The Sefer HaChinuch identifies eighty four commandments in this parsha. We will choose to focus on some of them in this synopsis and analysis.
FIRST ALIYAH-This Aliyah begins with a description of the ‘Yefat Toar’ situation concerning the soldier who in the course of his service in battle captures a heathen woman whom he desires. Recognizing the temptations of soldiers, the Torah provides a list of protocols of how to deal with this woman, who goes through several gradations of humiliation in order to persuade the soldier to allow her to return to her nation and religion. Failing to return her home, he marries her, and their life together is anything but happy, as he cannot discriminate against her children in terms of inheritance. Further, the rabbis of the Talmud relate that the child of this type of relationship can be identified with the Ben Sorer Umoreh, the rebellious teenager who defies his parents, and leads a life of wanton behaviour. While the rabbis of the Talmud declare that such a child never existed, the lessons that can be learned from this theoretical exercise can be very telling. What value systems do the parties involved in these issues espouse? Is there uniformity in how to raise a child?
SECOND ALIYAH- The prohibition of failing to bury the deceased as quickly as possible is derived from the necessity of the community to look after the remains of one who has been executed by the court. All are created in the image of G-d, and that image must be respected even at the end of life. Consequently, cremation is forbidden by Jewish law.
Not only are we to treat people with respect at the end of life, we are equally commanded to follow proper protocol in protecting lost animals by returning them to their owners. We are also reminded that we should return lost objects to their rightful owners. The Rambam states that implied in the mitzvah of the return of lost objects is the responsibility of doctors to return their patients to their health. Respect of the other is also reflected in the prohibition against cross dressing which is seen as the Torah as an avenue to promiscuity.
Finally, this Aliyah discusses the mitzvah of Shiluach Haken, referring to the obligation to send away the mother bird in order to retrieve the chicks. One who perform the mitzvah correctly is given the special blessing of long life. The Ramban indicates that this mitzvah is symbolically designed to militate against cruelty in general, and not simply as a prohibition of cruelty to lower creatures and birds. This mitzvah, in addition to the requirement to honour one’s parents, are the only commandments in the Torah that include a reward for their proper fulfillment. The Ramban then adds a corollary to this discussion, in which he points out that the commandments in general are designed to purify the individual, to distance him from impure thoughts and philosophies, to know Hashem, and to recognize the miracles and wonders that G-d has created.
THIRD ALIYAH- Protecting people on private property from injury or worse is addressed by the Torah at the beginning of this Aliyah. One must build a parapet around the perimeter of one’s flat roof, in order to prevent someone from falling off of it.
The Torah then continues with laws prohibiting certain mixtures, wool and linen, the planting of grapes and wheat, the use of an ox and a donkey to plow together. One of the explanations posited regarding all of the above centers around the idea that such mixtures violate the laws of nature, corresponding to what the Torah at the beginning of Genesis refers to as ‘Le-minehu:” each according to its own species. Notwithstanding the restrictions against Shaatnez, there is a requirement to attach fringes to the four corners of one’s garment, even if Shaatnez occurs.
Most of the Aliyah is dedicated to the discussion concerning betrothals, accusations, counter accusations in regard to the status of the woman involved in regard to her status, and as to whether she may be able to continue in a relationship with her betrothed or husband. Further, the Torah then describes the physical deformities that may prevent one from marrying into the Jewish community, as well as the religious barriers faced by those born to incestuous or adulterous relationships from marrying within the mainstream Jewish community. The purity of marriage lines within Judaism is to be preserved.
FOURTH ALIYAH- Proper sanitary facilities must be provided the soldier in the battlefield. The emphasis on the military camp as being holy The Ramban has no hesitation in identifying the temptations of the soldier, and also the tendency for said soldier to engage in less than salutary behaviour. Therefore, the military has to ensure the soldiers’ camp remains holy, and symbolically addresses that issue by insisting on proper protocols for managing one’s daily functions.
In a similar vein, the Torah emphasizes the need for all Jewish men and women that they are holy before G-d, and should not demean and diminish themselves by engaging in illicit sexual relations and activities. The Ramban declares that there is a community imperative to ensure that centers of immorality be closed by the Bet Din, which has the paramount responsibility to preserve the spiritual integrity of the Jewish people.
Paying or charging interest on loans is prohibited by Jewish law if these transactions are conducted by Jews. Usury has the capacity to harm the individuals concerned as it is compared to snakebite, which seemingly innocuous at first has the power to kill.
Our mouths are as holy as our bodies, and, therefore, the Torah warns us to fulfill our vows, or better, not to vow altogether. King Solomon in Kohelet writes, it is better to pay and not pledge, than to pledge and not pay.
FIFTH ALIYAH- Most of this Aliyah is dedicated to the issues of divorce and Jewish law. While the Torah does not identify clearly the grounds for divorce, the rabbis at the end of Tractate Gittin, discuss various scenarios that can lead to a marital breakup. Unlike betrothal which can take place through the giving of a ring by the fiancé to the fiancée, divorce can only come about with the writing and the giving of a document called the Get, which has to be specifically written for the woman in question. As the Torah mandates as a man betroths the woman, the man is the one who gives the Get, and not in reverse. Judaism recognizes the concept of the unilateral contract as it applies in this area of Jewish law. Unfortunately, the problem of the Agunah arises when the recalcitrant husband refuses to grant a Get to his wife. The RCA prenuptial agreement designed to prevent these issues from arising has aroused controversy in Halachic conclaves and discussions. Issues arise as to whether the signing of an RCA prenuptial agreement constitutes the giving of a coerced Get which is halachically invalid, or not. Can the state become involved in this matter, and declare that a civil divorce will not be granted unless a Get is given?
SIXTH ALIYAH- A number of laws are brought down in this Aliyah ranging from newly married husbands and military service, kidnapping, and the return of collaterals to those who are having trouble paying back their loans. Included as well is an admonition to be aware of the pitfalls of evil speech, resulting in tzaraat, mistranslated as leprosy. Miriam is given as an example as having suffered leprosy for having spoken about her brother, Moshe, questioning his separation from Tzipporah, his wife, in order to fulfill his prophetic responsibilities. The sentence referring to Miriam is part of the order of the Six Remembrances, statements beginning with the word, Zachor, to remember. Some recite this list every day at the conclusion of the Shacharit service.
SEVENTH ALIYAH- Numerous laws in this Aliyah abound in regard to proper judicial behaviour and the execution of justice. A great deal of discussion centers around the discussion of the levirate marriage, relating to the widow of a man who left no children, but a surviving brother. Yibum, or the levirate marriage must be performed, where the surviving brother marries the widow. Short of that, the ceremony of Chalitzah is performed where the levirate attachment of surviving brother to the widow is removed symbolically through her removing a special shoe from off of his foot, and her spitting in front of him to demonstrate that the Yavam, the surviving brother, will not marry her. Today, only Chalitzah is done.
The Chinuch traces the law of Yibum back to the biblical account of the creation of Chava after Adam, as being created from him. Therefore, husbands and wives are not simply married by law, but are spiritually part of each other, hoping to pass that spiritual connectedness to their children. In the absence of children, the widow marries the surviving brother in order to retain some of that spiritual connectedness. Interestingly, at this point, the Chinuch stops, and then writes that he cannot explain anymore the significance of Yibum leaving it to mystics to ask and explain the esoteric meaning behind Yibum.
The end of the parsha speaks of the need to ensure proper business practices in the Jewish community. Failure to abide by fiscal law, ethics and morals, can lead to the cohesiveness of a Jewish community, leading to attack by Amalekites. We are to remember what Amalek did to the people of Israel in the wilderness, attacking them without any provocation. We are told to remember to erase the memory of Amalek from underneath the heavens, and not to forget.