Forbidden marriages, not taking interest from a Jew, and the destruction of Amalek. These three Mitzvot follow an apparent pattern found throughout Parashat Ki Teitzei—the 74 Mitzvot in the Parashah seem to have nothing to do with each other. This begs one of my favorite questions on Tanach: “why is this here? It seems so random!”
Thankfully, Rav Menachem Liebtag answers this question with an explanation based on the teachings of Rav David Zvi Hoffmann. Rav Liebtag explains that the Aseret HaDibrot (the Ten Commandments) found in Parashat VaEtchanan lay a framework to which the other Mitzvot in Sefer Devarim correspond. Rav Liebtag goes on to divide the Ten Commandments into two sections: The first two Dibrot deal with issues of Emunah (faith), Ahavat Hashem, and prohibitions against Avodah Zarah; the last eight Dibrot outline the way that Bnei Yisrael will practically approach their lives in Eretz Yisrael. Upon further analysis, it becomes clear that the Mitzvot in Sefer Devarim fit into this framework. That is to say, the Aseret HaDibrot form broad categories under which each of the mitzvot in Devarim can be categorized.
The first two Dibrot, which speak about the requirement to believe in God and a prohibition to engage in idol worship clearly correspond to a clear-cut deal between Bnei Yisrael and Hashem: if Bnei Yisrael will listen to God’s commandments, and thus ignore the ungodly influences of the seven nations in the land of Kena’an, Hashem will give them Eretz Yisrael (Devarim 11:22-23).
The next eight Dibrot speak of the practical realities that Bnei Yisrael will encounter when they enter the Land of Israel. The third Dibrah, the prohibition against using God’s name in vain, corresponds to Perakim 12-14, which regard the conduct in the Beit HaMikdash, including the positive commandment to bring Korbanot at the place “Asher Yivchar Hashem … LaSum Et Shemo Sham,” “Where Hashem chooses . . . to place His name” (Devarim 12:5). Just as it is important to use God’s name correctly (in His Beit HaMikdash) as He chooses, it is similarly imperative not to use God’s name in the incorrect way.
The fourth Dibrah, the Mitzvah of Shabbat, corresponds to Perakim 15-16. While Shabbat involves resting on the seventh day, Shemittah (the topic of Perek 15) is the Shabbat of the land: resting during the seventh year. Moreover, the significance of the number seven appears with regards to the Shalosh Regalim (found in Perek 16): Sukkot and Pesach are each celebrated for seven days, and the Sefirah period between Pesach and Shavuot is seven weeks.
The fifth Dibrah, Kibud Av VaEim, parallels 16:18-18:22, which talk about respecting the nation’s “parents”: The Navi, the king, the Kohen, and the Shofeit. This passage also explains the negative aspects of these leaders, like what to do when a false prophet does not act appropriately.
The end of Parashat Shoftim and the entirety of Parashat Ki Teitzei address the sixth, seventh, and eighth Dibrot. The sixth Dibrah, Lo Tirtzach, is analogous to the vast majority of the Mitzvot presented in Perakim 19-21. For example, the laws regarding conduct of war, the obligation to kill a Ben Sorer UMoreh, and the mitzvah of putting a fence around a flat roof are all commanded to provide a “spiritually healthy” outlet to apply Lo Tirtzach to our daily lives.
Lo Tin’af, the prohibition to engage in adultery, parallels the passage in 22:10-23:19, which covers the laws regarding forbidden relationships, while Lo Tignov, the prohibition against stealing, is also paralleled in 23:20-26 with the laws regarding taking interest and stealing produce from a neighbor’s field.
Lo Ta’anaeh VeRei’acha Eid Shaker, the prohibition against bearing false witness, could parallel 19:15-21, with the laws of conduct regarding Eidim Zomemim, witnesses who conspire to kill someone. Additionally, Lo Tachmod, which prohibits coveting, can be compared divorce laws. Included in the Isur of Lo Tachmod is the prohibition to covet a friend’s wife. Divorce is a very likely outcome if a person takes his coveting too far, and causes his neighbor’s marriage to be unhappy, and thus end.
Rav Liebtag explains that the parallel of the Aseret HaDibrot and the Mitzvot presented in Sefer Devarim teach that the aspects of Matan Torah, which may seem to be an antiquated or only found in abnormal situations, are applicable even to everyday life. For example, one must apply the commandment not to steal by using money in morally correct ways, such as not charging interest to a fellow Jew. Moreover, a Jew must correctly apply the commandment of Lo Tirtzach by killing people in a manner sanctioned by God, such as the execution of a wayward and rebellious son. Each Dibrah represents an overarching concept that can be applied practically by accomplishment of more specific Mitzvot; the Aseret HaDibrot just lay the framework for the Mitzvot, and one must go above and beyond observing the Dibrot to live a fulfilling Torah lifestyle.