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Home » Ki Tetze

Ki Tetze: Character Lessons

Submitted by on September 10, 2016 – 10:51 pmNo Comment | 2,935 views


When you hear the word abomination, which sin do you think of? Well we all know which one we think of, but that is not the only sin that the Torah calls an abomination. In fact, all carnal sins are characterized as such. It therefore comes as a surprise that the Torah uses the term abomination to describe three sins that are not of sexual proclivity and all in this week’s Torah reading.

The first is the prohibition against cross dressing. The second is against using a harlot’s fee as an offering to G-d. The third is against remarrying one’s wife after she married another.[1] What is the link between these three sins, why are they all in the same Torah reading and why are they abominable?

Character Lessons

We always read this section of the Torah during the month of Elul, the last month of the Hebrew calendar year. During this month, we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the new Jewish year, when G-d sits in judgement. We prepare by reflecting on the year past to note our weaknesses and strengths. We resolve to correct what we did wrong and strengthen what we did right.

There are two ways to approach this process of repentance. One is to focus on behavior. The other is to focus on character. The former is easier, the latter is more productive. It is much easier to change what we do than to change what we are, but so long as we don’t change our character we are likely to repeat our negative behavioral patterns. This is why changing our character, though a more arduous task, is the more effective way to effect change.

It follows that the most important task during this month is to improve our character traits. The three prohibitions mentioned above all focus on a primary area of character that requires improving.


Crossdressing is forbidden because it leads to promiscuity. If a man dresses like a woman he will reside among women, which leads to lewdness. Some might think that because they are of such sterling character, they are beyond reproach. They could be with the opposite gender as often as they like and even disguise themselves as such, sleep, eat and live among them and nothing untoward would occur.

This is baseless hubris and must be avoided. We pray each day, “lead us not into temptation.” No man is above it. No matter the esteem in which we are held, we are all susceptible to its charms.

Pride goeth before the fall and when it comes to repentance the first character traits to uproot are conceit, hubris and arrogance. An inflated belief in one’s own moral strength is folly. We ignore this at our own peril and risking such pitfalls is abominable.

Harlot’s Fee

G-d characterizes the use of a harlot’s fee for an offering, an abomination. The reference here is not to the act of harlotry. It is to the use of the fee generated by harlotry as an offering to G-d.

Offerings solidify and upgrade our relationship with G-d. The notion of using money generated by harlotry to bolster our relationship with G-d is reprehensible. Harlotry is despicable to G-d and forbidden. To flaunt such shameless transgression before G-d is audacious, and offensive. It is tantamount to saying that we see nothing wrong with harlotry and neither should G-d.

How can we bolster a relationship with G-d by parading our sins in His face? How can we expect to be accepted by G-d when we claim to know better than him? The answer is, we can’t. Insolence is a terrible character trait and if we want to repent, we need to work on that first. Because left unchecked, insolence is an abomination.

Sometimes the intention is not to taunt G-d, but to appease Him. The harlot commits a sin and then, feeling guilty, hopes to erase the sin by devoting its proceeds to G-d. We can’t buy our way out of sin. It doesn’t work that way. If we want to mend our fences with G-d, we need to acknowledge our guilt, regret our sin and resolve to never repeat it. We need to face the music and then we can repent.

The notion that we can throw the profits from sin into a charity box and thus absolve ourselves of guilt is an abomination. This attitude only leads to more sin because it bolsters an impression that sin is permissible so long as we pay the price. A small sins require small contributions, large sins require large contribution, but so long as we pay, our sin is forgivable.

It doesn’t work that way. Good deeds don’t erase bad deeds, only repentance does that. If we perform bad deed expecting it to be forgiven by the good deed we intend to perform later, the good deed itself becomes a bad deed, a crutch to our former bad deeds.

This leads to the character trait of permissiveness. Such traits lead to sin and left unchecked are an impediment to repentance. By calling it an abomination, the Torah warns us against such attitudes.


A couple may marry and divorce as often as they like, but not if the woman marries someone else in the interim. The notion of an open marriage, where both spouses agree to disrespect the marriage boundaries, is adulterous. A couple might find an easy solution to this problem. By divorcing, marrying another for a while and then remarrying their original spouses, they can permit the forbidden.

Adultery is an abomination, but technically, this isn’t adultery. Comes the Torah and forbids it, characterizing it as an abomination. The message is that any attempt at whitewashing sin with a creative legal loophole is abominable.

Using loopholes to indulge in immoral behavior leads to permissiveness. Before long we take the view that anything we want is permissible. This path doesn’t leads to G-d and cannot be countenanced if we want to repent. By calling it an abomination, the Torah warns us away from this path.

We now understand the link between these seemingly disparate subjects. We know why they are read in the month of Elul, why they are linked by appearing in the same Torah reading and why each of the three sins are abominable. Let us heed the hidden messages of these texts and return to G-d with a full heart. In turn, may He grant us a good and happy new year.

[1] Deuteronomy 22:5, 23:19 and 24:4. This essay is based on Dvar Moshe, commentary from Rabbi Moshe Feinstein on these verses.