107b) by the sage Reish Lakish. He said, “Adorn (keshot) yourself and afterward adorn others.” In other words, before you tell other people how to behave, you should first check out your traits and actions. This is a great piece of advice for this Hebrew month of Elul, when we are expected to review our behaviour during the past year, repent and ask for forgiveness.
Many times, we expect others to take the initiative. If we had an argument with a friend, we feel that person should reach out to us. If, for any reason, we stopped talking with a relative, we expect that relative to speak first. The Torah teaches us that we should not judge others before we judge ourselves. Or, in the words of the Talmud, we should “adorn” ourselves before “adorning” others.
During this month of Elul, when we review our actions and are more aware of the broken or damaged relationships we need to try to rebuild or mend, the Torah encourages not to wait for our fellow person to get closer to us and ask for forgiveness, but to take the initiative and be the first ones to apologize or to try to fix a complicated relationship. This is a good time to put aside our pride and be ready to say “sorry,” instead of waiting to hear “I am sorry” from the others. The same way we need to start removing the evil inside us, and not wait for others to do that, we need to start extending our hand, and not wait for others to extend their hands to us.