The Torah portion, or parasha, this week is Ki Teitzei and is found in Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19. This parasha is rich in reminders of mitzvot–religious obligations we perform that, in turn, bless God. In fact, over 70 mitzvot are named in this passage. Many of these mitzvot are actually righteous and just actions we do for others and not directly to God. For example, a person must return lost property to its owner and must help someone trying to raise a fallen animal. A person must shoo away the mother bird before taking eggs or chicks from her nest. The roof of a house must have a parapet or railing. Laws concerning rape are given. Jews may not take interest on loans made to fellow Jews. A person must fulfill his or her vows. Laws concerning collateral on loans are given. No one may oppress the powerless – poor laborers, strangers, widows, and orphans. A person may use or own only completely honest weights and measures.
Some mitzvot are things we do that relate primarily to our relationship with God, such as wearing a tallit, or prayer shawl, at morning services or reciting certain prayers. Other mitzvot relate primarily to how we treat others such as the ones listed in this week’s parasha. So, if the purpose of a mitzvah is to bless God, why are so many mitzvot directed toward our relationships with others? Are these mitzvot less important to God? Jewish tradition suggests that mitzvot that we perform in our relationships to others are also a way of blessing God, because all human beings are sacred and are part of God’s creation. When we take care of God’s creatures, (including animals as well as people) we are showing our respect for and understanding of God’s creation. In fact, relational mitzvot to others may be more important to God than religious mitzvot to God, because when we perform a religious mitzvah only God is blessed. When we perform a mitzvah for others, both God and God’s creation is blessed. This week, let us remember that our treatment of others is just as important to God, or more so, than our prayers and praises.