Parshas Ki Seitzei
Brit Milah and the Mother Bird
The Midrash Rabbah cites the verse in our parashah, “If a bird’s nest happens to be before you,” and asks: What is the halachah regarding a boy who is born circumcised? Must he be circumcised? The midrash answers: Our Sages taught, “If a boy is born circumcised, blood must be let from the place of circumcision because of the covenant with Avraham Avinu.” The midrash continues: Why is a baby circumcised on the eighth day? Because Hashem has compassion on him and waits until the baby has gained some strength. And, just as Hashem has compassion on mankind, so He has compassion on animals, as it is written (Vayikra 22:27), “When an ox or a sheep or a goat is born, it shall remain under its mother for seven days.” Further, it is written (Vayikra 22:28), “An ox or a sheep, you may not slaughter it and its offspring on the same day.” And, just as Hashem has compassion on animals, so He has compassion on birds, as we read here, “Send away the mother and take the young for yourself.”
Why is a halachah regarding brit milah mentioned here? R’ Yitzchak Ze’ev Yadler z”l (1843-1917; Yerushalayim) explains: Since the midrash is going to expound at length on the mitzvah of sending away the mother bird before taking her offspring, the midrash wanted to open by mentioning Hashem’s compassion on humans, i.e., that He instructs us to wait until the baby gains some strength before circumcising him.
Why is the midrash uncertain whether a boy who was born circumcised requires further circumcision? R’ Yadler explains that the inquiry is whether the purpose of brit milah is simply to remove the impurity of the orlah / foreskin–which this child does not have–or to perform an affirmative act to enter the covenant. The midrash answers that the latter is correct. (Tiferet Zion)
- “When you will go out to war against your enemies . . .” (21:10)
Because our parashah is always read during Elul, many chassidic and mussar works interpret our verse allegorically as referring to one’s battle against the yetzer hara. Below we present two elaborations in this vein:
The midrash Sifre comments: “Including against the Canaanites.”
R’ Yehoshua Horowitz z”l (1848-1912; the Dzikover Rebbe) writes about this: Our Sages teach that the more one humbles himself, the better. This is alluded to by the midrash, as the Hebrew word for “Canaanite” shares a root with the word “hachna’ah” (humbling oneself). In other words, a tool for fighting the yetzer hara is to humble oneself.
The Aramaic translation of our verse is: “When you will tepok (tav-peh-vav- kuf).” Notably, “tepok” has the same gematria as “shofar.” Kabbalists teach that the service that we perform through the shofar is accepted when one humbles oneself. Indeed, the angel that carries the sounds of the shofar to G-d’s throne, so-to-speak, is none other than Chanoch, the individual mentioned in Bereishit who entered Gan Eden alive. In his lifetime, Chanoch was a shoemaker, an occupation that deals with man’s lowest point. (Ateret Yeshuah)
All wars in which Bnei Yisrael engage fall into one of two categories: milchemet mitzvah / an obligatory war, i.e., to conquer Eretz Yisrael or a war of self-defense, and milchemet reshut / a voluntary war. The midrash Sifre states that our verse is referring to voluntary wars.
R’ Yerachmiel Eliyahu Botchko z”l (1888-1956; founder and rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Etz Chaim in Montreux, Switzerland) asks: How can the statement that our verse is referring to voluntary wars be reconciled with the widespread interpretation that our verse is also an allegory to the battle against the yetzer hara? Certainly fighting the yetzer hara is not voluntary!
R’ Botchko explains: In a battle, one may fight and win, one may fight and lose, or one may flee. Fighting is honorable, whether one wins or loses, while fleeing generally is not honorable. So it is with the battle against the yetzer hara. Our task is to fight relentlessly. This does not necessarily mean we will defeat the yetzer hara; indeed, that is not our responsibility. When man fights his yetzer hara with all his strength, G-d finishes the job.
This is alluded to in our verse: “When you will go out to war . . .” Your task is to “go out” and fight. What happens next is beyond your control.
Why is this called a “voluntary war”? Because the way to fight the yetzer hara is to build fences, i.e., to voluntarily limit consumption of even permitted pleasures, thereby sanctifying oneself. (Ohr Ha’yahadut)
The Talmud Yerushalmi (Makkot 2:6) teaches: Wisdom was asked, “What is the sinner’s punishment?” It answered, quoting Mishlei (13:21), “Evil pursues sinners.”
Prophecy was asked, “What is the sinner’s punishment?” It answered, quoting Yechezkel (18:4), “The soul that sins–it shall die.”
The Torah was asked, “What is the sinner’s punishment?” It answered, “Let him bring a guilt offering and receive atonement.”
G-d was asked, “What is the sinner’s punishment?” G-d replied, “Let him repent and receive atonement.” Thus it is written (Tehilim 25:8), “Hashem is good and upright; therefore, He guides sinners on the way,” i.e., He guides sinners to repent. [Until here from the Talmud Yerushalmi]
R’ Joseph B. Soloveitchik z”l (1903-1993) explains: How is it that Wisdom, Prophecy, and the Torah are not aware of the existence of teshuvah, a concept mentioned repeatedly in the Torah? Aren’t the books of the Prophets full of calls to repent? Moreover, how can Wisdom, Prophecy, and the Torah have a different outlook on sin than G-d Himself has?
A final question: After the sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe Rabbeinu told Bnei Yisrael (Shmot 32:30), “Perhaps I can obtain atonement for your sin.” “Perhaps,” but I am not certain! Why was Moshe himself unsure of the power of teshuvah?
R’ Soloveitchik answers: There are two ways in which teshuvah can be effective. Teshuvah can be accepted as a result of Midat Ha’rachamim / the Divine Attribute of Mercy. This is the teshuvah the prophets speak of extensively, and of which Wisdom, Prophecy, and the Torah certainly are aware. But teshuvah that is dependent upon Mercy might be accepted or it might not be; we are unable to fathom why G-d sometimes acts mercifully and other times does not. This is why Moshe Rabbeinu could only say, “*Perhaps* I can obtain atonement.”
But, there is a second way that teshuvah can be accepted– as a result of Midat Ha’din / the Divine Attribute of Justice. Sometimes, Justice demands that teshuvah be accepted. This idea is not found in the *Written* Torah; thus, Wisdom, Prophecy, and the Torah cannot fathom that Justice requires that a sinner be forgiven. To their way of thinking, a sinner should be punished or, at the very least, should have to pay for his sin with a guilt offering. [Next week we will explain why forgiveness should be a *right*.] (Divrei Ha’Rav p.119)
In coming issues we will discuss the common solutions to this dilemma. One of these is called “Otzar Bet Din,” literally, “Judicial Storehouse.”
What is Otzar Bet Din and how does it work? (The remainder of this article is paraphrased from Otzar Bet Din: Hilchotav Ve’halichotav, by R’ Yerucham Fishel Adler shlita.)
Otzar Bet Din is mentioned in the Tosefta, a compilation of teachings dating to the first generation after the Mishnah was finalized in the second century. The earliest record of an Otzar Bet Din in modern times was in the shemittah of 5670 / 1909-10. Prior to that shemittah, a group of farmers came to a rabbinical court and announced that their fields were hereby declared hefker. Thereupon, the bet din took upon itself to gather the produce of the fields on behalf of city dwellers, hiring workers, including the fields’ original owners, as employees of the bet din to gather the produce and perform whatever other forms of work are permitted during the shemittah. In this way, the city dwellers obtained food while farmers earned a living.
How did (and does) this avoid violation of the shemittah? The Torah prohibits a landowner from locking or guarding his field and from performing certain tasks during shemittah such as plowing and planting. It also prohibits a person from harvesting in bulk and taking that harvest home. Under the Otzar Bet Din arrangement, none of these prohibitions is violated. The farmer does not lock or guard his field; to the contrary, he publicly declares it ownerless. He also does not perform any tasks in the field that are prohibited by Torah law; only those tasks whose purpose is exclusively to *preserve*, rather than to *develop*, the field are performed. Agricultural labor to *preserve* a field is permitted by Torah law during the shemittah. And, when the farmer harvests in bulk, he does not hoard the harvest; rather, he immediately turns it over to the bet din. In return, the bet din pays him a laborer’s wage plus his out-of-pocket expenses. He thereby earns a living; he does not, however, earn the profit that a successful farmer would expect to earn; thus, he is not considered to have impermissibly marketed the produce.
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