Friday, September 16, 2011

Ki Tavo 5771: The Evil of Tea?

This week we read the ceremony of the first fruits and instruction for the ceremony at Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim of the Blessings and Curses. As part of the first fruit ceremony we read:
12 When thou hast made an end of tithing all the tithe of thine increase in the third year, which is the year of tithing, and hast given it unto the Levite, to the stranger, to the fatherless, and to the widow, that they may eat within thy gates, and be satisfied, 13 then thou shalt say before the LORD thy God: 'I have put away the hallowed things out of my house, and also have given them unto the Levite, and unto the stranger, to the fatherless, and to the widow, according to all Thy commandment which Thou hast commanded me; I have not transgressed any of Thy commandments, neither have I forgotten them. [Deuteronomy 26]

We also read in the curses:
18 Cursed be he that makes the blind to go astray in the way. And all the people shall say: Amen. {S} 19 Cursed be he that perverts the justice due to the stranger, fatherless, and widow. And all the people shall say: Amen.[Deuteronomy 28]

We keep seeing the same phrase: the stranger, fatherless and widow. In each case we are to deal with justice to them -- feed them. This phrase and the obligation to take care of those less fortunate than us show up not just here but in 19 places I could find explicitly:

Ex 22:21-25
Deut 10:18, 14:29, 16:11, 24:17, 24:19-21, 26:12-3, 27:19,
Is 9:16, 10:2,
Jer. 5:28, 7:6, 22:3,
Ezek 22:7, 7:10,
Mal 3:5,
Ps 10:18, 82:3, 94:6,

All say the same thing, and all state that God will take care of the stranger, fatherless and the widow in a very angry way -- with revenge:
22 The LORD will smite thee with consumption, and with fever, and with inflammation, and with fiery heat, and with drought, and with blasting, and with mildew; and they shall pursue thee until thou perish. 23 And thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass, and the earth that is under thee shall be iron. 24 The LORD will make the rain of thy land powder and dust; from heaven shall it come down upon thee, until thou be destroyed. [Deuteronomy. 26]

Most modern liberal folk have a hard time with this angry quid pro quo punishment stuff. I admittedly do too. The news for the last few weeks has me wondering. I have heard Politicians and fundamentalist religious leaders blame earthquakes, hurricanes and other catastrophes on passing gay marriage and not cutting the budget for public program that help so many. Yet earthquake and flood aren’t the curse we read about.

It is drought and famine accompanied by fiery heat.

I didn't think much about this until I watched a storm track of Tropical storm Lee, which seemed to go out of its way to avoid Texas and Oklahoma, and deny relief for the drought those beleaguered states are facing. A state with as many problems as Texas makes me wonder. It is a state, though by far not the only one, who oppresses the fatherless, the single mom, and the stranger in their midst. Many in that state, on religious grounds want to ban abortions and would never allow Gay marriages in their state. For this, they call themselves “righteous.” Their leaders believe in life for the fetus, yet Texas is the worst state in the nation for prenatal care. There is only two places in the entire Tanach mentioning a prohibition of homosexuality, and to my knowledge only one in Tanach which hints at abortion being bad. Indeed the Talmud interprets the laws for abortion much differently than this lot of “righteous” people, believing the life of the mother to be far more valuable than the life of the fetus.
If God says something twice, say "a man should not lay down with a male as he does with a woman"[Lev 18:22] it may be important, even though that says nothing about signing a contract of lifetime commitment under God. If you believe that two time is important, if God says something nineteen times, wouldn’t be a good idea to listen? The latter prophets and the book of Kings are statements that oppressing the needy is not a new thing. They also attest to God’s anger in doing so, for oppressing the poor is oppressing the image of God.
I still have a very hard time believing in a quid pro quo God, even on a macro level. Yet I watch the evil around us, and the evil that wants to lead us, and I wonder if such wonders as a massive drought are a sign or retribution from God. While I might hear something about climate change, I don't hear people stating that the catastrophes that plague us this year are because we oppress the poor. Yet I wonder.
The curses are set up to turn those who oppress into the oppressed. It is to turn a whole land, both the innocent and the guilty to a horrible fate. I really don’t know if this is God’s doing. Whatever the cause there are now more poor people in the world, and each needs help. I know what our role is -- and that is to help the stranger, widow and orphan.

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