Ki Tetzei

“Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and that the Lord your God redeemed you from there; before do I enjoin you to observe this commandment” Deuteronomy 24: 17


Immediately preceding God’s commandment to leave the gleanings of the vineyard, olive grove and the field, God reminds us that our shared experience of dependency and defencelessness in Egypt must be the touchstone impelling us to ethical behaviour.

Torah exhorts us to treat labourers fairly and ensure that the poor, the destitute, and the powerless are not abused. These ethical injunctions of Torah continue, quite rightly, to serve as our contemporary benchmark as we work towards a just and fair world.

However, in this week’s portion there are laws which are contrary to our contemporary understanding of what is just. Women are treated as chattel and the wayward son, an embarrassment and liability to his parents, can be executed. We can certainly contextualise such laws as being “of their time”, or indeed as never having been intended to be carried out, but nonetheless I find this a difficult portion to read because those who are deemed “guilty” so often remain voiceless, their stories remaining hidden in the shadows.

Torah can sometimes be troubling when we glimpse its shadow side. But it is not only Torah, we too have our shadow sides. We may have qualities and behaviours that we feel ashamed of, ways of being that we would much rather keep hidden. But, like Torah, we are multi- dimensional.

We are complicated, complex beings, with diverse histories and experiences, all of which converge to make us who we are. In order to be whole, we must learn to acknowledge our shadow sides, finding compassionate ways to take responsibility for the choices we make that affect others.

And so too is Torah multi-layered. We should not try to pretend there are not passages that trouble us, nor should we be too ready to explain away those difficulties. Instead, we can engage with the text critically and compassionately. We can struggle and protest, seeking the voiceless of the text in order to bring their stories in to world. For their voices may be our voices, all of which deserve to be heard.


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