A Tidbit of Torah – Parshat Re’eh 5783
If there appears among you a prophet… saying, “Let us follow and worship another god”… do not heed the words of that prophet… he shall be put to death; for he urged disloyalty to the Lord your God… If your brother… or your closest friend entices you in secret, saying, “Come let us worship other gods”… do not assent or give heed to him. Show him no pity or compassion… If you hear it said, of one of the towns that the Lord your God is giving you to dwell in, that some scoundrels from among you have gone and subverted the inhabitants of their town, saying, “Come let us worship other gods”… it shall remain an everlasting ruin, never to be rebuilt… D’varim / Deuteronomy 13:2-18 (Excerpted)
After Moshe adjures the Israelites to worship God only in the ways designated within the Torah, Moshe turns his focus to those who would urge their fellow Israelites to go astray presenting three scenarios in which this might occur. The first is that of a public proposal to worship other deities made by an individual who claims prophetic authority and thus maintains that he should be heeded. The second is the private encouragement to go astray made by a family member or friend who exercises the power of relationship to influence decision-making. Finally, the text presents the instance of an entire town going astray and the influencing of the members of that community.
To fully appreciate the Torah’s adamant opposition to, and punishment of, those who advocated “following and worshipping another god” it is essential that one understand this section within the context of the Ancient Near East and Israel’s unique relationship with God. Language similar to that of our Torah portion, including use of the idiom, “to walk after” occurs in various treaties as an expression of loyalty to the king; to not do so was seen as an act of treason. Given the Torah’s premise that God is the ultimate monarch to whom the Israelites owe undivided loyalty, not following God’s ways and worshipping other gods was therefore an act of treason against the Holy One. Urging someone to engage in such apostasy is the religious equivalent of sedition. Such activity endangers the entire relationship with God and threatens to unravel the fabric of Israelite society.
The Torah recognizes the existential threat to the nation posed by advocates of sedition, the insidious influence that such voices possess, and their facility in warping truth to serve their ends, and the willingness to put forth ideas at variance with the true historical experience of the people imperiling thereby the unique relationship with God forged in the exodus from Egypt and affirmed in the covenantal moment at Sinai. Moshe implores the Israelites before him and future generations of the Jewish people to stay focused on their essential unifying elements and the ultimate and divine mission in which they are engaged.
Rabbi David M. Eligberg
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