Parsha Mitzvot-Re’ei-Mitzvot 468-469-470-471-472-473-Concepts 36-37-38-39-40-41- Meisis
“If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, 7 gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again (Deuteronomy 13:7-12)
Transcribed and unedited: Next are the laws of the meises. The laws of a meises are one who convinces another individual, or even attempts to convince another individual, to worship idols, whether the person is successful or not. That is a meises.
The laws of a meises are awesome, are even more frightening than the laws of an Ir Hanidachat. So here you have mitzvah number thirty-six through number forty-one.
You are not allowed to be a mieses.
You are not allowed to love a meises, meaning even like.
You are not allowed to cease hating a meises.
You are not allowed to save a meises if he is about to die, if he is drowning in a river. You are not allowed to say anything good about a meises.
And you should not prevent yourself from saying anything bad about a meises.
Audience: “Could you go into details, please?” Yes.
That you should not learn anything good about a meises, and you shouldn’t cease and desist from finding anything bad about him. Let me explain to you what this means in a practical way. If someone, if we are judging someone for a death penalty, so the law with the death penalty is like this. In the debate of the court, the minute I- if I am one of the judges- the minute I open my mouth and put forth an argument of why the person should be innocent, that is it. My vote is that the person is innocent; I am never allowed to put forward an argument that he is guilty. Once you have an inkling in your head that the person is innocent, then as far as Halachah is concerned, it is not beyond doubt. And therefore you have to say the person as innocent.
If, let us say I have not made up my mind. And the court, we have a whole argument. And then, whenever there is a death penalty, you cannot make your decision that day. You have to sleep on it. You come back the next day. Anyone who voted innocent yesterday has to continue to vote innocent. Anyone who said guilty is allowed to change their mind to innocent. You vote that the guy is guilty. You are taking him out to kill him, and someone says, “Ah- I have a new argument.” You bring the guy back. And you start the case all over again. You take him out, and he says, “I have a new argument.” You listen to his argument, if it has any substance to it, you bring him back. No matter how many times you have to bring him back.
If nightfall comes, and you have not executed him, because you had so many arguments for his innocence then you cannot execute him. Because his punishment, is death. Not torture. You cannot execute him at night. So if he would have to spend the night thinking that he would be killed the next day, then you cannot kill him. Because then you are torturing him. So that is it. No death penalty.
This Halacha is a consideration when informing someone they have, God forbid, a mortal illness: we do not want to torture someone with such information, and it must be shared in a manner that will minimize the shock, pain, and emotional suffering.
And you all know that the death penalty in Judaism basically does not exist. It is all there for show, it is a value statement. It is not a reality. So with a meises, though, even if I have argued for his innocence, I can change my mind and say that he is guilty. With a meises, after they have determined that he is a meises and he has been sentenced to death, if someone says, “I have an argument that he is innocent,” you ignore him. You are not allowed to do it. A meises, that is it. Once you give him the – [End Side One].
– As much as you could ever give the death penalty in Judaism. This is, again, any one of the death penalties is really a value statement. Who is the first meises, by the way? In the bible.
Audience: “The snake?”
Right, the snake. Now the snake had a great argument. But G-d never gave the snake the chance to argue. What was the snake’s argument? If I go to somebody and say, “Eat something that is not Kosher.” And he eats something that is not Kosher. Whose responsibility is it?
Audience: “The person.”
It is the person. He has the choice of listening to me or listening to G-d. Who is he going to listen to? He should listen to G-d.
So the snake easily could have said, “You know, listen, all I said was eat the apple.” And by the way the snake never said eat it. The snake said, you know, this is what will happen if you eat it. Never actually said eat it. But G-d does not even give the snake a chance to argue. G-d asks Adam, “What did you do?” Adam says, “Oh, it was the woman.” G-d goes, says to the woman, “What did you do?” “Oh it was the snake.” “The snake, that is it,” G-d says, “this is your punishment.” Does not listen to an argument.
So that is where we apply these laws and we say, well, G-d literally acted out these laws when G-d came to the snake. And it means like this. There is an argument that it is called the Columbus argument. But it probably goes all the way back to Socrates. And the Columbus argument is as follows: that no matter how ridiculous an argument is, it is worth while to listen to it because of the intellectual stimulation of arguing it out and proving that it is wrong. And one of the reasons that they listened to Columbus is no matter how ridiculous it was, his suggestion that the earth was round. But at least you would prove something. Let him go on his trip, you prove. He would sail of the edge of the Earth, and that would be it, he would learn his lesson. And then people will learn. The truth will be more clearly established. It really goes back to Socrates, because Socrates was actually a friend of what we call the Columbus argument. Posit it, and no matter how ridiculous it is, deal with it. Okay.
Now that happens to be an American value in many places as well. Let us say you let the Holocaust deniers print an ad. Why? So you deal with it. And by dealing with it you will end up doing better. Because at least you disprove what they are saying. You – because ignoring freedom of speech, not because freedom of speech is not important, just for this argument. You allow anyone to stand up and spew hatred or venom. Why? Because at least if you let them speak you will be able to respond to them and so you give them the form. That is an American value. What the Torah is telling you is that you should discredit the Columbus argument. That there have to be certain basic values that you have that you stick up for and you have to limit the debate about those arguments.
Audience: “Does that mean that those people cannot do teshuva?”
No. It doesn’t mean- a meises cannot do teshuva.
Audience: “He cannot?”
As far as the community is concerned, no. Let us say you were mechallel Shabbos. And then, there are witnesses, that you did something on Shabbos that you were not supposed to do. And you repented. You know you repented, G-d knows you repented. We still have to execute you. Because repentance works for the heavenly court it does not work for the human court. Because society has to take its stand and respond to it. And we will get to that when we get to the laws of Shabbat.
I believe that with these laws, come on, they are impossible. How do you find out that the person is a meises? By taking him to court. And it is – the way you do it is like this. Let us say, you know, I go to someone, and say, “Friend, it is unbelievable. You know, I went into that temple of Ba’al the other day, and I was so lifted and inspired. It was almost as good as the Chazzan of Lincoln Square.” So the friend is supposed to say, “Wow, you know I have some friends. Could you share that with them too?” And the friend goes and brings two friends and I repeat this thing about the temple of Ba’al. Those two friends are actually witnesses. My friend set me up. I never trusted him anyway. And he brings me to court. The two witnesses are going to take me to court and I will be executed. Or if I do not fall for his trick then the two witnesses are supposed to hide behind the fence and the friend is supposed to say, “What was that you said to me yesterday, you know I have been thinking about it all night.” And I repeat it. And the two witnesses stand up, they grab me, and they bring me to court. Then I am a meises. Once that has happened and those witnesses have given their testimony, that is it. You do not allow it to be argued out.
Audience: “What is the definition of a meises?” A meises is someone who tries to convince someone else to worship idols.
Audience: “Oh, it does not have to be the same tribe in city. That is the difference between-“
Right. A meideach is that it is an entire city. A meises is any individual.
Punishment for a meises, even if the meises did not worship idols himself, but simply tried to convince someone else to worship idols, is the death penalty. Skilah. Stoning.
So if a meises is limited to idol worship, then no. Unless you believe that Jesus is idol worship, but halachically we do not believe it is. If you say that meises is not a general statement about idol worship, but it is really a broader statement, you know, of what you are supposed to do. Then, yes, he may be considered an idol worshipper. There were definitely those who wanted to kill Jesus. Excuse me.
Audience: “The belief in Jesus is not an idol worship?”
Audience: “What is an idol?”
Basically we believe that there is no more idol worship.
Audience: “But there are people who bow to Buddha and that type of thing”
So, you know, there is this famous Gemara in Yoma. Didn’t we talk about it where they got rid of the evil inclination? So, just very quickly. The Gemara in Yoma says that when they built the second temple everyone was upset. And they were crying instead of rejoicing because they said, listen. Why was the first temple destroyed? Basically because of idol worship and associated sin. We are all still idol worshippers. So we repent for a week or two, a year or two, how long is this building going to last? So what is the point? So the Rabbis realized they were right. So they declared a three day fast. And they fasted and prayed for three days and three nights. At the end of the fast they prayed that G-d should send down the evil inclination for idol worship. And this horrible creature comes down from the heavens and they execute this creature and it says that at that moment the divine presence left the temple. Because it is not that there is an evil drive and a good drive. There is a drive, and the drive is to worship a higher being. And it can be directed in a constructive way or directed in a destructive way. And the minute you get rid of the drive for idol worship, you also get rid of the drive to worship G-d. And that is why we no longer have the same drive to worship G-d. It was at that moment that they formulated blessings. There never were blessings before. Because the whole environment was one that you would want to see G-d in the apple. Now would you turn the tree into an idol? Can you imagine eating an apple and being so attached to the apple that you would want to turn the tree into an idol? That is the type of environment they lived in.
So when we see idol worship in our own time it is just not the same thing. How many of us have that passionate drive to serve G-d? We do not have it. It is hard. The religious life is a very difficult life. You have to develop your passion. That is why I think the goal is to develop passion for living not passion for G-d. And you discover G-d by being a very powerful human being. I do not mean power over other people, but aware of human potential. And human greatness. So there really is no more idol worship. Not like that. We will get to some very practical ramifications in about a few mitzvoth. Yes? Audience: “Is – that we have certain basic values that – do we have community values, is it that we stick up for, is it individual values, is it community values, how are those determined and what are they or is it individual values or is it both?”
I will tell you a story, okay?
We were once sitting at the supper table at my house. And my sister, Naami, turned to my father, and she said, “Pa, you were right.” And basically we all fainted and we woke up a few hours later, trying to figure out why my sister Naami would ever say to my father that he was right about something. So he said to her, “And can I ask what I was right about or are you going to kill me?” So she said, “No, no, you can ask, and I will even tell you.” She said that she and her friend had always agreed that the most horrible thing in the world would be for a woman to have an affair. They were girls. Ew- disgusting, you get cooties, it would be horrible, how could you do it. I did not know what was going on in this conversation, but I remember the conversation. And they all agreed. Then they read The Scarlet Letter. They had a substitute, they read The Scarlet Letter, and they felt so attached to her and so compassionate. She said, “You know what, now I can understand having an affair. I would not do it, but I can understand it.” My father still speaks of that story with incredible pride in my sister for her honesty, and her awareness. I still envy the look of pride on his face whenever he speaks of her in that interaction. I beg of you, please, please, don’t tell my sister about my father’s pride in her, or of my envy!
Audience: “Why was your father right?” Because he had always told her that sooner or later you are going to have to choose what you read, and choose what you watch, and choose who you hang around with. Because even if you continue to say, “I would never do it”, it would change you as a person.
Audience: “Being exposed to it.”
Audience: “But how can you have a choice, if you do not know?” Pardon? Audience: “How can you have a choice, if you do not know?”
Let us apply to the case of adultery. The Torah says it is wrong. Why do you need to – no I am not trying to be facetious. Where do you draw your value line? How do you draw your value lines? How do you determine your morals?
Audience: “But if you know what adultery means, if you get the book you will know what is inside the book. You have to rely on somebody else to know. And you go and draw the line on somebody else, they are just going to tell you-”
You mean how did the someone else find out what is in the book? You are right. Maybe the other person should not have. I am not trying- you are asking me on a practical level- are you asking me a practical question or a theoretical one?
Audience: No I have a practical question- because this is an argument that I hear a lot, people that are very stringent that they do not want to watch TV, they do not want to read a book, they do not want to go see movies, because that might affect- [Speaker – “It will affect”] and The Scarlet Letter, after all it is not so bad, I do not want to do it, but it is not so bad. Because at the end of the day, how do you make choices if you do not know about them and if-”
I do not understand. You mean if I never read The Scarlet Letter, I could never make a choice whether or not to have an affair?
Audience: “No. What I am saying is at the end of the day your father was telling her, or she would agree with what I am saying, that the fact that she read The Scarlet Letter made her change her view on affairs.”
Audience: “So how would she know that that would make you change by reading The Scarlet Letter, if The Scarlet Letter was something else?”
She would not know.
Audience: “Somebody else would have told her “Don’t read this, this is like a black letter, ‘A’.”
Okay. Well, first of all, she would- let us say she would not have known. Okay? And she would read it and be exposed to it and be affected by it. I do not think he was advocating a certain – doesn’t advocate that people should build these brick walls and hide behind them. But you certainly have choices. You have constant choices of what to see, and what to read, and what to do, and who to be friends with, and what to fight for, and what to take a stand against, and what to ignore. And simply accepting that you are affected, changes you. And simply being willing to take a stand against those things that really will have an impact on you also will change you. And the more aware you are of how you can be influenced by your environment and your society, the more careful you will be a) in choosing your environment, but b) also in creating an environment for your family. So if, let us say, that you know that your children are going to read The Scarlet Letter, which they should. Classic. Or read something similar. Sooner or later, they are going to have to be exposed to it and learn how to deal with those types of questions. But at least you can create the type of environment in your home, in which children are going to learn how to deal with those types of influences. And the more aware you are of how you have been impacted by your environment and influenced by your society, then the more attention you are going to pay to the type of environment you create for your children. Or for yourself, in your home. And the more attention you pay to nurturing that environment, and yourself, then the more you will develop as a human being. You are being more responsible for your development and growth. Does not mean not being open to opportunities, but it means being careful. Yes?
Audience: “But a child in that idea, an adult, I have a problem with.”
Which part do you have a problem with?
Audience: “I find it just as an adult, when you are a child it is fine. Like when you are an adult someone gave you the idea that I have to rely on certain things and be content such and such and such, therefore you should not see it. What if whoever determines such and such and such is wrong.-”
You know something, why is prejudging always bad?
Audience: “Oh I do not say it is always bad. But everything that is exercised less, I mean I want to be protected from.”
So what? Even if you are right, I would say to you, so what? If I had a choice of-
Audience: “I would be less protected at the end of the day because I didn’t know how to deal with it-”
That is not true. It is definitely not true. You cannot choose- in other words, you should always rent any movie you wanted, because why should you trust the X rating on it. Right? Why should you trust the X rating, maybe it is not X rated? Yes? Is that what you are saying? Because I am rating on the motion picture- the guy- what is it called?- who rate these things, I do not who they are- because I am relying on them that means that I am giving up my judgment? It takes away my ability to think? I think that if I look at a movie and I see what is on the cover, I know it is not going to help me to see it. It is not going to help my soul. I know that. I know that certain magazines, I am not going to buy because it is not going to help my soul. I was an Isaac Asimov fanatic. He used to write short stories in Gallery magazine. Now of course I wanted to buy the Gallery magazine only for the Isaac Asimov. Now if, inadvertently, it- you know. So basically decided not to buy the Gallery magazines. I even once tried walking into the store and asking the guy, “Can I have a Gallery, can you rip out all of the pictures and just give me the front page of the-” I was a fanatic with stories. The guy said, “Right, kid, here.” So the- it is a true story- you can make decisions about which movies to bring into your home, which books, which issues to discuss in front of your kids and which not. Which issues to discuss between yourselves even. What type of- you know you meet someone, you invite someone- Would you invite someone who uses four letter words constantly, to share a meal with you? I would not. Even if they are a wonderful person. I want to learn how to be more careful with what I speak. Would I invite someone who speaks Lashon Hora to sit with me at a table? No. I won’t. I do not want Lashon Hora spoken at a table which I am eating. Why? I am not judging the other person, I just do not want to be exposed to it. And the more aware you are- Look how much hesitance and resistance there is to taking a stand about something. And that, more than anything else, is the result of living in an environment that is very much an Ir Hanidachat. A refusal to take a stand.
Audience: “I do not understand why it was bad for your sister to learn compassion for the adulteress. I just think that is what I heard is that she heard the truth about things and she just didn’t understand when that happened and that was her reaction and so after her experience she no longer said, ‘Oh this is terrible, awh cooties- terrible, terrible things, I couldn’t imagine anything more horrible,’ but she said, ‘Oh I understand what this person is going through and I have sort of an empathy for her but I still won’t do that-‘.”
No, it is not what she said that she has empathy- she said it is not such a terrible thing.
Exactly but I think that the reason she understood is because she grew up in a home in which there was a very strong statement. It may be too much at times. We certainly felt so as teenagers. But her reaction was that all the kids in her class were saying, “Well then adultery is not so bad, of course I would never do it.”
The next, this really speaks about the society and how you protect your society. Next one, listen to this next section. This is the section about a meiseis. A meiseis is an individual who convinces another individual to worship idols. A madeach is someone who convinces an entire city, everyone made of one tribe, blahblahblahblahblah, to worship idols. This is the law of a meiseis. A meiseis who convinces one person, or attempts, rather, is a more accurate way to say it, attempts to convince another person to worship idols. So-
Audience: “Is that Mem, Shamech, and Tuff?”
Mem, Shamech, Yud, Tuff. Ok, so this is number, beginning with number thirteen in the lives of Avodah Zarah, this is mitzvah number thirty-six in the six hundred and thirteen.
Right? Yes. So you should not be a meiseis, meaning you should not try and convince another individual. You should not love a meiseis, you should never cease to hate a meiseis, and there is a reason for it. What would be the more natural way to say it? Instead of saying “Don’t stop hating a meiseis,” what would be the more natural-? “Hate the meiseis,” it does not say that. It says “Don’t stop hating.” Do not save a meiseis if you think he is going to die, so if you see a meiseis drowning, don’t do anything to save him. Do not- well let me finish and then we will – do not learn any – do not say anything in his defense, of a meiseis. Do not refrain from saying anything bad about a meiseis. Okay? These are all the laws of a meiseis. You got it?
Audience: “If you are an adulterer and you are attempting to cling to Avodah Zarah, are you forced to let him die?”
A meiseis? If a priest was a meiseis, yes. A priest is not a meiseis.
Audience: “What about missionaries?” I do not think that is a meiseis. It is not idol worship. There is a major debate, you know, whether Catholicism is idol worship or not, but the other religions are not considered idol worship.
Audience: “What about ?”
The laws of meiseis would not apply. I think that you should kill them anyway, but, because basically that is what they do. What would be a modern day meiseis? Audience: “David Koresh?” David Koresh? I don’t think he would have the din of a meiseis. Did he convince them, try and convince them that he was G-d and to worship him?
Audience: “Yes.” He did?
Audience: “We don’t really know him.”
That is true, it would be hard to interview him at this point.
So the laws in the Rambam are as follows: one whose, the word is seduce actually, but one who convinces another Jew, man or woman, to worship idols, you stone the person to death. Even if the person himself has never worshipped idols or even if the person who he attempted to convince, never actually worshipped idols, just he attempted to teach that person about idol worship. You do not need to warn a meiseis.
So you know anyone else in the Torah before you put that person to death, you say “Do you know that if you do this sin you are going to be put to death?” If you do not say that to the person before the sin, like “Do you know that if you murder so and so you are going to be put to death?” If you do not warn the person than he is not going to be put to death and you say “let G-d take care of him.”
With a meiseis, absolutely no warning is necessary. And you do your best to make sure if you know someone is trying to convince someone else to worship idols, to delay him until you can have a second witness their simply so you have the opportunity to kill him. The mitzvah is for the person whom he tried to convince to worship idols, for him to actually kill him.
Audience: “So that is a positive commandment?”
Yes. When it says “do not find anything in his favor”, this means that usually when someone would be sentenced to death, so they would have a long precession. Immediately after being sentenced to death he would be killed. There was never a time delay, because the time delay is considered torture. So if let us say the sentence was reached at night, then that would be it. He would not be put to death. Because you have to kill him immediately. You cannot kill him at night, you cannot do it the next day. Why? Because torture, making someone sit and wait and know that he is going to die at a point in time, is not part of the mitzvah of putting someone to death. Do you remember “The man who could not be hanged.” You don’t remember?
Audience: “So that person wouldn’t die.” So unsophisticated.
So let me just finish this and then I will get to you. So usually if you are on your way to the cliff where you are about to stone a guy, someone says: “Ah-ah-ah I just found a new argument to save his life.” Right away everyone goes back to the Beit Din and you reconvene and you start all over again. Hoping that it will be so delayed, you are not going to be able to kill the guy. Here, the minute the sentence has passed, no one is allowed to stop the precession and say “I have something good to say about him.” That means, chances are that justice will not be served. At least justice, not the way it has to be served. It was so meticulous about it being served another day. What does this mean?
So you know the Columbus argument? The Columbus argument? Socrates was maybe the first one to use it, though it was not called the Columbus argument then. But it is called the Columbus argument. Which is, even if it entirely untrue, because it is a new idea it is worthwhile to pay attention to. That is the Columbus argument. Even if it has no basis in fact, if it will change or enhance your way of thinking, or if it has some logic to it, you have to pay attention to it. Because of that, and most of us agree to an extent, because of that you forget how to draw lines. And when you forget how to draw lines, then Halachah has to be listen how strong this is. You cannot love a meiseis, you cannot stop hating, because it is not the hating that the Torah wants as much as it is that you cannot afford to not hate. Because if you stop, ever stop hating someone who does that and espouses that, basically you are going to destroy yourself. Because then you will allow it and you will say, “You know what this is- maybe we should pay attention to it, and it is not so bad.” And look how quickly our values change. It is incredible. So what is it – NYPD Blue? So, two years ago it would have been impossible. Two years ago. Now it is natural. Who knows what is going to happen two years from now.
Our values change, we grow accustomed to something and become patient with it, and then all of the sudden we tolerate anything, within limits. When the Supreme Court ruled that free expression allows Nazis to march in Skokie, there you have a need for the mitzvah of a meiseis. Because if tolerance means total tolerance, than basically it also means tolerance for intolerance as well. And the Torah is saying “No.” That there comes a time when you have to draw a line and the line has to be drawn so strongly because the natural human drive is to say so you pay attention to it and you prove it wrong. Print the ad of the Holocaust denier. Print it, so these people can know what is being said and you can argue with it. That is what all, many, many people say. And what happens is that you forget how to draw lines. Now the Supreme Court may have been right and those who published the ads of the Holocaust deniers may be right, but we – I think that it is also fair to say that we forget how to draw lines. The Torah is saying that there are certain areas in which you can never, ever, afford the mistake of not drawing a line when the line is necessary. And do you know where that is? In the service of G-d. Because the minute you allow room for an idea, especially an idea like idol worship, which touches on very human, natural urges, and drives and tendencies. The minute you allow any credence – or even, not credence – tolerance, you have opened yourself up for a lot of trouble. That means there is, the Torah is telling us there are times when you show no tolerance for another idea. A dangerous Halachah? Absolutely. Because I am sure that every one of us has suffered, at one time or another, at the hands or the mouth of an intolerant person. But the Torah is definitely telling us that there are times when tolerance is not only ill advised, but it is destructive. That the Columbus argument has its weaknesses. All respect to Socrates. Yes?
If you say that Jesus worshipped, it is idol worship.
Audience: “Would that be a modern day example? Or don’t we have a modern day example.”
In terms of, that you would Halachically be obligated to kill a Jew for Jesus. No. Would I, do I think that the lesson of non tolerance is true? Yes.
Absolutely. I think that in every one of these mitzvoth we have been drawing distinctions between the conceptual applications and the application of the idea, from the actual parameters of the Halachah.
Okay so we will stop here in the middle of the laws of idol worship. On an intolerant note.