Parshat Ki Teitzei is full of diverse topics. According to Maimonides’ enumeration of the mitzvot, this parshah contains over seventy mitzvot, and several observations can be made regarding the connection between the various subjects in the parshah.

According to the Talmud, though it is disputed whether halachic inferences can generally be derived from the juxtaposition of two topics, all agree that in the book of Deuteronomy such inferences may be drawn.1 The reason for this is that Deuteronomy is full of repetition of material that is found earlier in the Torah. Because the reason for this repetition is not always clear, our sages provided us with this tool to help us identify distinctions between two otherwise identical passages or verses.

It is said that the Torah can be interpreted in seventy ways, and so many Torah fundamentals are derived by exegesis, often by expounding upon the juxtaposition of two sections. An examination of the various juxtaposition-based interpretations by our sages reveals that the laws derived by this kind of interpretation – particularly in the book of ­Deuteronomy – are very basic laws.

Juxtaposition can explain the reasons behind many laws. For example, why is the wayward and rebellious son punished with the death penalty, a punishment that seems overly severe? Our sages say, based on the juxtaposition of the section on the wayward and rebellious son to the section on those to be executed by the court, that “the wayward and rebellious son is condemned on account of his inevitable end:”2 He is punished when still a boy so that he should not commit more serious crimes in the future.

Another type of juxtaposition-based interpretation teaches us not only the reason behind the law, as in the case of the wayward and rebellious son, but the actual law itself. For example, the fact that one is liable to receive the punishment of lashes for violating a negative command (that has no associated positive command) is inferred from the juxtaposition of the section on lashes to the section of “Do not muzzle an ox when it is treading grain.”3

A much more basic type of interpretation is when there is juxtaposition within a section. In parshat Ki Teitzei, a basic law is derived from the juxtaposition of words in the Torah, as in our sages’ interpretation of the words, “she leaves…and becomes,”4 linking the woman’s marriage to another man with her divorce from her former husband.5

Thus, very basic laws are derived from the juxtaposition of sections. Still, in this parshah the combination of subjects is so puzzling that, according to Ibn Ezra, although many have already tried to find connections and links within the parshah, they succeeded only on the homiletical level.6 No one has been able to show how all the subjects in the parshah fit together.

Categories of Mitzvot

Parshat Ki Teitzei deals with both major categories of mitzvot: those between man and G‑d and those between man and his fellow man. From here, as well as from other places in the Torah, it appears that our most common method of categorizing mitzvot into groups is not a division that the Torah seems to follow.

The lack of this division is evident in the Torah in various ways. Not only is there no differentiation between mitzvot concerning the man-G‑d relationship and mitzvot concerning interpersonal relationships, but, most surprisingly, neither is there differentiation between major and minor matters, between major principles and mitzvot that seem supplementary or marginal. There are matters that we would categorize as basic principles, on which the world stands and, by contrast, there are matters that we would categorize as details. In the Torah, this type of distinction seems to have no place. Even within the Ten ­Commandments, major and minor precepts are, to a certain extent, equated. Prohibitions against idolatry, adultery, and murder, which are major doctrines, appear beside prohibitions such as “Do not covet”7 and “Do not take the Name of G‑d…in vain,”8 which, as serious as they are, are not often thought of as equal in severity to the former prohibitions.

Why is there no differentiation between categories of mitzvot? It seems clear that it is not the Torah’s purpose to present a system of laws to prevent people from eating each other alive. It is also clear that the Torah is not a book of remedies; that is not the basis on which the Torah stands. The fact that the diverse categories of mitzvot are mixed together in the Torah, and that we are unable to explain the sequence of the subjects, teaches us an essential lesson: If we are to receive the Torah, the only way is to accept it as it is. We can receive the Torah only if we accept it with all its various components, because the Torah itself does not differentiate between them or see any difference between them.

In this parshah, precisely because it is replete with various subjects and themes, it is possible to delve into the Torah’s essence. There are very few other places where there is such a mixture of major and minor precepts, more important and less important, daily matters and matters that arise once in a lifetime, as in this parshah. It teaches us that in the Torah there is no such thing as more important and less important mitzvot. The totality of all the mitzvot, in all the different areas, forms a kind of definition of the Torah’s essence. There is a bridge that stretches from here to G‑d – for the Jewish people, there is no other bridge (according to Maimonides, this applies to all the nations as well) – and this bridge goes through the Torah. The Torah is what connects man to G‑d. All other paths that man tries to find may seem acceptable, but they are flimsy. The wind carries them off; they are merely products of the imagination. A person can imagine that a path exists from here to there, but altogether only one path extends from our reality to G‑d, and that is the path of the Torah.

They Come From One Shepherd

The Torah contains several instances where the juxtaposition of sections is extraordinary and calls for interpretation. Toward the end of parshat Shoftim, the Torah details the mitzvah of destroying the Canaanite cities: “Of the cities of these nations, which G‑d your Lord is giving you for an inheritance, do not let a soul stay alive. You must wipe them out completely.”9 This is followed by a second mitzvah: “When you lay siege to a city and wage war against it a long time…You may eat of them but you must not cut them down. For the [existence of] man is the tree of the field.”10 The Canaanite city must be destroyed and all its inhabitants wiped out, but when one comes across a fruit tree, you must not harm it. This juxtaposition is very difficult to comprehend. The Torah seems to condone incredibly harsh actions when they are performed in the context of war. But cutting down a tree – that is where the Torah draws the line!

There is a whole list of mitzvot that present this difficulty. A siege is laid on a city “until it is subjugated,”11 and many people are killed in the war, yet in the very next verses, when a slain person is found and “the identity of the slayer is not known,”12 the members of the Sanhedrin perform an intricate ritual of measuring the distance to the nearest city, because they must atone for its residents.

On the one hand, we “do not take the mother along with her young,”13 and “do not muzzle an ox when it is treading grain,”14 where the Torah spares no detail in its concern for preventing the suffering of the ox; yet at the end of the parshah, after the command, “Fathers shall not be put to death because of sons, and sons shall not be put to death because of fathers,”15 we are commanded to obliterate the entire people of Amalek.

Thus, in order that donkeys should not be overworked, or so that birds should not see their young taken from them, the Torah institutes special laws in this parshah. There is concern for trees, donkeys, and sometimes even people, as in the case of taking a pledge upon giving a loan: “You shall not go to sleep holding his pledge.”16 Yet the same parshah in the Torah that is so merciful to animals is full of mitzvot commanding us to administer blows and lashes, and sometimes even to kill.

The upshot is that, in truth, it is far from simple to always give the Torah a friendly face, because the Torah contains many different aspects, sometimes ranging even to the extreme. One can fill an entire book with quotations from Tanach on how peace is a paramount value, but one can also write a book demonstrating just the opposite, filling it with quotations seemingly supporting the antithesis of peace. Instead of citing, “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares,”17 one can cite, “Beat your plowshares into swords.”18 The problem with both of these theoretical books is not that they would be inaccurate, but because they would be portraying the Torah as a product of only one aspect.

The parshah contains a small mitzvah that one generally does not have the opportunity to fulfill – the mitzvah of chasing away the mother bird before taking her eggs. The Talmud says of this mitzvah, “If one says, ‘Your mercies extend to a bird’s nest’…he is silenced.”19 One explanation for this prohibition is that “he makes the commands of The Holy One, Blessed Be He, simply acts of mercy, whereas they are merely decrees.”20 But what is wrong with saying that G‑d’s commands are rooted in mercy? Why must we insist that G‑d’s commands are “merely decrees,” a seemingly arbitrary system?

From here and from other places as well, we see that the Torah’s basic structure is not built on bringing people satisfaction. There are mitzvot in which one can experience spiritual exaltation, and there are mitzvot in which one cannot. It is hard to tell someone who is receiving forty lashes in court that he should be excited about fulfilling the mitzvah. One who says, “Your mercies extend to a bird’s nest” tries to show that the Torah is based on human logic, as though the Torah were a book of remedies or a guidebook for life, whose purpose is to teach people how to lead a proper life. But the truth is that G‑d’s commands are indeed merely decrees, and the only way for us to comprehend the Torah is as a bridge between us and G‑d.

The Work of G‑d

When one tries to define and reduce the Torah to one aspect, one is left with only part of the Torah, one that is essentially deficient. Usually, the intention is to give the Torah a human face, a face that can be comprehended in its totality and entirety. However, the Torah is the work of G‑d, and thus cannot truly be defined in such a way; it cannot be fashioned like a human face.

Sometimes, when one looks at the world, one’s immediate reaction is, “Why does everything go awry? Why are there so many problems?” If one were to build a machine to fulfill a certain function, one would surely strive to create an efficient product. In the world, however, everything goes awry. It is not clear, then, what the world’s purpose is and what function it fulfills.

The sequence of sections in the Torah teaches us that the world cannot be compared to a machine that a person might create. When a person builds a device, he does it in a way that he hopes will efficiently fulfill certain purposes. However, when G‑d creates something, He does not operate on a level that we can comprehend; He creates a unique structure that is built according to His own plans. When a human being attempts to study this structure, he will never be able to entirely understand it, regardless of the number of attempts he might make, and no matter how much he tries to learn how it works. One can live in the world, but there is a limit to one’s ability to change it. The Torah, too, is the work of G‑d, and all one can do is stand before it and gaze upon it.

The Kotzker Rebbe was once asked how he understands G‑d’s frequent mercilessness, and he answered with one sentence, “A G‑d who can be understood by anyone is not worth serving.” That is the essence of it. If one thoroughly understands G‑d and feels that he can make improvements on Him, then such a G‑d is no longer worth serving.

Our attempt to understand everything and create a unified and complete picture is an attempt to take G‑d, or at least the Torah, and make it a simplistic plaything, and that is precisely what the Torah forbids. The fact that some parashot seem to juxtapose disparate elements means that while each one of these elements can be understood on its own using a range of exegetical tools, one must always understand that the Torah is merely a bridge to G‑d. One end is here on earth and the other end is in heaven, and it is on this bridge that G‑d wants us to walk. If we do this, we will find that the other end of the bridge reaches to the highest heavens.