The Least of the Commandments

Some commandments of the Torah are weightier than others, but Yeshua teaches that a person should be scrupulous to observe even the least of the commandments.

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Ki Tetze

Regular Shabbat Readings

Read / Listen to these Portions

  • Ki Tetze (כי תצא | When you go forth)
  • Torah: Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19
  • Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1-10
  • Gospel: Matthew 24:29-42

Note: The regular readings are often interrupted with special readings on Jewish holidays, special Sabbaths, and Rosh Chodesh. Refer to the annual Torah Portion schedule for these special portions.

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Deuteronomy 21:10 | Female Captives
    • Deuteronomy 21:15 | The Right of the Firstborn
    • Deuteronomy 21:18 | Rebellious Children
    • Deuteronomy 21:22 | Miscellaneous Laws
    • Deuteronomy 22:13 | Laws concerning Sexual Relations
    • Deuteronomy 23:1 | Those Excluded from the Assembly
    • Deuteronomy 23:9 | Sanitary, Ritual, and Humanitarian Precepts
    • Deuteronomy 24:1 | Laws concerning Marriage and Divorce
    • Deuteronomy 24:5 | Miscellaneous Laws
    • Deuteronomy 25:5 | Levirate Marriage
    • Deuteronomy 25:11 | Various Commands
  • Prophets
    • Isaiah 54:1 | The Eternal Covenant of Peace

Portion Summary

Rabbi Meir said, There is a parable about this matter. To what can it be compared? It can be compared to two identical twin brothers. Both lived in a certain city. One was appointed king, and the other became a bandit. At the king's command they hanged the bandit. But everyone who saw him hanging there said, The king has been hung! Therefore the king issued a command and he was taken down. (b.Sanhedrin 46b)

"Don't make mountains out of molehills" means don't turn a trivial matter into a large concern. Yeshua seems to espouse a similar sentiment when He chastises the religious for scrupulously observing the small details of God's Law while ignoring the "weightier provisions of the Torah" (Matthew 23:23). Nevertheless, Yeshua taught His disciples to keep even the smallest of the Torah's commandments. He said, "Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:19).

Have you ever wondered what the "least of these commandments" is? According to the Talmud, one of the least of the commandments is Deuteronomy 22:6-7's admonition to drive away a wild bird from her nest before taking her young:

If you happen to come upon a bird's nest along the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, and the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young; you shall certainly let the mother go, but the young you may take for yourself, in order that it may be well with you and that you may prolong your days. (Deuteronomy 22:6-7)

The Talmud points out that, although the commandment of driving away the mother bird is the least of the commandments, it carries the same reward as the weighty commandment of honoring one's father and mother:

Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, that your days may be prolonged and that it may go well with you on the land which the LORD your God gives you. (Deuteronomy 5:16)

In his famous work The Guide to the Perplexed, Maimonides (Rambam) explains that the commandment to drive the wild mother bird away before taking the young from the nest is an act of mercy. It would pain the mother bird to see her offspring taken. By driving her away before taking her young, we reduce her suffering. If God so cares for the emotional pain of a simple bird, how much more so should we show compassion to all of his creatures, especially our fellow man.

If Maimonides is correct, the law of driving away the wild bird is a commandment to show mercy and kindness to all God's creatures, to exercise compassion and empathy and to do our best to alleviate the suffering and emotional pain of others.

In that case, it's not a small commandment at all. Instead, it belongs to a category of laws that Yeshua called the "weightier provisions of the Torah" (Matthew 23:23).

Adapted From: Torah Club Commentary Set: Unrolling the Scroll. Learn more about Torah Club and how you can start a Club of your own, or join a Torah Club in your area. Visit TORAHCLUB.ORG

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