Ki Tetzei


In biblical times, the Egyptians were among the cruellest to the Jewish people. They enslaved the Jews for 210 years and imposed on us backbreaking toil. Their leader threw the baby boys into the Nile river.  

One would have thought that the characteristics of such a nation would disqualify them from being welcomed into the Jewish people. Yet, the Bible allows these people into the nation of God.  

The people of Ammon and Moab, also mentioned in this parashah, were nowhere near as callous towards the Israelites. They didn’t enslave them or kill them. They refused to help them in their travels through the desert and did not give them bread and water. Yet, the Bible does not allow them ever to convert to Judaism.

Rashi explains that while the Egyptians may have been ultimately cruel to the Jewish people, the one element in their favour was the fact that the Egyptians hosted them in their land. As detestable as the actions of their leaders may have been, they nonetheless showed compassion to a people without a land.  

The Ammonites in comparison were unable to show any kindness whatsoever to the Jews. They refused to have empathy for a people who were not their responsibility as they saw it. They were not cruel, but they certainly were not kind, either.

There are two essential teachings here. The first is that the basic criterion for belonging to the Jewish people is kindness. Coldness and lack of empathy for the “other” for those who are disenfranchised, for those who don’t belong, is an immediate disqualification from belonging to our people.  

The second teaching relates to the responsibility that we have towards the “other” in our society. This teaching could not be more poignant and important in times when xenophobia is reaching such high levels in the Western world. To ignore the plight of those who are not our flesh and blood is not only cruel, it is the antithesis of Judaism and everything it stands for.

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