Rabbi Shelton Donnell & Esther Edelsburg
Congregation Kol Haneshama, Jerusalem
The portion Ki Teitzei continues to develop the theme discussed in the previous portion, Shoftim namely, what makes for a proper society? Like the previous portion, this week’s text gives us a variety of mitzvot and statutes relating to the general theme of establishing a just society and the conduct (both by the individual and by the community) necessary to realize this objective.
Two sections of the portion stand out in this regard and seem to be particularly relevant to today’s modern society.
“When you make a loan of any kind to your neighbor, do not go into their house to get what is offered to you as a pledge. Stay outside and let the neighbor to whom you are making the loan bring the pledge out to you. If the neighbor is needy, do not go to sleep with their pledge in your possession. Return their cloak by sunset so that your neighbor may sleep in it. Then they will thank you, and for you it will be regarded as a righteous act in the sight of ADONAI your God” (Deut. 24:10-13). In regards to verse 12, “If the neighbor is needy, do not go to sleep with their pledge…” Nachmanides comments, “Such a person is called needy because they have no other pledge like it, even if they had two such things of similar kind you could only take one and return one to them whether the person was indeed poor or has many possessions.” The passage speaks about debts and financial matters, yet along with this the Torah is concerned with a person’s dignity; not just with the rights of the lender, but also with the rights of the borrower.
The second section is this: “Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether a fellow Israelite or a sojourner residing in one of your towns. Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to ADONAI against you, and you will be guilty of sin” (Deut, 24:14-15). Here the Torah is speaking about a laborer; about the employee who is a citizen and the foreign worker as well. In the book of Leviticus the law refers to “your neighbor,” but here in Deuteronomy it refers to one “who is poor and needy, whether a fellow Israelite or a sojourner residing in one of your towns.” According to Rashi, the term “sojourner residing in one of your towns” includes the foreigner.
- What is the meaning of the phrase, “and for you it will be regarded as a righteous act in the sight of ADONAI your God” in the context of a just society?
- What is your opinion about Nachmanides’ commentary? Do you agree with him?
- How well do the standards of the Torah regarding employer-employee relations apply to modern society?