Everyday Obligations: Dr. Shula Laderman on Parashat Ki Teitzei


Parashat Ki Teitzei contains many positive and negative commandments governing the Israelites’ daily lives.

Dr. Shula Laderman, Lecturer in Judaism in the Arts at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, wonders why the Torah stresses the importance of returning lost property and being aware of overworked animals. How will paying attention to these rules impact our everyday moral lives?

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Parashat Ki-Teitzei contains many positive and negative mitzvot (precepts) designed to guide the Israelites along the right path, especially in regard to their relationships with their fellow men and women. Among all the mitzvot listed in this parasha there are two about which the Torah specifies “you must not remain indifferent” or “do not ignore it,”(Deut. 22:3, 4). Why does the Torah stress in a given commandment that one must not hide (hit’allem in Hebrew) and note specifically that one has to be aware of one’s surrounding and careful not to overlook things that happen around one’s daily life? What is the significance of such an emphasis?

The first time this phrase appears is in connection with the law about the restoration of lost property: “If you see your fellow‘s ox or sheep gone astray do not ignore it, you must take it back to your fellow. If your fellow does not live near you or you do not who he is you bring it home…” (Deut. 22:1-2). An Israelite is commanded not only to make an effort to return lost property to its owner but also to be responsible for the animal until it is returned. The second time a similar  phrase is used concerns the aid one must extend to  his  fellow’s  animal when it is in distress: “If you see your fellow’s ass or ox fallen on the road do not ignore it; you must help him raise it” (Deut. 22:4). In both laws the Torah obligates one not to look the other way but to render whatever assistance is necessary in any given situation. The thrust of both of these laws reflects the need to look beyond oneself so as to be cognizant and sensitive to one’s surroundings, countering the natural human tendency to avoid becoming involved with others. Interestingly, in both cases the Torah refers to a caring attitude towards animals and yet the text  stresses that these animals belong to “ your fellow” using the Hebrew word “your brother” that appears six times in these two laws thus emphasizing the  rule  of “one must not hide” as a key principal of basic social education aiming to remove the natural tendency of people to be involved only with themselves or with their own immediate families.

Parashat Ki Teitzei

Painting by Avner Moriah

Avner Moriah’s painting for this parasha illustrates the law concerning the help that one must rendered when a fellow’s animal carrying a burden has collapsed and is lying in the road. The picture is divided into two registers. In both we see a bearded man clad in a striped gown. In the top register the man is turned toward an ass that has collapsed on the ground while carrying what is clearly a heavy burden. The ass is looking up and its mouth is open in a cry for help. There are three hills painted bright red in the background, a most unnatural color for mountains or hills. Perhaps the artist wanted suggest that a man turning back to help an animal in distress is also unnatural.

The lower register shows the same man and the same ass but here the man is walking ahead. having unburdened the animal by taking the heavy load on his own back so it was able to get back on its feet.

Here, too, the hills in the background are painted red, in an even darker shade, so unnatural to the realistic surroundings but very fitting to the notion of changing man’s nature to make him sensitive and caring, so that the obligation to not remain indifferent will turn into a voluntary desire for a social order that fulfills the precept of  ”love your fellow as yourself “ (Lev. 29:28)