We must understand the paragraph divisions in Torah, which are inspired by the Spirit and preserved by Moses and the Jewish scribes (but discarded by the English translators), are key to help us understand what God is trying to tell us. He wants to be understood, and has provided these helps to aid us! We must also understand how the Spirit teaches through Torah by common theme.
Today is the 146th Sabbath of the triennial cycle: parashah (Torah portion) Ki Tiqrav /When you approach, Deu 20:10 – 21:9. Read Deu 20:10 – 21:9 at Bible Gateway, or Deu 20 and 21 from the Hebrew Bible in English.
Deu 20:10-18 ends with a parsha stumah, a weak paragraph division. The theme of this parsha is do not commit murder against enemies.
Deu 20:19-20 ends with a parsha p’tuchah, a strong paragraph division. The theme of this parsha is do not commit murder against enemies.
Deu 21:1-9 ends with a stumah. The theme of this parsha is atonement for unsolved bloodguiltiness.
This parashah continues the explanation of the 6th commandment, Do not commit murder, which was begun in last week’s parashah Karath /Cut off, Deu 19:1 – 20:9.
Deu 20:10-18 continues the explanation begun last time on what does and does not constitute murder during warfare.
- For the enemy city which accepts peace, the lives of every citizen are to be spared. If anyone is slain with the sword, then the Israelite has committed murder.
- For the enemy city which does not accept peace, the lives of the women and children are to be spared, and the men are to be slain. It is not murder in this case to slay the men, but if a woman or child is slain, then the Israelite has committed murder.
- The enemy cities of the seven nations of the Canaanites are not to be spared under any circumstance, man, woman, or child. It is not murder to destroy them, because the wickedness of their idolatry has called down judgment upon them.
The theme of this parsha is do not commit murder against enemies.
Deu 20:10-20 continues the explanation of what does and does not constitute murder during warfare. Trees which are used for food, if they are cut down, induces famine, which would bring death upon a district; thus, cutting down food trees during warfare constitutes murder. The theme of this parsha is do not commit murder against enemies.
This parsha ends with a p’tuchah and thus the strong paragraph begun in Deu 19:11. Every parsha in this section explains what constitutes murder in specific cases.
Deu 21:1-9 leaves the topic of warfare, but explains blood guilt in the case of an unsolved murder. This parsha forms a chiastic structure:
1A Deu 21:1 bloodguiltiness discovered;
1B Deu 21:2 the responsibility of the elders and judges;
1C Deu 21:3-4 the heifer and the valley that has not been worked;
CENTRAL AXIS Deu 21:5 YHVH has chosen the sons of Levi to settle the innocence and guiltiness of every controversy and assault;
2C Deu 21:6 the heifer and the valley that has not been worked;
2B Deu 21:7-8a the responsibility of the elders and judges;
2A Deu 21:8b-9 bloodguiltiness put away.
The theme of this parsha is atonement for unsolved bloodguiltiness.
The theme of parashah Ki Tiqrav is avoiding bloodguiltiness (do not murder).