I’ll be the first one to admit that I struggle reading through Deuteronomy. I can’t seem to connect with the weekly parshot. It’s hard when they speak of not taking slaves or taking two wives. These are clearly not things any of us have to deal with nowadays. Ki Teitzei is no exception to my struggles. The parsha contains a mixture of seventy four commandments dealing with subjects like the treatment of captives, defiant children, lost animals, birds’ nests, roof railings, divorce, rights of aliens, loans, vows, protection of works, parental guilt, charity for the poor, regulations for inheritance and fair weights and measures. The parsha concludes with a warning to remember how the Amalekites attacked the Israelites in the desert. Some of these seem like they may be related to my daily life. I have a three-and-a-half-year-old child at home who loves using the word “NO,” but I don’t take him to the town elders of Buffalo Grove to determine if he should be flogged. And sometimes I wish I had a “real-life” mute button, especially when everyone wants something from me at the exact same moment. But all joking aside, I find it challenging to pull out some valuable tidbits for my life.
I hinted that there is a mitzvah mentioned in this parsha regarding a bird’s nest. The Talmud refers to this mitzvah as the “lightest” of all of the commandments. “If [walking] along the road, you chance upon a bird’s nest …and the mother is sitting over the fledglings or on the eggs, do not take the mother together with her young. Let the mother go and take only the young, in order that you may fare well and have a long life” (Deuteronomy 22:6). If you think about it, physically it’s probably the simplest commandment to follow. Scare off Mama Bird and take the nest and in return you will be rewarded with a long life. But something so trivial is bound to be questioned by our sages and commentators. Commentator Yitz Greenberg notes that the same reward is mentioned in the Torah for honoring parents, a commandment that takes a lifetime to fulfill. He claims that it is the equality of the reward being emphasized. Trivial commandments are being rewarded as much as the most substantive in order to teach us to treasure and observe all commandments equally. As he puts it, “the reward of any mitzvah is incalculable.”
Maimonides writes in his laws of repentance that every person should consider himself or herself as perfectly balanced between good and bad and the world as perfectly balanced between good and evil. The next action you do, however trivial, can tilt you and the whole world toward the side of good and life, or to the side of evil and death. I find it coincidental that this parsha comes just a few weeks before the High Holy Days. Each one of us has the opportunity to use this time for reflection on the year that was and prepare for the year ahead. Rabbi Michael Klein-Katz refers to this period before the new year as, “… a chance for introspection, personal growth, and a heightened spirituality, during which we review our purpose, our relationships with one another, and our connection to God, to Israel, and to our world.” By reflecting as some of our congregants have already done with their Jeremiah Gems, we can certainly emerge renewed, regenerated, and ready to take on every situation we encounter in the New Year with confidence and revitalized faith in who we are and who we can become.