(Note: all quotations are taken from the Complete Jewish Bible, translation by David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., unless otherwise noted)
Let’s begin with the opening blessing for the Torah:
“Baruch atah YHVH, Eloheynu, Melech ha-O’lam,
asher bachar banu m’kol ha-amim,
v’natan lanu eht Torah-to.
Baruch atah YHVH, noteyn ha-Torah.
(Blessed are you, O’ LORD, our God, King of the Universe,
you have selected us from among all the peoples,
and has given us your Torah.
Blessed are you, LORD, giver of the Torah.
This is Parashat Ki Tetze (say “Key-Tates-say”). In many ways, this portion picks up with the theme introduced in last week’s portion: justice. Much in every way, this week’s portion centers on the practical application of such communal justice in the Land of Isra’el. Practical application of Scripture is often referred to as halakha, a Hebrew phrase that describes the “way in which to walk out the mitzvot (commandments) practically”.
For some, this notion of practical application of Scripture is unsettling. Perhaps it stems from the overwhelming traditional application and misuse of Scripture prevalent in much of Rabbinical Judaism today (in essence, tradition is given more weight than Scripture). Because of such notions, I will briefly address this issue again before going into our teaching this week. Borrowing notes from last week’s portion, I shall summarize halakha and the concept of “oral tradition”:
“Chapter 17 of Deuteronomy talks about the details surrounding official and legal matters. Of particular interest is the subject dealt with in verses 8-13. To be sure, the sages of old understood this to be talking about the matter of halakha and the authority of what is known in rabbinical circles as Oral Torah. From a cursory reading, it appears to be a valid teaching about establishing a governing body of legal authority based on the spoken opinion of the judge of the day. This is where the halakha gains its strength and application. This term is roughly translated the way in which to walk. The rabbis see in this passage an opportunity to establish the tradition of the Oral Torah. As they see it, this passage instructs its readers In accordance with the Torah they teach you, you are to carry out the judgment they render, not turning aside to the right or the left from the verdict they declare to you (v.11). Taking the verse in its most natural and literal sense, it does seem to validate the right for the rabbis to impose their judgments on all succeeding generations. And to strengthen the suggested interpretation, a first century Rabbi by the name of Yeshua had this to say to his crowd, “The Torah-teachers and the Prushim, he said, sit in the seat of Moshe. So whatever they tell you, take care to do it. But don’t do what they do, because they talk but don't act!” What Yeshua is addressing here is the issue of hypocrisy when it comes to correctly interpreting the Torah, yet failing to implement it into our lives. But our LORD does not condone the Oral Tradition as binding.”
Back to our Torah portion.
Of great concern to the community living during this time period (as well as for any time period for that matter) was the area of sexual relations. To be sure, a great deal of time is spent addressing possible situations that might arise during the course of everyday dealings with each other. Moreover, in all of the five books that Moshe authored, only here in D’varim chapter 24 is marriage and divorce specifically addressed head on, and then only in a scant four verses.
The matter became a major source of disagreement by the time Yeshua entered the communal scene. During his time period, two major schools of thought existed and vied for the majority opinion. The conservative School of Rabbi Shammai (Beit Shammai) and the liberal School of Rabbi Hillel (Beit Hillel) both supplied their interpretation of Moshe’s words here in our Torah portion. The Talmud gives us our most complete look into the minds of the early Judaisms of Yeshua's day, thus the Talmud states concerning this passage in D'varim:
“The School of Shammai say a man may not divorce his wife unless he has found un-chastity in her, as it is said, ‘…because he has found in her indecency in a matter.’ But the School of Hillel say he may divorce her even if she burns his food, as it is said, ‘…because he has found in her indecency in a matter.’” (Mishna: Gittin 9:10)
Rabbi El'azar, a member of Beit Hillel has been noted in the Gemara as saying, “When a man divorces his first wife, even the altar sheds tears” (Gittin 90b), his source for such logic stemming from D’varim 24:13:-14. Modern translator and commentator David H. Stern has noted in his Jewish New Testament Commentary that there is a Jewish tradition that in Messianic times the stricter rulings of Beit Shammai will become the standard (JNTC, p. 59).
Yeshua himself addresses this issue of marriage and divorce at Matthew 19:1-12. In order to properly grasp the halakha of Moshe in D’varim, and spring into the halakha of our LORD in Matthew, I will first address Judaism’s common view of marriage itself. I pick up the theme of D’varim 23:18(17) and 19(18) as I move into 24:1-4. To carry the full continuity of my thoughts, I have supplied a sample reader’s question:
QUESTION: “What is the Messianic Jewish position about remaining single. I've always heard that the rabbinical teaching is that a person is not truly a man until he has procreated. I am single and it looks like I may be remaining so. Does this mean that I'm less a man? Does God want everyone to marry? What about a homosexual person who foregoes all sexual activity in order to be faithful to the Lord? I'd be interested in your thoughts on these issues.”
ANSWER: “I want you to read 1 Corinthians Chapter 7. In it you'll find some very good instructions given to the married and unmarried alike. It is true that the rabbis had, and still have, a high view of marriage. The Talmud stresses this view. The unmarried person lives without joy, without blessing, and without good’ (Jeb. 62b); An unmarried man is not a man in the full sense; as it is said, Male and female created He them, and blessed them and called their name man (Gen. 5:2) (Ibid. 63a). A wife meant a home; hence the saying, A mans home is his wife (Joma I.I), and R. Jose said, Never have I called my wife by that word, but always my home (Shab. 118b). But don't let all this scare you. Remember this is commentary on the Torah, not the authoritative Torah itself! These are men's opinions. High remarks are made in the Torah, to the single individual who fully devotes himself to HaShem in his singleness! Pray about your potential mating. It is a very important decision to make! To be sure, the Torah designed it to be a lasting one.
"Now as far as the issue concerning homosexuality goes, the Torah is explicitly clear: this lifestyle is not pleasing to HaShem, and is thereby forbidden. In the TaNaKH the instances are told of pagan temple prostitution, by those women (and sometimes men) who had separated themselves unto the temple cult. This sanctification is where we get the Hebrew word kadosh from, meaning, set apart for a specific work. This separation was certainly not prescribed by the Torah of Moshe, and was not condoned by the Holy One! If you mean a homosexual turning from that lifestyle, and forgoing all further sexual activity in order to pursue faithfulness to HaShem, then let his tshuvah (repentance) be true renounce his sin of homosexuality and turn to HaShem with a renewed heart! True biblical separation always agrees with the Will of HaShem, and accomplishes the purposes of HaShem. Because homosexuality is outside the pale of a biblically correct lifestyle, it is not sanctified or blessed, but rather condemned by the Torah. This rabbi does not recommend such a lifestyle for anyone, but forgiveness through the shed blood of Messiah Yeshua has been made abundant for all, regardless of your past sins!”
Thus we see that our passages here in the Torah portion are not in contradiction to Yeshua’s rulings on the matter. Moreover, Moshe’s rulings do not undermine HaShem's original intentions for the married couple. Rather, quoting Dr. Stern again, “Yeshua in adducing Scripture harks back to the beginning, in Gan-Eden [Garden of Eden] to support his view that a marriage must not be dissolved for anything less than the most direct insult to its one-flesh integrity, adultery.” He goes on to point out, as I have above, that “Judaism has always considered marriage both normal and desirable… [Quoting the Talmud] “The unmarried person lives without joy, without blessing and without good….An unmarried man is not fully a man” (Talmud: Yevamot 62b-63a).
In its most normative sense of application, the Torah addresses the individual on a complete level (overview), yet leaves room for each individual and unique situation. Surely each unique situation needed addressing. That is why HaShem set into place certain mechanisms which would help deal with the fluidity of ever-changing community life among the followers of HaShem. Halakha is meant to fit the times in which it is being applied. It is rightly called “the humanization of Scripture”. This gives it the feel of stability, based on the Scriptures from which it is derived, yet at the same time, room is allowed for individual and unique application on every level.
Thus, our Torah portion forms the basis for our modern halakhic rulings today, as Yeshua proved to his first century listeners. I have heard some today attack halakha on the basis that tradition has no merit in the lives of a believer in Yeshua. I have also heard the very Scriptures attacked on the basis of antiquity and out of date rulings. Yet there can exist harmony in the seemingly simplistic commands of the Torah of Moshe, when combined with the halakhic decisions which are derived from the Torah. To be sure, don't we all as believers cite the very same Torah as evidence for our rulings? And yet, there exists great diversity among our ranks. Should this diversity give rise to disagreements and disunity? In my opinion, I think it should not.
Rather than separate us believers from one another, the Scriptures and the halakhic decisions we derive from them, should be uniting us, especially in the eyesight of the disbelieving world in which we are surely being examined for our faith. Difficult issues to come to halakhic rulings on, such as marriage and divorce, should not discourage us from setting the example among all men, even as the Torah commands us to do. Far from becoming another statistic, as many believers have become (God help us!), we should be leading the way in our examples of what a loving couple, joined by God, should look like.
Justice should not only exist as some noteworthy concept that can be pointed out in the lives of those who follow HaShem. Like HaShem, our justice should be an extension of who we are as believers in Messiah Yeshua. It should be a part of our make-up, internal and not merely outward in its appropriation and application.
As is stated in Parashat Shof’tim “justice should be pursued”!
The closing blessing is as follows:
“Baruch atah YHVH, Eloheynu, Melech ha-O'lam,
asher natan lanu Toraht-emet,
v’chayyeh o’lam natab’tochenu.
Baruch atah YHVH, noteyn ha-Torah.
(Blessed are you O’ LORD, our God, King of the Universe,
you have given us your Torah of truth,
and has planted everlasting life within our midst.
Blessed are you, LORD, giver of the Torah.
Torah Teacher Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy