24-5768: Mitzvah N-23-24-25-26

Talmidav Shel Aharon

24-5768: Mitzvah N-23-24-25-26

April 28, 2008

Negative Mitzvah 23 – This is a negative commandment: Do not entice a Jew to worship an idol.

Hafetz Hayim: For Scripture says, “If your brother… entices you secretly, saying, “Let us go and serve other gods” … Then all Israel shall hear and shall fear, and shall never again do any such wickedness as this.” (Deut. 13:7,12). If anyone entices a Jew to worship idols , whether he entices him speaking in the plural or in the singular, he is to be stoned to death, even if neither the entices nor the enticed person worshipped any idols. – but [he deserves death] only because he instructed him to worship An enticer needs no prior warning to warrant the death penalty. It is in force everywhere and at all times for both men and women.

Negative Mitzvah 24 – This is a negative commandment: Pay no attention to one who entices you to worship idols.

Hafetz Hayim: For Scripture says, “You shall not befriend him.” (Deut. 13:9).

Negative Mitzvah 25 – This is a negative commandment: You shall not quit hating the enticer

Hafetz Hayim: For Scripture says, “neither shall you listen to him.” (Deut. 13:9).

Negative Mitzvah 26 – This is a negative commandment: Do not rescue the enticer from danger.

Hafetz Hayim: For Scripture says, “nor shall your eye pity him.” (Deut. 13:9).

The Torah starts in a difficult position. Israelites are about to enter a new land that has been promised to their ancestors. The problem is that it is filled with idolaters. Many of these will be killed in the conquest. Some will flee the invading Israelite army. Some will join with the invaders and become a part of the religion of Israel. But there will be some who will stay and in their own personal way, continue to worship the traditional idols of the area. Remember, idols were particular to a neighborhood. One worshiped the local gods who knew the specific needs of those who lived there. These secret idolaters are good people; they work hard and try to earn a living for themselves and their families. Maybe they do better than others and the local Israelites ask what is the secret to his success. Maybe there is a drought, or a flood, or a fire or blight and the Israelites wonder why things have turned bad. What is a secret idolater to do? He calls aside a trusted friend and confides that the local gods are angry with the Israelites and if they just go up that mountain over there and put a small offering on the large rock under the tree, things will get better. Nobody has to know.

In many ways it is like sharing gardening tips with your neighbors except that these tips involve corrupting your religion. It means having to make a choice between being faithful or being successful. Judaism knows that this kind of a choice will undermine all that our faith stands for. It takes our reason and laws and begins the slow slide into superstition and magic.

Now we can understand why there can be no compromise with pagans. Their faith needs to be removed from the land and we must not show them any pity. For they sit in waiting for our faith to falter and then they begin to creep in and cause us to question what we believe. This is not the same as living in an open society and letting each one practice what they believe, this is about an insidious undermining of what Judaism stands for.

The list of negative commandments appears to be strong and the punishments are strict. Even if we agree that the death penalty is no longer in use in Judaism, it still creates a strong wall of separation that can not be crossed even if want to treat the pagan as a human being.

I prefer to see this entire series as a reminder that we can not let even the slightest trace of other gods into the realm of true religion. It is not so much about how we treat one who would entice us away from our faith, but about how strong we must be in the face of religions that have as their only good point the fact that they are part of a majority culture. Is paganism a majority culture today? Well, let’s just say that “American Idol” would not be the same show if it was about a competition to find the greatest educator or the finest poet. Perhaps these laws remind us that just because someone declares “This is your god!” doesn’t make them anything other than a call to suspend our logic and our power of reason. These are hard lessons for the human psyche. We must not give even a toehold to those who preach magic and superstition. Don’t have pity on them, just walk away.

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