Messages from the Number One Mitzva Sedra

August 28, 2015  

Parshat Ki Teitzei is the most mitzva-rich of all sedras, with 74 of the Torah’s 613 mitzvot – slightly over 12% of all the mitzvot in this one of the 54 sedras.

Parshat Ki Teitzei also has the most parshiyot in the Torah – 44. Let’s focus in on one specific parsha, one with two p’sukim, each pasuk containing a single prohibition. (We focused on this parsha three years ago – we call your attention to it and its significance again).

You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together. You shall not wear a garment of shaatnez, (i.e.) wool linen together. D’varim 22:10,11 Noteworthy are the similarities in the wording of these two p’sukim. They each start with LO and a verb in second person singular future tense. You shalt not plow/wear. They each mention the two things that are not to be mixed: ox and donkey / wool and linen. The both finish with the same word – YACHDAV – together. These two prohibitions are among several forbidden mixtures and combinations in the Torah. As such, it is no surprise to find them in consecutive p’sukim. It is, however, a bit surprising to find them sharing the same parsha in a sedra with so many parshiyot, many of which contain a single mitzva. What makes them very noteworthy are the differences between these two prohibitions – not in the wording of the p’sukim, but in the details of their respective halachot.

One may not wear a garment of wool and linen together. What about cotton and wool? Permitted. Should one be strict, and avoid cotton and wool as a CHUMRA? No. meaningless to do that. Can one make a tapestry wall-hanging of wool and linen together? Yes. Is it within the spirit of the mitzva not to? No. Pointless. Only wearing and only wool and linen are forbidden. Shaatnez is specifically, exclusively wool and linen and wearing.

What about the partner mitzva to Shaatnez that shares the same parsha with it? Can I harness a horse and an ox to pull a cart? No. That would be a Torah prohibition. But a horse isn’t a donkey anymore than cotton isn’t linen? And pulling a cart is as different from plowing as hanging on the wall is from wearing? This prohibition “works” differently. Ox and donkey and plowing are not exclusive – they are inclusive of any (non-compatible) animals and any activity.

The Torah prohibits the harnessing of two giraffes and an elephant to pull a circus bandwagon, as is pictured in Dr. Seuss’s “And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street”. Not just a rabbinic prohibition – Isur D’Oraita! Two mitzvot, so similar in wording, in consecutive p’sukim, sharing a single parsha, each forbid a mixture of some kind – yet they are quite different in the ways described.

How do we know the above? And what does it mean? The answer to the first part is relatively simple – TORAH SHEB’AL PEH, the ORAL LAW. It tells us when only wool is wool and when a wallaby is a donkey. Without the Oral Law we only have part of the Torah. That’s part of the point of this Lead Tidbit.

What does it mean? Many things. For example, that not everything has to make sense, be logical, be understood by our finite minds. There are mitzvot that lend themselves easily to our understanding and common sense; there are CHUKIM which defy logic sometimes and are enigmatic. Words in the Torah can be exclusive or inclusive – Does YOM mean day, as opposed to night or does it mean a full 24-hour period? At times one; some- times the other.

Sometimes a donkey is only a donkey. Sometimes it represents all animals. Etc. Etc. The Torah and the mitzvot it contains were not meant to be self-explanatory from the Written Word alone. This is not a “defect”; G-d wanted the Torah to be taught from person to person, from parent to child, from teacher to student. And that requires an Oral Tradition to go along with the Written Word.

This is all part of the relationship G-d wants with us. May we be worthy of it. And may we work well during the month of Elul and beyond to strengthen our commitment to Torah and Mitzvot… for ourselves, our families, and all of Klal Yisrael.

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