Raboyseyee and Ladies,
We begin with a belated mazel tov to Alex Kaszovitz, the son of our friends Naomi and David Kaszovitz upon his recent engagement to Rivka Schlusselberg, she the beautiful daughter of Donny and Sharon Schlusselberg. We have known Alex since kindergarten and a great guy and now man he is. Why belated? The emes: the Ois -efsher from the great excitement of the news- simply forgot to share it with his readers; I own it! Mazel tov to the entire extended Kaszovitz and Skolnick mishpocho and of course to grandma Beverly Skolnick. As well, mazel tov to the entire extended Schlusselberg and Schallamach families, long time family friends of the eishes chayil. May Rivka and Alex merit to enjoy many decades of blissful marriage. We are looking forward to participating in this great simcha.
And in late breaking news, a big mazel tov shout out to our friends Alyssa and Chaim Winter upon the engagement -earler this week- of their beautiful Alexandra to Benjamin Taragin, he the son of Hope and David Taragin. Mazel tov to both extended families.
Sin City & Just Kidding!
Says the Achroin (latter day exegete) Wikipedia, that Sin City is a nickname that may be applied to an urban area (a city or part of) that caters to various vices. These vices may be legal (depending on area) or illegal activities which are tolerated. Examples of vices include sex-related services (prostitution, strip clubs, sex shops, etc.), gambling (casinos, betting shops, etc.), or drug use (alcohol, marijuana, etc. consumption), and even excessive organized crime and gang activity. If the city is known for prostitution, it is often called a red-light district, as in Amsterdam, Netherlands. And we begin with this definition why? Because long before Wikipedia and others popularized the nickname, our sages of yore -exact year unknown- coined the term Ir Hanidachas for a city whose inhabitants engage in some of the above-mentioned activities plus one other: avoido zoro (idol worship). More on that below.
Last Shabbis, at the aufruf of an incoming great nephew (Sruly Brach will be marrying Racheli Miller in the coming days), and as another great nephew was laining the parsha, the heylige Ois was -as he does regularly, so shoot me- reading one parsha ahead and turned ghostly white -mamish- when reading the RBSO’s instructions regarding murder to be committed intentionally and in cold blood. It’s layda (sadly) emes! This week, in our parsha, the RBSO orders a hit: His own people are to kill other Yiddin, also His own people. Lots of them and shreklich OMG!
When laining was over, the Ois found himself leading the congregation in Rosh Choidesh bentching (blessing the new month) followed by Musif. And as the heylige Toirah was being placed back into the Oroin (Ark), the Ois decided to sing the words “Derocheho Darchei Noi’am VeChol Nesivoiseho Sholom,” (lit: its ways are pleasant and all its path are peaceful). As an aside, those words, from Mishlei 3:17 (aka: Proverbs). Peaceful? Is murder peaceful? Is the administration of the death penalty en-masse- to an entire city peaceful? Is mass murder congruent with the words of the song? What’s pshat here? Why would the RBSO instruct us to kill? Under what circumstances? To address these questions and others, we shall begin -and likely also end- this week’s parsha post with a review of the RBSO’s instructions followed by what our rabbis, sages and other exegetes thought the RBSO had in mind.
Ober ershtens (but first), a warm welcome to Parshas Re’ey and the myriad mitzvis (some say 55, others 53), some of which -as mentioned- are more than mind-boggling- and include specific written permission for the Yiddin to kill -in cold blood- the false prophet and all the inhabitants of certain cities. The good news: the parsha includes permission -explicit- for mankind to enjoy a good shtikel fleish (meat) thereby creating hundreds of Jewish entrepreneurs and jobs for many thousands of Yiddin. As the heylige Ois has told you over and again, each and every mitzvah in the heylige Toirah presents a different business opportunity and Toirah inspired Jewish entrepreneurs need but learn the parsha weekly to better understand its mitzvis and to better chap which opportunity is best suited to their personalities. Forget regular business school, or 12-18 months college degrees now available through the yeshiva velt; Toirah-iz-de beste- s’choirah (Toirah is the best material).
The RBSO knew just what He was doing when He called Moishe up for a forty-day summit, three different times. You read that correctly: Moishe went up three different times, each for forty days. Permission to eat meat has given birth to a multi-billion-dollar business industry that today includes purveyors, slaughterhouses, mashgichim, truckers, wholesalers, retailers, glatt-kosher restaurants, BBQ experts, parties, party planners, the shul kiddish (during and after davening), UberEATS, and many others. And because our parsha includes permission to eat meat, it also includes a refresher of what’s kosher -and not- when it comes to beef, chicken and fish; pay attention. As well, the parsha reviews the salient laws of Pesach, Jewish slavery and more; it’s action packed mamish as Moishe continues his oration to the Yiddin.
As mentioned, a few of the newly taught laws have the Ois scratching his head; let us begin. This year -the thirteenth time around this parsha, I had in mind to cover the case of the Novee Sheker (false prophet) and instructions to kill him. He is after all nothing but a charlatan, a snake oil salesman who charms the masses to follow him into sin. Ober, the curious case of the subverted city (a case where the entire city of people goes astray from the RBSO’s ways) was too flabbergasting to ignore and over 7 pages later, the false prophet review was pushed off to next year. We have previously touched upon this subject, but we are back with an expanded review with kimat all new material; it’s riveting. And to chap the questions, let alone the answers, let us review a few pisukim innavennig (let’s read the text). Says the heylige Toirah (Devorim 13: 13-18), azoy:
|13 If you hear in one of your cities which the Lord, your G-d, is giving you to dwell therein, saying,||יגכִּֽי־תִשְׁמַ֞ע בְּאַחַ֣ת עָרֶ֗יךָ אֲשֶׁר֩ יְהֹוָ֨ה אֱלֹהֶ֜יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לְךָ֛ לָשֶׁ֥בֶת שָׁ֖ם לֵאמֹֽר:|
|14 “Unfaithful men have gone forth from among you and have led the inhabitants of their city astray, saying, ‘Let us go and worship other gods, which you have not known.’ “||ידיָֽצְא֞וּ אֲנָשִׁ֤ים בְּנֵֽי־בְלִיַּ֨עַל֙ מִקִּרְבֶּ֔ךָ וַיַּדִּ֛יחוּ אֶת־יֽשְׁבֵ֥י עִירָ֖ם לֵאמֹ֑ר נֵֽלְכָ֗ה וְנַֽעַבְדָ֛ה אֱלֹהִ֥ים אֲחֵרִ֖ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־יְדַעְתֶּֽם:|
|15 Then you shall inquire, investigate, and ask thoroughly, and, behold, it is true, the matter is certain, that such abomination has been committed in your midst:||טווְדָֽרַשְׁתָּ֧ וְחָֽקַרְתָּ֛ וְשָֽׁאַלְתָּ֖ הֵיטֵ֑ב וְהִנֵּ֤ה אֱמֶת֙ נָכ֣וֹן הַדָּבָ֔ר נֶֽעֶשְׂתָ֛ה הַתּוֹעֵבָ֥ה הַזֹּ֖את בְּקִרְבֶּֽךָ:|
|16 You shall surely strike down the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroy it with all that is in it and its livestock, with the edge of the sword.||טזהַכֵּ֣ה תַכֶּ֗ה אֶת־יֽשְׁבֵ֛י הָעִ֥יר הַהִ֖וא לְפִי־חָ֑רֶב הַֽחֲרֵ֨ם אֹתָ֧הּ וְאֶת־כָּל־אֲשֶׁר־בָּ֛הּ וְאֶת־בְּהֶמְתָּ֖הּ לְפִי־חָֽרֶב:|
|17 And you shall collect all its spoil into the midst of its open square, and burn with fire the city and all its spoil, completely, for the Lord, your G-d; and it shall be a heap of destruction forever, never to be rebuilt.||יזוְאֶת־כָּל־שְׁלָלָ֗הּ תִּקְבֹּץ֘ אֶל־תּ֣וֹךְ רְחֹבָהּ֒ וְשָֽׂרַפְתָּ֣ בָאֵ֗שׁ אֶת־הָעִ֤יר וְאֶת־כָּל־שְׁלָלָהּ֙ כָּלִ֔יל לַֽיהֹוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ וְהָֽיְתָה֙ תֵּ֣ל עוֹלָ֔ם לֹ֥א תִבָּנֶ֖ה עֽוֹד:|
|18 And nothing that is doomed to destruction shall cling to your hand, so that the Lord may return from His fierce wrath, and grant you compassion, and be compassionate with you, and multiply you, as He swore to your forefathers.||יחוְלֹֽא־יִדְבַּ֧ק בְּיָֽדְךָ֛ מְא֖וּמָה מִן־הַחֵ֑רֶם לְמַ֩עַן֩ יָשׁ֨וּב יְהֹוָ֜ה מֵֽחֲר֣וֹן אַפּ֗וֹ וְנָֽתַן־לְךָ֤ רַֽחֲמִים֙ וְרִֽחַמְךָ֣ וְהִרְבֶּ֔ךָ כַּֽאֲשֶׁ֥ר נִשְׁבַּ֖ע לַֽאֲבֹתֶֽיךָ:|
Let’s summarize in plain English: Moishe is giving clear instructions on how to handle a subversion, a case where all the inhabitants of a city have gone rouge against the RBSO. As described, the entire population of a city is guilty; they have all been swayed -seemingly by the false prophet- to leave the RBSO’s teachings and have worshiped other gods. Mamish all? How many times has the heylige Ois told you that the one thing that angers the RBSO more than any of your other minuvildike behavior -if you chap- and you know who you are and whereof I speak- it’s idol worship? Many times! The parsha tells us that many people -the entire city mamish- have strayed from the RBSO; they have seemingly all worshipped other gods. Say it’s not so, but after investigation, seemingly it’s all emes. What to do? Kill them! Moishe instructs that all the inhabitants of the doomed city be killed by the sword. Shreklich (OMG)! Mamish all? Moreover, all their belongings, including valuable booty is to be burned. Nothing is to be left of the city. The city is doomed and is to remain forever uninhabitable, never to be rebuilt. The good news: The heylige Toirah only says it cannot be rebuilt; enterprising Toirah inspired Yiddin will figure out how to make a living off it without having to rebuild. We assume -mistama correctly- that a few from a nearby city will utilize it as a tourist attraction, charge entrance fees, set up eateries and make a fortune.
Nu, as you can only imagine, these instructions were hotly debated by many. The good news: the heylige Ois is here to shine some light and further illuminate what the heylige Toirah itself told us. And the first question is azoy: did this ever happen in real life? Did the RBSO really mean for man to take a sword to fellow man and wipe out an entire city? Was there ever a real case of the Ir Hanidachas (city gone rogue), so named not in the heylige Toirah but by our sages? Efsher you’re wondering how an entire city can become wayward? Isn’t it logical to assume that at least one decent human would refuse idol worship? Is he too doomed? Do the innocent die with the guilty? Oy vey! Does wiping out an entire city, its inhabitants and all else, seems a shtikel harsh in response to some avoido zoro. What’s pshat?
As it turns out, this particular mitzvah is one of the most difficult topics in the gantze Toirah. For most Yiddin, it’s a shtikel shver (difficult) to chap this concept. We picture idolaters as regular people who just happen to worship a statue instead of going to shul. Haven’t you done much worse? Is that giferlich enough to wipe out an entire city? Ver veyst? Ober, based on the reading, it appears that the Ir Hanidachas is considered to be a cancer and avada all know that a cancer must be removed and totally eradicated. It is so thoroughly corrupt that it must be altogether wiped out. Seemingly, this cancer attaches itself to others, to their families and possessions and all must be destroyed. Ober did this really happen, ever? We shall soon find out.
Raboyseyee, we are taught that idol worship, at least back then, was much worse than bowing down to a getchke (idol). Seemingly, part of ancient cult worship involved various sexual immoralities including public orgies, temple prostitutes, incest, bestiality and carnal molestation (see Bamidbar 18:27). Mistama you’ve read books or seen movies where all this comes to life -say it’s not so you chazir, but likely it is. Sin city? Back then avoido zoro included the sacrifice of children to the gods (Devorim 12:31). Rebbe Akiva reported that he saw a son bind up his father and feed him to ravaging dogs in service of idols. The RBSO knew His chosen people and realized that the Yiddin could easily fall prey to this type of behavior as they did in the Midbar with the Moabite and Midianite shiksas, oy vey. Being exposed to this type of behavior and seeing avoido zoro would have a deleterious effect on His fragile Nation. He wanted the Yiddin to lay new foundations, nothing else, if you chap and certainly not partake in the activities associated with a sin city. And for those reasons, in our parsha, the RBSO commanded that the wayward city be totally destroyed along with its inhabitants.
On the other hand, the total destruction by violent means of those residing in the Ir Hanidachas was contrary to the way Yiddin are supposed to live; we are not a violent people. Yiddin love to sue and zicher to hold grudges; fighting and killing is not for us. Few mitzvis in the entire heylige Toirah seem as violent as the rules set forth in in our parsha regarding the inhabitants of the Ir Hanidachas. Ober the bottom line of the instruction’s -as given- and as further elucidated, is that we taka kill all of the city’s inhabitants to include the minority who did not serve idols and burn all of their possessions. What’s pshat here?
Moreover, did you happen to read posik 18 above? Let’s look at the words one more time: “And nothing that is doomed to destruction shall cling to your hand, so that the Lord may return from His fierce wrath, and grant you compassion, and be compassionate with you, and multiply you, as He swore to your forefathers.” “VeNosan Lecha Rachamim,” meaning that Hashem should bestow mercy upon us. And these words appear just after and part of a mitzvah to kill all of the inhabitants of a city? Really? Isn’t it at all ironic that the word “rachamim” appears after mass murder? Is it efsher a shtikel, or even starkly out of place, when discussing the execution of the Ir Hanidachas? How do we explain the promise of mercy in the context of a mitzvah that requires violent action? What’s pshat here?
Shoin, lest you think that the Ois alone was shocked to read the command, you’ll be relieved to know that important thinkers –all branded individuals- were also struck by the irony, and taka says the RambaN (Devorim 13:16), azoy: the mercy element in -posik 18 above teaches us to spare the children from punishment. And says the Oznayim LaToirah (gifted to the Ois back in 2015 by Gail and Elliot Ostro; Yashar koiach to both of you again in 2022) azoy: mercy is required to adopt the orphaned children of an Ir Hanidachas. The parents are all doomed but rachmunis (compassion) is shown to the innocent kids. And says the Netziv (shout out to chaver Josh Joseph who sends out a weekly video thought in memory of his late father, from the Netziv’s HaAmeik Davar), azoy: the heylige Toirah is concerned that engaging in violent activity, even when necessary to do so, will negatively transform people into violent individuals. Individuals selected to administer the death penalty upon the residents of the Ir Hanidachas will be in need of the RBSO’s gift of mercy so that their justified, yet violent, actions do not transform them into violent people. Killing others, even when justified, could lead to a personality change -not a good one. Was the Netziv the first to chap the concept of PTSD? And taka –in our times- PTSD therapists throughout the civilized world have their work cut out for them working with military veterans who were impacted by their combat experiences, even after fighting a morally justified war. Oy vey! The bottom line: Posik 18 tells us that the RBSO will have rachmunis (compassion) on those selected to kill their own brethren and they will recover from the trauma.
And, let’s check out the Lubavitcher Rebbe who had this thought on the matter: The heylige Gemora (Sanhedrin 71b) presents an opinion that an Ir Hanidachas would never occur. Why not? The Gemora explains that since the Toirah requires that everything in an Ir Hanidachas be burned, an Ir Hanidachas cannot be destroyed, so long as it contains even a single Mezuzah. Since a Mezuzah contains the RBSO’s name, it cannot be destroyed; its destruction would violate the prohibition of erasing Hashem’s name (see Rashi on Devorim 12:4). Mamish gishmak. Ober asks the Ois azoy: can one tiny Mezuzah spare an entire city from its status as an Ir Hanidachas? The bottom line: all else aside, check your mezuzas! More good news: there is an opinion that even a non-kosher mezuzah can do the trick. The bad news: seemingly we do not pasken (follow) this opinion; our rabbis have ruled that the holy writings -mezuzahs included- are to be buried and the people wiped out. Ober not to worry because the news gets better.
And the question is azoy: did the RBSO ever intend for the Yiddin to implement the rules of Ir Hanidachas? And what to do if the idol worship in city A makes its way to city B? What if the idol worship virus begins to spread as did the corona virus of 2020? Do we wipe out more than one city at a time? The Ir Hanidacḥas virus is treated extensively in rabbinic literature and the news is good. The heylige Mishneh (Sanhedrin 1:5) limits what kind of court can declare the city to be subverted and how many cities in a given locale can be subjected to such a declaration; let’s read it.
אין עושין עיר הנידחת, אלא על פי בית דין של שבעים ואחד; ואין עושין עיר הנידחת בספר, ולא שלוש עיר הנידחת, אבל עושין אחת או שתיים.
They don’t punish a subverted city only on the instructions of a court of 71; all must vote the city guilty. And they do not declare a city to be a subverted city on the frontier, nor [do they declare] three [in one locale] to be [subverted cities], but they do so in the case of one or two. In plain English: The Mishneh is sensitive to how serious a matter it is to kill an entire city, and thus requires the highest court’s approval. It further legislates that it cannot be carried out in such a way as to make the land vulnerable to attack, by depopulating a border town or a contiguous area. In other words: if cities or locales A and B are full of sinners, sinners in city C may get off free due to concerns of depopulation thereby exposing the vacant land to attack by the enemy. Strategic mamish. The bottom line: always be conscious of where you are sinning! Veyter! And so states the Toisefta (Sanhedrin 14:1):
אין עושין שלש עיירות נידחות בארץ ישר’ כדי שלא יחריבו את ארץ ישראל אבל עושין אחת שתים ר’ שמעון אומ’ אף שתים לא יעשו אלא אחת ביהודה ואחת בגליל בסמוך לספר אפילו אחת לא יעשו כדי שלא יפרצו גוים ויחריבו את ארץ ישראל.
They do not declare three towns to be subverted towns in the Land of Israel, so as not to wipe out settlement in the Land of Israel. But they declare one or two [to be subverted cities]. Reb Shimon says, “Even two [in one locale] they may not declare, but they may declare one town in Yehudah (Judah) and one town in Galilee.” And near the frontier they may not declare even one town to be a subverted town, so that goyim (gentiles) will not break through and wipe out settlement in the Land of Israel. The bottom line: check out the neighborhood and neighbors before moving in.
Another bottom line: The rabbis’ concern about this law goes beyond just the practical question of making Israel vulnerable. They seem to have qualms about the law itself, which is likely why some rabbinic texts present Ir Hanidachas as but a theoretical case. A what? Is it at all shayich that the RBSO gave specific orders but did not mean for them to be followed? Does the RBSO do that elsewhere in the Toirah? Let’s check out the same Toisefta quoted above which opens with this:
עיר הנדחת לא הייתה ולא עתידה להיות ולמה נכתבה לומר דרוש וקבל שכר.
A subverted city never was and never will be. Oib azoy (if that’s the case) why was the matter written into the heylige Toirah? Weren’t we taught that the heylige Toirah contains not even one extra letter, let alone a bunch of pisukim on an irrelevant mitzva? Wait, it gets better: In the heylige Gemora (Sanhedrin 71a; 111b- 113a), our rabbis list the subverted city together with the law of the disloyal and defiant son (בן סורר ומורה), who is to be executed (Devorim 21:18-21), and that of a house with tzora’as, which is to be knocked down (Vayikro 14:33-57). And the Gemora tells us azoy: These cases are all “theoretical occurrences that never came about in reality.” Well, blow me down and exhale! What a relief to read, ober, was all this taught to break out camp color-war? And if that’s the case -and so does the Gemora teach us with a degree of certitude- how many other warnings of severe punishments need we not worry about? Are they but empty threats to compel compliance? What’s real and what’s not? Ober do all agree with this Gemora? Of course not! In the heylige Gemora, it’s a very rare occurrence when all rabbis agree and let’s see what some had to say. Interestingly, in each of these cases, the Gemora records a dissenting opinion. In the case of the rogue city, it is Reb. Yoinoson (Sanhedrin 71a) who said he saw the ruins of the destroyed city: “I saw one and sat on its mound.” אמר רבי יונתן: אני ראיתיה וישבתי על תילה – Then again, he never specifies where this mound was, and his comment may have been meant more as a rhetorical point than an historical attestation, as the same style response is given to defend the historicity of each of the laws the rabbis claim never happened. On the other hand, are we to believe that the RBSO gave commandments just for effect, just to scare people straight? If the heylige Toirah records it, can we -may we- just walk it down by suggesting that the RBSO was just kidding? Was this taught by Moishe and so commanded as a challenge to the Yiddin of that generation to ensure that no Jewish city or community ever becomes an Ir Hanidachas?
And the final bottom lines? It appears that though certain Toirah laws are not -or never were- operative, and so says the heylige Gemora, there is seemingly still good cause to learn them as part of the mitzvah of learning Toirah. That being said, why learn them as opposed to learning something practical? Why not study and learn more about practical and operative mitzvis? Taka an excellent question! Seemingly, we learn these things in addition to the practical and still operational mitzvis. Why? Ver veyst? As well, let us remember that the heylige Gemora contains much more than laws; let us not forget the myriad stories -some even emes- and other givaldige gems. As the saying goes: alis- shteyt-in de Gemora (you can find everything in the heylige Gemora). Let’s not forget that learning the heylige Gemora does sharpen the mind. As to the laws in our parsha pertaining to mass murder, the Gemora does concludes that we learn them “to expound and gain reward” just for learning them. How that all works, ver veyst. Perhaps these laws are similar in nature to some of the liberal arts classes we took in college in order to accumulate enough credits to graduate. But as to the actual killing to the inhabitants of the Ir Hanidachas, it appears that the RBSO was just kidding: Boruch Hashem!
A gittin Shabbis and a gittin Choidesh!
The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv