BETWEEN US HUMANS – “Kee teytzey” Deut. 21-25 by Rabbi Baruch Cohon
This week’s reading will cover many principles of conduct between people, setting standards for how we can be expected to treat each other. From the respect toward a female war prisoner, to the care of the body of an executed criminal; from the fair treatment required for the child of an unloved wife, to the rule to pay a day laborer before the sun goes down; from the responsibility to return lost animals or articles to their owner, to the penalties for rape, and to the warning about keeping honest weights and measures to prevent cheating in business – and many more.
For this week, let’s select just two of these standards. Verse 5 of chapter 22 states: “A man’s clothes shall not be on a woman, and a man shall not wear a woman’s garment, because those who do so are an abomination to G-d.” Is this just a Politically Incorrect mitzvah? Now wait a minute. Consider local custom. I remember my Rebbe telling me about two villages facing each other in Israel. On one side of the road was a Hasidic community where the men wore 19th century type European shirts and trousers and the women wore long dresses. On the other side was an Eastern Sephardic village where the women wore pants and the men wore long desert robes. Was one or the other community violating this mitzvah? Of course not.
This prohibition really concerns sex roles. Clothing only dramatizes the issue. Judaism, from Torah times till today, values the family above much else. Confusing conduct within that structure can destroy the family, as we see happening too often now. What Moses reminded his people in this week’s reading is to maintain normal healthy relationships between men and women.
Even more applicable to our lives is the charge just before this, in verse 4: “Do not watch your brother’s donkey or ox falling down in the road and hide from them. Help him lift them up.” An overloaded animal, or a stalled car, the principle is the same. If it was yours, you would welcome help. You must do no less for your neighbor. And part of the principle is in the words “help him” – not just do it for him. Your neighbor should be right in there working with you, not leaving it to you. Whether it involves picking up a spilled load and putting it back on the vehicle, or sharing your hot-shot cable to restart his truck, don’t hide. Help. It’s a Mitzvah.