Monday, August 2, 2010

Boundaries of Faith

Parashat Re’eh
27 Av 5770 / August 6 – 7, 2010
Dvarim 11:26 – 16:17

I was struck in this week’s parasha by the laws regarding a person that leads others astray versus a city that has already been led astray – aka, the Wayward City. The text states that if a person tries to lead you to worship another god (the enticer), you should immediately kill him. “Your hand shall be the first against him to kill him (verse 10).” In the case of a Wayward City, there is a more level-headed approach. “You shall seek out and investigate, and inquire well (verse 15).” In the case of the city, first be sure that the majority of people are serving another god, and then kill them all by sword and burn all their property and leave the site as a smoldering mound forever.

I know. This is a tough piece of Torah to swallow. The question that I would like to focus in on is how come the Torah specified taking time to investigate with the city scenario and not with the individual enticer? To me it seems like the Torah should state that in both cases there should be certainty before any punishment is doled out.

Here are some ideas that I have been thinking about:
1. The actual law, in the Rabbinic writing, is that in ALL cases there needs to be substantial investigation into the matter. And in fact, the person who has been enticed should not kill the enticer right away, rather the enticer should be taken in front of the Beit Din (Jewish Court of Law). Still, the literal reading of the text needs to be addressed!
2. A simple answer is that it makes sense that if you are being enticed, then you know it to be true and you should take immediate action. In a way, this created a form of “Neighborhood Watch”. We are all responsible for protecting the boundaries of our community beliefs. The problem, of course, is that this seems like a precursor to the Salem witch trials. A person’s life should not hang on the balance of another person’s limited perspective.
3. When you read the verses about the individual enticer, possible relationships are also listed out: a brother, or step brother, your son, daughter, wife, your step mother, or “your friend who is like your own soul.”! These are people that you would probably NEVER think are trying to lead you astray. Perhaps the Torah is telling us that when a person who we would least suspect is clearly trying to unravel our faith identity – we should act to protect ourselves even before we create excuses for them. At that point, it might already be too late.

Faith can be very delicate. It sways easily with each breeze of experience, impacted by every encounter. The teaching of the enticer reminds me that there are times when I should shout out and stand up for what I believe in. While the Wayward city might serve as a reminder that there are times when listening is needed before responding.     

Zvi Bellin


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