Parsha Mitzvot: Re’ei: The Wayward City I
“If, in one of your cities that God, your Lord, gives you in which to dwell, you hear, saying, ‘Lawless men have emerged from your midst, and they have caused the dwellers of their city to go astray, saying, ‘Let us go and worship the gods of others, that you have not known,’ – you shall seek out and investigate, and inquire well, and behold! It is true, the word is correct, this abomination was committed in your midst. You shall surely smite the inhabitants of the city with the edge of the sword; lay it waste and everything that is in it, and its animals, with the edge of the sword.” (Deuteronomy 13:13-16)
The laws of an “Ir Hanidachat,” or The Wayward City, are complex. We examine whether the “lawless men” are from the same tribe as the city’s inhabitants. We investigate whether it was a single person or a team of at least two, who led the city astray. We examine each member of the city. In fact, the Talmud records a debate whether such a city ever existed.
However, these complex laws have an important and practical lesson for us:
“An irreligious man is not one who denies the gods of the majority, but one who applies to the gods the opinions of the majority. For what most men say about the gods are not ideas derived from sensation, but false opinions, according to which the greatest evils come to the wicked, and the greatest blessings come to the good from the gods.” Epicurus, c. 250 BC.
The Ir Hanidachat is a place in which all have chosen the path of the majority. All believe and serve based on ideas that two people introduced to the city. An idea that can spread so quickly must be incredibly powerful. The Revelation at Sinai was a shared experience that followed many earth-shattering experiences. It was not just an idea. We debate ideas. We argue, question, and challenge practically every idea. Is it possible that the People of the Talmud would find any single idea so compelling that it enjoined unanimity of opinion, without exception?
Only Sinai can legitimately lay claim to universal acceptance of a shared experience. Yet, the people of this city challenge the uniqueness of Sinai by claiming that they have achieved even more than Revelation: They unanimously share an idea.
The only universally accepted idea is a forced belief as in 1984. A universal idea indicates restricted thought and choice. What began with two people became the belief of the majority, and soon became “universal,” shared by people no longer capable of thought. The Wayward City is the antithesis of our Covenant of Sinai, and of the Covenant of Free Choice taught in this week’s portion as the Blessings and Curses.