The parsha of Ki Teitzei contains the second most numerous count of mitzvoth in the Torah, topped only by the count of mitzvoth in the parsha of Kdoshim in Chumash Vayikra. The commentators to the Torah discuss why these mitzvoth that first appear in Ki Teitzei, all of whom are ultimately derived from the granting of the Torah at Mount Sinai almost forty years earlier, find their place in the Torah here in Moshe’s final oration to the Jewish people.
Their approach to the issue differs. Some are of the opinion since many of these mitzvoth are related to war, settling the land, domesticated human life and the like they appear here because of the impending life altering change for the Jewish people from a miraculous existence in the desert to a more natural and normal society living. They were now in their own land with all of the changes and problems that such a radical shift of circumstances implies.
Others merely say that this is an example of the Talmudic dictum that the Torah is not bound in its teachings and text to any narrative time line; there is no chronological order to the Torah. Even though these mitzvoth appear to us in writing here for the first time in the Torah text, they were essentially already taught to the Jewish people in the desert long before by Moshe.
There are other explanations to the placement of these mitzvoth here in our parsha advanced by many of the great commentators to the Torah. All possible explanations are valid and they are not mutually exclusive.
If I may be bold enough to add my insight to this matter as well, I would say as follows: The Jewish people are now about to become a nation and to establish their own government in the Land of Israel. They will have to fight many battles, bloody and painful, to establish their right to the Land of Israel and to establish their sovereignty over the territory that it encompasses.
They will need an army, a civil government, a judicial system, an economy and labor force and all of the other necessary trappings that accompany nation building and establishing a territorial entity and effective government. In the face of these demands it will be likely that they will think that they may discard the spiritual yoke of the mitzvoth imposed upon them at Sinai.
It will be easy to say that mitzvoth were necessary in the Sinai desert where no other demands on our time, energy and service existed for us. But now we have more pressing business at hand and therefore the punctilious observance of mitzvoth is no longer required of us.
Moshe comes in this parsha, in the midst of his valedictory oration to the Jewish people, to remind them that mitzvoth and Torah are the only effective guarantee of Jewish success and survival even while engaged in building and defending Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel.
Moshe in effect says to them: “Here are some more mitzvoth that will help you succeed in building the land and your sovereignty over it.” Moshe’s message is as germane to our time as it was to the first Jews who arrived en masse to settle in the Land of Israel thirty-three centuries ago.
Shabat shalom. Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com