Torah and yad (Torah pointer) (Photo by Alexander Smolianitski)
The Curse and Death on a Tree
This Torah portion is a very practical compilation of teachings that squarely deals with most real-life situations: from inheritance rights of the firstborn to how to deal with stubborn, rebellious children; from returning lost objects to their owner to building safety fences around the roof of a home in order to prevent loss of life; from protection of the living to how to treat the body of the deceased.
The ethical treatment of a corpse extends to criminals hung on a tree after being convicted of a capital offense. They have to be taken down and buried on the same day. Bodies could not be left overnight, since anyone hung on a tree is considered cursed by God.
“If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and you hang him on a tree [וְתָלִ֥יתָ אֹתֹ֖ו עַל־עֵֽץ], his corpse shall not remain on the tree overnight. You must bury it the same day; anyone who is hanged is a curse of God.” (Deuteronomy 21:22–23)
The Hebrew word for tree is etz (עֵץ); the phrase “hang him on a tree” refers to death as a result of hanging on a tree or to displaying a corpse on a tree after his execution.
This is at least partly why a rich man named Joseph asked to take down the body of Yeshua (Jesus) from the execution stake.
“As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Yeshua. Going to Pilate, he asked for Yeshua’s body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock.” (Matthew 27:57–60)
The Burial of Messiah, by Titian
But Yeshua wasn’t guilty of a capital offense, so why was he put to death on a tree?
According to Jewish priestly legal interpretation found in the halakhah (literally, the way) the one who is guilty of treason or blasphemy would be hung to death on a tree in full display before the people he has betrayed and the God he has blasphemed. This interpretation of Deuteronomy 21:22–23 is found in early Aramaic translations of the Bible and rabbinical literature.
The Jewish leaders, therefore, saw Yeshua’s hanging as “proof” that He blasphemed the Lord by claiming to be the Messiah; in their interpretation, no true Messiah would hang on a tree and become a curse of God.
However, this Torah portion helps us see how Yeshua took the full measure of the curse on our behalf by hanging on a tree.
“Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah), who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:13–14)
There on the tree, Yeshua took on Himself the curse that was meant for us, accepting the penalty for our sins and experiencing for the first time what it felt like to be separated from God because of transgression.
This is what the Prophet Isaiah referred to when he wrote:
“Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4–5)
Paul, a former Pharisee, also referred to the curse when he wrote:
“Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.’” (Galatians 3:13)
There on the tree, Yeshua took all of our curses so that we could experience His blessings. Those who follow Yeshua are no longer alienated from God but have His laws inscribed on their hearts.
Women’s section at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.
Holiness and the Laws of God
Having the laws of God written on our hearts means that God’s character and nature are known to us in a very personal way—not through external laws on stone tablets, but internally in our very souls.
That does not mean we can turn our backs on the Torah, which helps us to better understand holiness and God’s very nature.
We see in this Parasha that sin has a very heavy cost. For instance, while the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) commands us to honor our parents, this portion specifies that sustained disobedience to parents is a capital offense.
The punishment for breaking this law was never carried out in Israel, but became more of an ideal law that emphasized the respect of parents. Do notice, however, that this law seems to describe a son who is a grown man, which indicates that Adonai holds we are never too old to revere our parents.
A Jewish family on Erev Shabbat
As we read this Torah portion, we see that God is concerned with holiness, compassion, and justice. For instance, escaped slaves seeking refuge were not to be turned back over to their masters but were to be given a place of refuge.
God not only cares about the dignity of slaves, He even cares about the birds He created, saying:
“If, while walking along, you come across a bird’s nest with young birds or eggs in it, in any tree or on the ground, and the mother bird is sitting on them, you shall not take away the mother bird along with her brood. You must let the mother go, taking only her brood, in order that you shall prosper and have a long life.” (Deuteronomy 22:6–7)
Yeshua tells us that if our Heavenly Father cares and provides for the birds of the air, then we can rest assured in knowing that He will provide for our needs also.
“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26)
A Tristram’s Starling feeds from the hand of a visitor at Masada, which overlooks the Dead Sea in the Judean Desert.
The ethical and moral laws provided in Parasha Ki Tetze cover several instances of marriage. Among them is the case of a woman whose second husband has died or divorced her.
This Parasha states that her first husband cannot remarry her (Deuteronomy 24:4).
Another instance of marriage is the levirate marriage (yibbum). If a man dies leaving a childless widow, the man’s brother has the responsibility of marrying the widow in order to continue his brother’s line so that the deceased can inherit through the levirate son his share in the inheritance of property.
This Parasha also outlines the prohibition of a son marrying his father’s former wife, as well as other violations of marriage law.
The laws in Ki Tetze also include paying workers promptly, and allowing those who work for you to eat while they work (not muzzling the ox).
As well, those lending money to a fellow Jew were forbidden from charging interest on their loan.
An Orthodox Jewish father and mother stroll in Jerusalem.
Ki Tetze continues to be relevant in our world today.
Although in our modern society, transgenderism and cross-dressing is becoming more accepted and common, the Torah clearly states that those who practice such acts are an abomination to God:
“A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing; for anyone who does such things is an abomination to the LORD, your God.” (Deuteronomy 22:5)
There seems to be so much confusion in our day with regards to gender and sexual identity; it is good to have the solid rock of God’s Word to show us where to stand on these controversial issues.
A father walks with his sons in Jerusalem
Despite what some believe, women are traditionally well treated in Judaism. Even a foreign captive woman was to be given respect—including time to mourn the loss of her parents.
The law ensures her dignity and provides for her ethical treatment and legal protection.
“If you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife.” (Deuteronomy 21:11–13)
If the Israelite man decides that he no longer wants her as his wife, he must allow her to go free and cannot sell her as a slave to another.
These verses about captive women segue to the unloved wife and the firstborn son. In a multiple wife situation, a man’s firstborn son born of the unloved wife must receive his inheritance of the double portion. In other words, the father may not give his birthright to the son of the loved wife.
An Israeli child smells Sea Daffodil. (Go Israel photo)
Israel’s Double Portion
The verses in this Torah portion about inheritance and victory in warfare bring to mind the final end-time battle. According to Rabbinic Judaism, the Messiah (Mashiach) will wage war against the enemies of Israel and succeed in battle.
We know that a day is coming when all nations will gather to battle against Israel; but Yeshua the Messiah will fight for Israel and gain the victory. All the spoils of the nations will come into the hands of the people of Israel.
In that day, we will receive back all that the enemy has stolen from us. God will restore the years that the swarming locusts have devoured (Joel 2:25); and we will receive a double portion in our land. Halleluyah!
“Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours.” (Isaiah 61:7)