Ki Teitzei – The purpose of the mitzvot

There are 72 positive and negative commandments in this parasha, the most in any parasha.  Nechama Leibowitz  quoted from 2 separate midrashim which explain aspects of their purpose. In one, the mitzvot are said to grace man’s daily acts, and consecrate his mundane duties such as tilling the soil, earning a livelihood, building a house, elevating these acts to the level of Divine service.

In another midrash, the mitzvot are compared to the lifeline thrown to the drowning swimmer, man in the stormy sea of temptations, so that he can safely journey through life.


In order to illustrate the point, Leibowitz chose to discuss the subject of the return of lost property to its owner.”Do not see your brother’s ox or his sheep go astray, and hide yourself from them: you should bring them again to your brother”. She quoted from Nachmanides who commented that the phrase “go astray” implied that the animal had wandered far afield and its return would have involved much time and trouble. Rashi added that the obligation was to take an active concern with safeguarding the neighbour’s possessions so they remain intact.


This rule is repeated 3 times in different ways in 3 sentences, and Alshikh concluded that by returning an animal or item 3 times, a person would have the mitzvah firmly understood, so that whatever the circumstances, he could not then hide himself from knowledge of the rule, and it would become a social norm, both orientating and uplifting.


R’ Eli Munk referred to a previous commandment in Shemot to “the ox of your enemy” as opposed to the ox of “your brother” in this parasha.  Ramban had commented that the 2 mitzvot were related and R’ Munk wrote that the best way to do away with hatred is to return an object to his owner even if he is an enemy. When that happens, hatred is forgotten and one remembers the brotherhood. 

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