This parsha has the most mitzvot in it than any other Parsha in the Torah. The first law is the law of the captured beautiful woman who is not Jewish and is forced to convert if the Jewish soldier desires her. She is required to make herself not so beautiful and to cry for her father and mother for a full month. This denotes her separation from her parents. The Ramban emphasizes that the separation is really more than just from her parents, it is from her former religion and homeland, which she will be leaving forever. The difficulty in conversion is not just embracing the new religion and all its laws and restrictions; it is also the strength necessary to cut ties to a former religion and reject a non-Jewish culture.
In the story about the expulsion of Yishmael from the house of Avraham, Hagar and the lad were in the desert and Yishmael was in a serious compromised state of health. Hashem saves the boy by presenting a well to give them water. Rashi (on Breishit 21:17) states that Hashem is judging Yishmael on his current state and not based on what was going to happen in the future. The Midrash presents the dialogue between the angels who question God’s merciful judgement. The angels: How can You (Hashem) be merciful toward this child whose descendants will kill Your children? Hashem: What is he now, a righteous or evil person? Angels: Righteous. Hashem then decides on judgement on a person’s current state. Yet in our Parsha, the Torah tells us the story of the Wayward Child (21:18-21) whereby the Torah states this Wayward Child should be executed. Rashi comments that he is going to be judged for his future actions because the indication now is that he will be thoroughly evil in the future. These two cases, the one of Yishmael, and the one of the Wayward Child, seem to contradict each other. Some of the factors to bring out: one is that in Yishmael’s case it is his descendants who will be evil toward the Jewish people, not Yishmael himself. Secondly, in the case of the Wayward Child, his current activities create a seemingly inevitable future of evil activity.
In our parsha (22:8) the Torah states that we are required to make a fence around the flat roof of one’s house; otherwise you will be placing blood in your house when a person falls from it. The structure of the sentence almost states that the inevitable has occurred and we can draw the conclusion of the transgression’s terrible ending. Hence there is a distinction between the Wayward Child and Yishmael.
The Torah states that when it comes to harvesting olives, a person is not required to go on a ladder; he will have such an abundance of produce (with God’s blessing) that he will just have to stand on the ground and beat the branches with a stick and the olives will fall to the ground. “Do not remove all the splendor behind you.” The literal interpretation means: do not take off all the olives – leave some of them on the tree so that poor people can have some. Rabbeinu Bachya expounds on the Midrashic idea of not being over glorified and boasting of your financial status. When you give charity and help poor people, do not look for credit. Instead you should have an overwhelming feeling of thankfulness to Hashem that He has provided for you and you are able to be a giver and not a taker. Do not look for credit should be a message for many other mitzvot that we perform as well.
Shabbat Shalom שבת שלום.
Rabbi David Grossman