Parshat Ki Tetzei speaks largely about a lot of the laws which Moshe taught the people of Israel before his death. One of them is that men and women are required to dress differently so as to differentiate between them. This concept, not always accepted in Western society, is that men and women are inherently different, although equally important. Just as the artillery and infantry, the army and the navy, even the table and chair are equally valuable yet inherently different, so men and women from the Torah perspective are different and must be aware of this. A great example of this is in marriage. This is the vehicle that combines the uniqueness of men and women to create a full relationship, and a Jewish home built on strong foundations.
The parsha is filled with a list of laws that seemingly have no connection, but the Talmud connects them. The Torah tells us that Ammon and Moav are the only nations that are prohibited to ever marry into the Jewish people and gives two reasons to explain this harsh punishment. The first is that they did not show hospitality to the Jewish people in the desert. The second is that they hired Bilaam to curse them. The Torah sees Ammon and Moav’s failure to offer bread and water as a horrible sin because they inherited a natural tendency to hospitality from their ancestor, Lot. Ammon and Moav inherited this selfsame character trait and yet they deliberately acted against their nature and refused to offer bread and water to the Jewish people who were traveling through the desert and surely in need of the basic necessities. Even though hiring Bilaam to curse the Jews was objectively a far more damaging act, nonetheless, on their level of free will, the refusal to help the Jews is judged on the same level and is deserving of such a strong punishment.
We can learn from Ammon and Moav’s failure to utilize their natural strengths. First, we see that a person is judged according to his own free will and therefore is judged more stringently in his areas of strengths. The good trait of bringing people into their homes or feeding them in time of need, did not derive from significant effort of self-growth, rather it was an inborn trait that they inherited from their ancestor. Because their good trait was not directed by the Torah’s guidelines, it was almost inevitable that it would be misused or not used at all in certain circumstances. When Ammon and Moav saw the Jewish people coming, their natural instinct was surely to offer them bread and water, however their hatred and fear of Klal Yisrael overcame their trait of kindness and caused them to hold back from helping out in such a vitally needed situation.
If a person does not work on his natural strengths and align them with the requirements of the Torah then he will come to misuse them or not use them in the most effective way. For example, a person may be naturally friendly, but there may be occasions where he is tired and is unwilling to make the effort to befriend a stranger. In this case his natural trait is not strong enough to direct him in the right way because he is faced with something else, in this case tiredness that makes it hard to be friendly. If, however, he would try to be friendly because it is a great mitzvah to make people feel important, then he is far more likely to overcome his tiredness and make the effort to approach the other person. We see from here that a person can achieve great things by maximizing his strengths to their fullest, and failure to do so is treated severely.
Each person must use his strengths to the fullest. For example, a person blessed with the ability to speak in public should give lectures in public. We learn from Ammon and Moav how NOT to do the opposite of one’s strengths
Another commandment is to keep ones promise. If one were to make a vow or promise to Hashem, it is something that must be fulfilled. While there are ways in Jewish law to have these vows annulled, nevertheless, the intent when one makes the vow is that he or she plans on honoring it. Sadly, most people today speak with little or no regard for carrying out the words they say to someone else. It’s incredible just how often someone will say something about which he has absolutely no intention of following through. Also, since the Torah is a guidebook for living, how does keeping your word lead to having a fulfilling life? When someone keeps his word, he will actually experience a great amount of pleasure. The reason for this is that a person can only feel good about himself when he makes good choices. Making poor choices will inevitably give a person a low self-image, whereby making positive and healthy choices will make him feel great about himself.
When you follow through with the simplest of declarations, like “I’ll be there at 8:00 p.m.,” it shows that you value your word and what you say is important to you. But the only way you’ll care about keeping your word is if you care about yourself. And the reverse is just as true. The more you keep your word, the better you’ll feel about yourself. This is actually self-esteem math; it works every time.
In these few weeks left before Rosh Hashana, the day the entire world stands before G-d and it is then determined what kind of year each and every one in the world will have, we should strengthen our good traits and work on those in which we are weak. May we all enter the New Year with the ability to rise above what is difficult and see only the good. May Hashem grant us all the courage and the strength to go in the right path forever.