Ki Tetze: Fitting the Puzzle Pieces Together
On Cape Cod, this past summer, I finally did an activity, members of my family have enjoyed for years: Escape Room. Escape Room is an inter-personal, cooperative activity in which players solve clues to unlock the door to a room in which they are situated (hence ‘escape’ room). The game is kind of like a puzzle, except that the puzzle pieces are objects or props, which often need to be discovered and place in designated locations throughout the room. When all the clues in the room are revealed the ‘puzzle’ is solved and the door opens. Sometimes, the room opens to a second room, with a fresh set of clues and props to consider. Whether the game involves one room or multiple rooms, solving the last clue leads to opening of the final door-and victory. The activity, however, has a time limitation. If the game exceeds the time limit, the players lose.
As Escape Room venues offer a number of themes; the Room we selected focused on the world of dragons. What makes the game so unique is its non-competitive nature; all the participants in a specific room must work symbiotically to complete the puzzle. Ultimately everyone wins or everyone loses.
For me, Escape Room offered two main challenges. The first challenge was taking random props/objects and creating a puzzle. The second challenge was doing so collectively; knowing that being in sync was vital to our success.
In considering the Torah portion of Ki Tetze, I thought about its general connection to the objectives of Escape Room. Ki Tetze is somewhat like a puzzle with random props needing to be fitted together. The portion includes a variety of random and miscellaneous laws, often unconnected: Marriage with a female captive, addressing a disobedient child, assisting injured animals, not mixing different types of seeds in the same field, committing adultery, excluded certain aliens from citizenship, asylum for escaped slaves, providing for the poor and providing honest weights and measures in business to name a few. Reading the entire portion at once can leave us feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about how the various laws fit together.
Whether addressing social, ritual, business or humanitarian concerns, together the laws will enable b’nai yisrael to fulfill all the conditions necessary for living as a secure nation. The challenge for the Jewish people was to fit all the pieces of legislation together, so that-collectively-they would enjoy a satisfying, secure and rewarding life. Just as in Escape Room, the objective was for every member of the community to pledge cooperation. Dismissing the regulations in Ki Tetze meant limiting the effectiveness of the nation to thrive as a united community. Separate, the laws of Ki Tetze were like random pieces of a puzzle; but when pieced together they created a nation.
Am Yisrael owes its collective longevity and success to our efforts in fitting the various pieces of Jewish experience together. My hope is that despite contemporary challenges to Jewish communal life, we will never abandon the puzzle.