Ki Teitzei

Ki Teitzei (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19)

When you take the initiative in dealing with the unique challenges that your soul needs to confront, Be-ing who G-ds you places the challenge within your power… (Devarim 21:10).

The Or Gedalyahu reminds us of the teaching: without the Holy One’s help, no one would be able to overcome their challenges.  (B.T. Kiddushin 30b).

Everything that exists in the realm of time and space depends completely and at all times on the Ground of Be-ing that is beyond time and space.  As the Zohar teaches, if the artisan who fashions all the vessels would withdraw its presence for even a moment, the entire manifest display of all worlds and their contents would cease to exist.  Everything is dependent for its very existence on the unknowable and inconceivable Eyn Sof and nothing is capable of acting in a manner that is truly independent of divine agency.  Nevertheless, here within time and space each individual’s holy soul is slowly awakening, mysteriously evolving as each person plays its part in the sacred process of realizing and revealing the divinity that is concealed within manifestation.

In order for this process to unfold within time and space, humans have to gradually develop souls that have the capacity to consciously serve their divine source.  Toward that end, every being is confronted with challenges and obstacles in life which offer opportunities for evolving consciousness.  Among the most perplexing mysteries in a non-dual world are those challenging experiences that inevitably test our present limits

In the Torah, the paradigm for this essential element in the soul’s evolution is the secret of the Golden Calf.

The Children of Israel resorted to this constructed, external, dualistic image, when they were unable to deal with the challenge of the extended absence of Moshe, their direct link to Divine Presence.  What makes this moment so powerful is the fact that the souls of Israel had previously ascended to the ultimate experience in which I Am was revealed to them on Mt. Sinai.  They already knew the Only One through direct revelation.  So how could they fall back so far as to construct and worship a Golden Calf?  Indeed, the rabbis teach us: the truth is that Israel was not worthy of that act.  They only did it so that we would learn the practice of teshuvah.  (B.T., Avodah Zara 4a).

The great medieval French commentator, Rashi, notes here that the Israelites were by that time highly evolved. They were indeed capable of overcoming their inner challenges, but what happened occurred by divine decree.  In other words, even the most highly evolved souls undergo experiences that constitute serious, even overwhelming, challenges.  The more we evolve and gain greater knowledge of that One, the more we are graced by the presence of divine aid in our lives.  However, whenever we are ready for further evolution, that flow of divine aid is concealed and the soul finds itself in a situation where it is confronted by serious opposition.

From this paradigmatic experience of the Children of Israel, we learn the practice of teshuvah, the need and possibility of returning ourselves to alignment with our divine source and to the condition in which we can again receive directly the flow of divine aid.  In this way, we can continue to evolve as conscious agents of the One.

According to our sacred calendar, the Israelites did teshuvah for forty days: the entire month of Elul and the ten days of teshuvahfrom Rosh Ha-Shanah until Yom Kippur.  As a result, they were able to bring down a second Torah, written by Moshe’s own hand.  Paradoxically, this second Torah is even more evolved than the first, because it includes an “oral” Torah that is present in this world in proportion to the prayers and spiritual evolution of human beingsand not only as a divine gift.

The mystery of the power of teshuvah is hinted in the letters of the name of the month Elul, alef lamed vav lamed, which are the first letters of the verse, Ani Le-dodi Ve-dodi Li. (I go to my Beloved and my Beloved comes to me.) (Song of Songs 6:3).  Ani Le-dodi:  Through my teshuvah, prayer, and tzedakah (support of righteous causes) during the month of Elul, I make the effort to reach my Beloved.  Ve-dodi Li: and my Beloved comes to me on Rosh Ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur.

Thus, during Elul, the month of divine favor, we always read the parashah which begins When you take the initiative in dealing with the unique challenges which your soul needs to confront, Be-ing who G-ds you places the challenge within your power… (Devarim 21:10).

In this verse, the Torah uses the term, milchamah, which literally means “war,” but the sages have already taught us that the verse refers to the inner struggle that all souls must encounter in order to achieve integration.  In confronting our own challenges, which are unique to each person’s soul and experience, it is necessary to seize the initiative, to go out and deal consciously with these “enemies,” before they become too much for us.

The Holy Kohen, Rabbi Ya’akov Yosef of Polnoy, transmits a deep teaching in the name of the Ba’al Shem Tov concerning this “war.”  The Ba’al Shem Tov taught that there are essentially three possible responses whenever one is tested.  To illustrate this, he told the following story.

A king once wanted to test the faith and love of his subjects.  So he chose one of his closest servants, dressed him up as a great king and sent him out to declare war against his subjects.  When the servant appearing as king met the first group and declared war, they immediately prepared themselves for the battle. When he came to the second group, they said “Since he is such a great king, why should we fight?” Finally, the faux king traveled farther until he came to a town of sages.  The sages inquired deeply, until they were able to see through the disguise.  (Sefer Toledot Ya’aqov YosefVa-yaqhel, see Sefer Ba’al Shem Tov,Bereishit, 141).

The meaning is that serious challenges that confront us are essentially tests of our faith in the non-dual nature of reality and our love and devotion to the divine source.  Whenever we face these tests, there are basically three ways of responding.  The two conventional responses are either to be overwhelmed by the challenge and to capitulate without a fight or to attempt to combat the problem with the rigidity of “fight or flight” mode.  Although both of these conventional responses may be the best that we can do at certain stages in our development, neither will aid us very much in our conscious quest to further evolve. The third mode of dealing with such tests is the way of the wise, who have cultivated judges and executors (see previous parashah).  In this way, one neither avoids nor rushes into combat, but sees through and dissolves the shell of separation from Divine Presence with the gnostic eye of faith.

In viewing our problems in this way, the shell of opposition becomes transparent and we can see through the disguise that is concealing the divine spark from us at that moment.  From this more evolved perspective, we may now recognize the sparks of a deeper teaching shining through the shells of the letters at the beginning of our parashah.

When you break out of the conventional way of relating to your challenges as a war, Be-ing who G-ds you places Herself in your hands, and you can redeem the spark of Shekhinah that was held captive within your unique challenge.  (Devarim 21:10).

You will then be able to recognize the beauty of the Shekhinah even within her captivity and your passion will be aroused to liberate Her and merge with Her. (Devarim 21:11).

Invite Her into the depths of your soul, where she can reveal Her true nature and rid Herself of the fangs of judgment. (Devarim 21:12).

Once She has removed the disguise of Her captivity, let her dwell deep within you, arousing tears of teshuvah for the entire month of Elul, and then in the month of Tishri, you may fully merge with Her, in the way that consecrated lovers know they are One. (Devarim 21:13).

May we all be blessed to recognize our unique challenges

As opportunities to liberate sparks of Shekhinah.

May rescuing captive sparks become our passion.

May their liberation melt our Hearts

With holy tears of teshuvah for the whole month of Elul

That we may unite with our Beloved on Rosh Ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur.


Rabbi Moshe Aharon Ladizhyner
(aka Rabbi Miles Krassen)