The musings of a previously unemployed Jewish Freemason. I write about the job search, about Judaism, and about Freemasonry.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Shoftim: Justice, Justice Shalt Thou Follow

In this week's Torah portion, Moses tells the Israelites to appoint judges, and tells the judges how they should judge cases. He tells them: "Justice, justice shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee." [Deuteronomy 16:20]. Editorially, I have taken this translation from the Jewish Publication Society's 1919 Bible, rather than the King James Bible, that I usually use for English translations. Why?

The King James Version says: "That which is altogether just shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee." The Hebrew line begins: "צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדֹּף" The repeat of the word tsedeq (justice) is important here. In the Torah, words are often repeated for emphasis, and the rabbis understand that a double word stresses something significant and worthy of commentary. The King James Version translators understand that tsedeq tsedeq means more than merely justice, but their translation, "that which is altogether just" seems deficient to me because the repeated word is important to the message.

The Promised Land is a place contingent on the pursuit of justice, and the later prophets will tell us that without justice, the Israelites have no claim on the land. All of the spiritual practices and observances, sacrifices and prayers are irrelevant without social justice in the land. Indeed, Isaiah says of this:
Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. [Isaiah 1: 14-18].
Here is the same plea to seek justice, but Isaiah points out that religious practices are detestable to the Lord when performed by people with blood on their hands.

Later in the passage, Moses explains how to judge a capital crime. A person cannot be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. The Torah says "At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death." [Deuteronomy 17: 6]. The rabbis of the Mishnah ask why two witnesses are mentioned, and then immediately afterwards, three witnesses are mentioned. Are two sufficient?

The rabbis are concerned about perjury in capital cases, and point out that three witnesses can counter the testimony of two witnesses, but also that two witnesses can counter the testimony of three witnesses. Indeed, the Mishnah points out that this language suggests that two witnesses can counter the testimony of a hundred witnesses.

Moses predicts that the people in the Promised Land are going to want a king, and when they do, the king should be chosen by God rather than by the people. Again, if you believe the Documentary Hypothesis, this is Biblical retcon, predicting the story of Samuel and Saul retroactively. There is a warning that the king should not be opulent; if he acquires too much gold, horses and palaces, he will distance himself too much from the people, and be unable to deal with common people justly.

In the Magnum Opus (Pike's older version of the Scottish Rite ritual),  in the 14th degree, Grand Elect Perfect and Sublime Mason, Pike's lecture of the degree points out that the kings failed in their moral authority, and that failure began with King Solomon:
Afterwards [after the Temple was built] this great King, renowned for his wisdom, and long the faithful servant of God, became deaf to the voice of duty; and, filled with haughty pride at the glory he had gained, vain of his great wealth, and intoxicated with flattery, he forgot the lessons which he had taught to others, multiplied the number of his wives and concubines, and gave himself up to shameless and indecent luxury; and, yielding to the blandishments of lascivious women, he built Temples to the Gods of other nations, and profanely offered up to them the incense which should have been offered to the True God alone, in the Holy of Holies of the Temple. [XIV: 11]
Pike goes on to suggest that the Grand Elect Perfect and Sublime Masons he perfected upon learning the lessons of the Royal Arch did not follow him into his moral decay, but kept Masonry alive, knowing that the Kings of Israel and Judah would fail, and knowing that exile was to follow. How those secrets were preserved and recovered in the Babylonian Captivity, in Masonic tradition, is a secret kept in the Chapter of Rose Croix in the Southern Jurisdiction of Scottish Rite Freemasonry, and in the Council of Princes of Jerusalem in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction. The whole legend as described in the Magnum Opus in the XIV chapter is worth reading. I would say that it is required knowledge for any Scottish Rite Mason who wants to understand the Scottish Rite version of the Royal Arch Legend.

Later in the Torah portion, comes another iteration of lex talionis: "And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot." [Deuteronomy 19: 20]. The Talmud is clear that lex talionis should be interpreted to mean "at most one life for one life, at most an eye for an eye, at most a tooth for a tooth, at most a hand for a hand, and at most a foot for a foot." Vengeance should not exceed the harm that was done. Also, the Talmud interprets these penalties to be tort penalties to be exacted monetarily rather than corporally. One should pay the penalty fees for damaging one eye if he damages one eye, etc.

In describing the warfare that is to come, the Torah invents the concept of compassionate leave. It dictates that a soldier who just built a house but has not yet moved in should not go into battle, but go home and enjoy that house rather than fight in a war. A man who is engaged to be married should wait until after his wedding (and consumnation) before going to war. Someone who has planted a vineyard that has not yet borne first fruits should stay home and tend his vineyard. A coward should be dismissed as not to dismay the soldiers who stay and fight.

An army should give the city permission to surrender peacefully before they attack the city. If the city refuses to surrender, the Torah (unfortunately) suggests that the army should put all the adult males to the sword, and take the women, children, livestock and riches as spoils.

During a siege, it is forbidden to kill a fruit-bearing tree. This shows a knowledge of peace after fighting since an orchard is the work of generations, and once destroyed is not easy to regain.

The final thing covered in this week's Torah portion is the corpse found in a city, where the murderer is never discovered. The people of the city must take a cow and take her to swiftly-flowing stream, break her neck, and the elders of the city should wash their hands in the waters around her dead body, expiating themselves from the crime.

In the apocryphal book of Tobit, Tobit insists on burying the corpses of the Israelites slain fighting Sennacherib. Later in the narrative, Tobit loses all of his property and is struck blind, but is healed and restored by the Archangel Raphael, who has been prompted to rescue Tobit by the intercession of the Grateful Dead, those whom Tobit buried. In 1966, Robert Hunter was looking to change the name of the band The Warlocks whom he was writing lyrics for, and chose The Grateful Dead from an anthropological essay about Tobit.

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