Parsha Mitzvot-Re’ei-Mitzvot 443-474-475-Concepts 32-33-34-Ihr haNidachat
“If you hear it said about one of the towns God, your Lord, is giving you to live in that troublemakers have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods you have not known), then you must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly. And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you, you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. You must destroy it completely, both its people and its livestock. You are to gather all the plunder of the town into the middle of the public square and completely burn the town and all its plunder as a whole burnt offering to God, your Lord. That town is to remain a ruin forever, never to be rebuilt, and none of the condemned things are to be found in your hands. Then God will turn from His fierce anger, will show you mercy, and will have compassion on you. He will increase your numbers, as He promised on oath to your ancestors because you obey God, your Lord, by keeping all His commands that I am giving you today and doing what is right in His eyes (Deuteronomy 13:13-19).”
Transcribed and unedited: The next mitzvah, number ten, which is the thirty-second mitzvah in the Rambam, is that you should not be a Meideach. Now a meideach is someone, and we will have to develop this idea slowly. Remember, first we are going to list out the laws. After we list out the laws and explain the laws we are going to begin to examine what we can learn from the law, then how we can examine it or how we can apply it on a practical level to ourselves.
So a meideach is someone, who together with someone else, both belonging to the same tribe, go into a city of people who all belong to the same tribe as they belong to. So you have two people who come from the tribe of Shimon and they go into a city inhabited or a majority of the people of that town are, come from the tribe of Shimon. These two people convince a majority of the people in this city to worship idols. Now, even if these two never actually worshipped idols themselves, they are going to be executed. And they are punishment is going to be Skilah, stoning. It does not mean with marijuana. It means you take them to a cliff and you push them off, it is a cliff that is twice their height. You get them bombed first, you get them drunk so they do not experience any pain, and then you push them off the cliff, and then if the person is not dead you take a massive boulder and drop it on the chest to crush the chest. Yes, pretty bad. We offered to have a demonstration but we could not find a volunteer. But we have somebody here from California, maybe she will. Audience: “I’ve been through it.” That is right. Yes. So let us go through it slowly. I want to make sure you understand this.
Now, remember, first we are going to go over the laws and then we are going to develop it conceptually. If a single individual worships idols, their punishment is Skilah, stoning. If the people who belong to this city, this Ir Hanidachat city that has been convinced to serve idols, if it turns out that it truly is an Ir Hanidachat, meaning a majority of the people in the city have actually worshipped idols, then their punishment is not going to be Skilah, which is the most painful, the cruelest, the most devastating of all the death penalties. Their punishment is going to be Sayeef or Hereg, which is death by the sword. Okay, where you simply slit their throat as quickly as possible so that they do not suffer any pain. Now what you should understand is that the Skilah, death by stoning, is considered so much worse than the other death penalties that there was a separate cemetery for people who were executed by stoning. You would not bury someone executed by the sword in the same cemetery as someone executed by stoning because the sins of those who are stoned were much worse than those who were executed by sword. So they, none of them could be buried in a regular cemetery until their bodies decomposed. But when they were buried there was a separate cemetery for the two stricter death penalties and another cemetery for the lesser two death penalties, of the sword and strangulation.
Audience: “When you are talking about majority, did the ones have to go to the death penalty are the ones who-”
Only the ones who actually worshipped idols.
Audience: “But we saw another case before where the whole city had to be-”
Right, that is only if they are all idol worshippers.
Audience: “What a minute, who gets stoned I thought it was-”
If an individual worships idols, then the individuals death penalty is by stoning.
Audience: “Okay but I thought this mitzvah is you should not be one who goes to convince people.”
You are right. You are. But I am trying to explain to you that, let us say I would go into a city. And I did not belong to the same tribe as that city. And I would convince them all to worship idols. Even if they all start worshipping idols, I would not be a meideach. I would be what is called a Meisis, which we are going to do very soon. The meideach is a very specific idea, and a meideach is someone who convinces members of his or her own tribe to worship idols and does it as part of a group so that the majority of people who live in the city begin to worship idols as well.
Audience: “So what is the punishment of the person who convinces?”
Stoning. So the one who convinces others to worship, his death penalty is stoning. And if it turns out that it really was a majority of the people who served idols, than their death penalty will not be the usual strict penalty for idol worship, which is stoning, but it will be the lesser death penalty of the sword.
Audience: “And why is that?”
So there you go. First we list off all the laws. You begin to see from the laws that there is something different over here.
Right? Another law is like this. After it has been- How do you determine that a city is really an Ir Hanidachat? So the rumor is flying. You know you go to New York- well we will choose a neutral city. San Francisco. You go to that place, it is a city of idol worshippers. So the Beit Din Hagadol, the great court in Jerusalem, sends down a team of investigators to San Francisco. And this team of investigators interviews everyone in the city. And they, if there are witnesses about each individual who has worshipped idols. And then they count the people and yes, it turns out that it is a majority of the people have worshipped idols, it is not yet an Ir Hanidachat. It is not yet a city of people who have worshipped idols, until the court goes out of its way to convince people to repent. If the court goes out of its way. If it develops an outreach program that hire Rabbi Buchwald. Rabbi Buchwald comes, spends a few weeks there, starts a beginners service, crash course in Hebrew, basic Judaism. And he goes through this whole shpeil and still people persist in their idol worship, that is when you begin. You round them up, you kill them by the sword, and you do everything else that we are going to learn about as well.
Audience: “But they only kill the ones who are at the end unconvinced? Right? So why the majority?”
Okay. Good question. But first let us finish all the laws and then we are going to deal with it conceptually.
Okay. Now listen to the way this law, of not to be a meideach, is introduced in the Torah. What would you expect it to say? Audience: “Thou shall not be a meideach.” Yes, that would be a good one, thou shall not be a meideach. Or, you know, you could put it in fancier Hebrew form if you want it. But you would expect something like that. Listen to the words it uses. “Loh Yishamah al Pichah”, such things should not be heard by your mouth. And from those four words, it was in last week’s parashah. So “Loh Yishamah al pichah” means that such things should not be heard by your mouth. And we learn from here that you should not be a meideach. Now this is a very strange way to introduce that law. Listen to the verse. Perek Yud Gimmel: “U’vechol Asher Amaartih Aleichem TeShameiruh” – All that I have said to you, you should watch, you should be careful with. “VeSheim Elohim Acheirim Loh Tazkiruh” – And the names of other powers you should not mention, “Loh Yishamah al Pichah” – They should not be heard from your mouth. So we learn from “Loh Yishamah al Pichah”- it should not be heard on your mouth – we learn from there that you should not be a meideach. A very strange way, I think you would all agree, to teach this law of not being a meideach. How do you associate that “Loh Yishamah al Pichah”, that the names of other lords, other powers, should not be heard from your mouth, with this story of two people from the same tribe going into a city and convincing everyone? It is a little strange.
Now there are other practical laws that are learned out of this Halachah. For instance, that you are not allowed to swear in the name of an idol. So you cannot swear, you know, “I swear by Holy Bob.” Like that. You could not use the name of an idol to swear. It also means that if someone was truly an idol worshipper you would not be allowed to go into business with them. Why? Because inevitably in business you get into fights and you say “I swear to G-d.” And the other one is going to say “I swear to Gagemagemujag.” Whatever the name of their god is. And so basically you are going to be causing someone else to swear in the name of an idol. So you cannot go into business with a true idol worshipper. It does not apply to us anymore because we believe that there are no more true idol worshippers. And even if they used the name of an idol, we say they do not really mean it; they do not believe it. But listen to how you get from indirect- that makes sense, right? Do not swear in the name of an idol, that you can hear from the words “Loh Yishamah al Pichah”. But we take it to mean that you should not be a meideach.