This week’s Torah reading, Ki Teitzei, starts with the phrase ‘If you go to war’, and then outlines moments and instances of choices. Much of what is discussed are approaches we’ve already heard elsewhere in the Torah, which begs the question of why they appear here.
The question of behaviour and values is key to a Jewish understanding of how we interact with the world. Our usual encounters become routines, and we know the standard of behaviours will serve us well. We strive for ‘menschkeit’, a word we all know but can’t really define. We try to cultivate that within ourselves as well as look for it in others. But now the Torah has asked us a tougher question: who are we when we leave our comfort zones and face challenges. Can we still be a mensch when turmoil surrounds us?
Jewish values are not things we develop in a moment of challenge, they are things we develop over our lifetimes that then serve us in each moment. The Torah is not describing the conflict of warfare since it begins by discussing the war captives Israel has taken in victory, not the war itself. The Torah describes the challenge of victory – the way empowerment can turn into entitlement. When we look at a defeated enemy, do we still maintain our values and behave as we should?
On a more mundane level, when we win an argument, how do we engage with the other person in the very next moment? Whether it is a personal relationship or a professional exchange, our Jewish values must follow us into restaurants and office spaces. The challenge is not our Jewish homes, it is ‘ki teitzei’ – when we venture out.
I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.