Devar Torah - Ki Teitzei - Sept. 6, 2014
This week's Torah reading - according to the Rabbis - has the highest concentration of mitzvot of any of the Torah readings. As we know, the 613 commandments are derived from the Torah and the rabbis found 72 of them in the portion Ki Teitzei. The portion itself discusses a variety of circumstances from going to war and the treatment of captives, to rape, to the treatment of a donkey found to be suffering under a heavy burden. Some are obviously more serious by nature than others yet all are included in the counting of 613 commandments.
Last week I had the opportunity to participate in two very different kinds of mitzvot. I attended the 3rd annual Rabbinic Symposium sponsored by AIPAC and held in downtown DC. 250 rabbis of all denominations attended to hear plenary sessions updating us on the situation in Israel and other sessions about the current status of middle east issues. It was an extremely worthwhile day not only to reconnect with colleagues but to show support for Israel. (All of us will be able to do the same thing at AIPAC's annual policy conference in March and I hope you'll join me there.)
Also last week someone came in to see me with a problem with his tefillin. As you know tefillin - or phylacteries - are the leather straps that we're commanded to wear as a reminder of all the mitzvot. The straps are to be worn "as a sign upon our arms and as a sign between our eyes." We know from archaeological discoveries that tefillin have been worn and designed the same way for at least 2,000 years. There is a particular way to make them and tie the straps and I had to know how to tie the knots on them in order to graduate rabbinical school! The man who came in to see me had tefillin with the knots totally undone on the arm tefillin. I was dumbfounded as to how to tie the knots again. I mentioned that I'd be happy to take them to the Jewish book store in Kemp Mill but then I thought, "I bet there's a YouTube video to show how to tie them" and sure enough there are! I watched the two videos explaining how to tie the arm tefillin knot and was able to fix this man's tefillin! (Part 1 and Part 2)
So I'm left with the question - which of these two mitzvot this past week was more important; being with 250 rabbis from across the country in support of Israel or fixing the man's tefillin? Is it fair to even ask the question? Perhaps that's the point of the Torah reading. All kinds of laws were taught in order for us to learn that all are important in helping us become better people.