Sunday, August 27, 2017

You Cannot/Must Not Hide (Portion Ki Tetze)

You must not/cannot hide yourself.

If we seek a more just society, there is no room for inaction in the midst of evil.  This week’s Torah portion, Ki Tetze, contains more mitzvot/commandments than any other.  Most are concerned with the creation of a more equitable and holy community, laying out the details of our individual obligations and responsibilities toward this end.

One refrain from the parsha cuts to the heart of this endeavor: Lo tuchal l’hitalem.  Yet the precise meaning of the Hebrew is unclear, for it could be rendered either as a command—“You must not hide yourself!”—or a statement of fact—“You cannot hide.”  Which way should we understand the passage?

In good Talmudic fashion, sixteenth century commentator Moshe Alshikh reconciles the two readings.  He writes:

After you have performed a commandment three times, then you will know that the observance of the mitzvah is, once and for all, firmly implanted within you, so that whatever the circumstances, “you cannot hide.”

In other words, once we thoroughly accustom ourselves to doing the right thing, our own moral conscience and the power of habit make it virtually impossible to ignore injustice.

As we continue our communal and individual journeys through the month of Elul, toward the Days of Awe, let us heed this imperative to refuse to hide ourselves amidst the seething injustice engulfing our nation.  As Jews, we know all too well that avoiding responsibility and being a bystander is not an acceptable option.  As Elie Wiesel taught: “We must take sides.  Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”

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