Deuteronomy 17

 

לֹא־תִזְבַּח לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ שֹׁור וָשֶׂה אֲשֶׁר יִהְיֶה בֹו מוּם כֹּל דָּבָר רָע כִּי תֹועֲבַת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ הוּא   17:1

Deut. 17:1 “You shall not sacrifice to the Lord, your God, an ox or a sheep on which there might be a spot of any sore thing, for it is an abomination of the Lord, your God.”

כִּי־יִמָּצֵא בְקִרְבְּךָ בְּאַחַד שְׁעָרֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר־יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ אִישׁ אֹו־אִשָּׁה אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה אֶת־הָרַע   17:2

בְּעֵינֵי יְהוָה־אֱלֹהֶיךָ לַעֲבֹר בְּרִיתֹו

Deut. 17:2 “When a man or a woman who would do what is evil in the eyes of the Lord, your God, trespassing His covenant, will be found in your midst in one of your cities that the Lord your God will be giving you

וַיֵּלֶךְ וַיַּעֲבֹד אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ לָהֶם וְלַשֶּׁמֶשׁ אֹו לַיָּרֵחַ אֹו לְכָל־צְבָא הַשָּׁמַיִם אֲשֶׁר לֹא־צִוִּיתִי   17:3

Deut. 17:3 that he goes and serves other gods and bows down to them or to the sun or to the moon or to any of the host of heaven that I have not commanded,

וְהֻגַּד־לְךָ וְשָׁמָעְתָּ וְדָרַשְׁתָּ הֵיטֵב וְהִנֵּה אֱמֶת נָכֹון הַדָּבָר נֶעֶשְׂתָה הַתֹּועֵבָה הַזֹּאת בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל   17:4

Deut. 17:4 and it would be declared to you and you hear, then you shall inquire diligently, and behold the thing is established true, this abomination has been done in Israel,

וְהֹוצֵאתָ אֶת־הָאִישׁ הַהוּא אֹו אֶת־הָאִשָּׁה הַהִוא אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ אֶת־הַדָּבָר הָרָע הַזֶּה אֶל־שְׁעָרֶיךָ   17:5

אֶת־הָאִישׁ אֹו אֶת־הָאִשָּׁה וּסְקַלְתָּם בָּאֲבָנִים וָמֵתוּ

Deut. 17:5 then you shall bring forth that man or that woman who has done this evil thing to your gates -- man or woman -- and you shall slay them with stones and they shall die.”

In v. 17:2, which starts this long sentence that ends in this verse, we can find additional sound support for my theory that when someone (in this case, Moses) is addressing the people, when using the singular second-person pronoun, he is speaking to the whole of the people as one entity.  There are other verses where similar support is provided, but here it is quite plain.  In v. 17:2, Moses says the phrase in your midst and the your is singular.  Suppose he were addressing the individuals of the people.  How then could something happen (a man or a woman doing evil) in one person’s midst?  The phrase in your midst implies more than one person, yet the pronoun is singular.  There appears to be no other way to interpret this.

עַל־פִּי שְׁנַיִם עֵדִים אֹו שְׁלֹשָׁה עֵדִים יוּמַת הַמֵּת לֹא יוּמַת עַל־פִּי עֵד אֶחָד   17:6

Deut. 17:6 “On the testimony of two witnesses or three witnesses shall the one to die be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the testimony of one witness.”

יַד הָעֵדִים תִּהְיֶה־בֹּו בָרִאשֹׁנָה לַהֲמִיתֹו וְיַד כָּל־הָעָם בָּאַחֲרֹנָה וּבִעַרְתָּ הָרָע מִקִּרְבֶּךָ   17:7

Deut. 17:7 “The hand of the witnesses shall be first on him to put him to death, then the hand of all the people afterward.  So you shall put away the evil from your midst.”

כִּי יִפָּלֵא מִמְּךָ דָבָר לַמִּשְׁפָּט בֵּין־דָּם לְדָם בֵּין־דִּין לְדִין וּבֵין נֶגַע לָנֶגַע דִּבְרֵי רִיבֹת בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ וְקַמְתָּ   17:8

וְעָלִיתָ אֶל־הַמָּקֹום אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בֹּו

Deut. 17:8 “When a matter for judgment from you shall be too difficult, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, or between wound and wound, matters of contention within your gates, then you shall arise and go up to the place in which the Lord, your God, will choose to be,

וּבָאתָ אֶל־הַכֹּהֲנִים הַלְוִיִּם וְאֶל־הַשֹּׁפֵט אֲשֶׁר יִהְיֶה בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם וְדָרַשְׁתָּ וְהִגִּידוּ לְךָ אֵת דְּבַר   17:9

הַמִּשְׁפָּט

Deut. 17:9 and you shall come to the priests, the Levites, and to the judge who will be in those days, and you shall inquire, and they shall declare to you the decree of judgment.”

 וְעָשִׂיתָ עַל־פִּי הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר יַגִּידוּ לְךָ מִן־הַמָּקֹום הַהוּא אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר יְהוָה וְשָׁמַרְתָּ לַעֲשֹׂות כְּכֹל  17:10

אֲשֶׁר יֹורוּךָ

Deut. 17:10 “And you shall do in accordance with the decree that they will declare to you from that place that the Lord will choose, and you shall hearken to do according to all that they instruct you.”

עַל־פִּי הַתֹּורָה אֲשֶׁר יֹורוּךָ וְעַל־הַמִּשְׁפָּט אֲשֶׁר־יֹאמְרוּ לְךָ תַּעֲשֶׂה לֹא תָסוּר מִן־הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר־יַגִּידוּ   17:11

לְךָ יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאל

Deut. 17:11 “According to the law in which they shall instruct you and on the judgment that they shall say to you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside right or left from the decree that they will have declared to you.”

וְהָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר־יַעֲשֶׂה בְזָדֹון לְבִלְתִּי שְׁמֹעַ אֶל־הַכֹּהֵן הָעֹמֵד לְשָׁרֶת שָׁם אֶת־יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֹו אֶל־   17:12

הַשֹּׁפֵט וּמֵת הָאִישׁ הַהוּא וּבִעַרְתָּ הָרָע מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל

Deut. 17:12 “But the man who would act presumptuously by not hearkening to the priest appointed there to serve the Lord, your God, or to the judge, then that man shall die so you will have removed the evil from Israel.”

I struggled greatly with these five verses, 17:8 to 17:12.  Early on, I saw them as describing me, as I have been and am seriously questioning some of the sages’ and rabbis’ decisions regarding halachah.  After considerable contemplation, prayer, and internal debate, I concluded that these verses do not apply to my situation.  I have two reasons for my conclusion.  First, during most of the time that halachah was being formulated, there were no priests or Levites active, because there was no temple.  Moreover, there were also no judges in existence.  Seventy sages apparently appointed themselves to act as judges in accordance with these five verses to interpret the law.  Yet these verses plainly imply that there was probably only one judge in any one location in each generation, and he was to preside wherever the priests and Levites were found.  So I must assume that the sages and rabbis exceeded their self-appointed authority when they ignored Moses’ admonition to not add to or take away from the words or commandments of the Torah (Deut. 4:2 and 13:1).  Secondly, according to v. 17:8, these verses seem to be dealing only with contentions between individuals, not with basic questions of Jewish law.  The law is as spelled out in the Torah.  As far as we know, neither God nor Moses ever dictated anything to us about interpretation of the law.  However Moses showed us that he interpreted the law on a number of occasions, sometimes first consulting with the Lord (see, for example, the episodes depicted in Numb. 27:1 to 27:7, and Numb. 36:1 to 36:8).  Therefore, we have to follow Moses’ lead and consult with the Lord (pray about the issue at hand) and carefully consider whether the result of our interpretation violates either of the two verses commanding us not to change any of the commandments in the Torah.  I believe that the rabbis and sages did not do this carefully enough.  Instead they debated among themselves and in many instances changed Torah laws.  One of numerous rather serious examples is in the Diaspora adding days to the Holy days commanded by God.  There really is no excuse for this, especially today, when each new month is easily calculated and identified anywhere in the world.

וְכָל־הָעָם יִשְׁמְעוּ וְיִרָאוּ וְלֹא יְזִידוּן עֹוד   17:13

Deut. 17:13 “And all the people shall hear and be afraid and not be presumptuous any more.”

כִּי־תָבֹא אֶל־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ וִירִשְׁתָּהּ וְיָשַׁבְתָּה בָּהּ וְאָמַרְתָּ אָשִׂימָה עָלַי מֶלֶךְ   17:14

כְּכָל־הַגֹּויִם אֲשֶׁר סְבִיבֹתָי

Deut. 17:14 “When you shall come in to the land that the Lord, your God, will be giving you that you will possess it and dwell in it, and you would say, ‘I will bring up a king over me like all the nations that surround me,’

שֹׂום תָּשִׂים עָלֶיךָ מֶלֶךְ אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בֹּו מִקֶּרֶב אַחֶיךָ תָּשִׂים עָלֶיךָ מֶלֶךְ לֹא תוּכַל לָתֵת   17:15

עָלֶיךָ אִישׁ נָכְרִי אֲשֶׁר לֹא־אָחִיךָ הוּא

Deut. 17:15 you shall in any case set a king over you whom the Lord, your God, will choose; you shall set a king over you from among your kindred; you shall not be able to put any stranger over you who is not of your kindred.”

רַק לֹא־יַרְבֶּה־לֹּו סוּסִים וְלֹא־יָשִׁיב אֶת־הָעָם מִצְרַיְמָה לְמַעַן הַרְבֹּות סוּס וַיהוָה אָמַר לָכֶם לֹא   17:16

תֹסִפוּן לָשׁוּב בַּדֶּרֶךְ הַזֶּה עֹוד

Deut. 17:16 “But he shall not multiply horses for himself, and shall not lead the people back to Egypt in order to multiply a horse, as the Lord says to you, ‘You shall not repeat going back in that direction again.’”

If you wish, you may continue or [Return to 1Sam. 13:23].

וְלֹא יַרְבֶּה־לֹּו נָשִׁים וְלֹא יָסוּר לְבָבֹו וְכֶסֶף וְזָהָב לֹא יַרְבֶּה־לּו מְאֹד   17:17

Deut. 17:17 “And he shall not multiply wives for himself so his heart does not turn away; and he shall not multiply silver and gold greatly for himself.”

וְהָיָה כְשִׁבְתֹּו עַל כִּסֵּא מַמְלַכְתֹּו וְכָתַב לֹו אֶת־מִשְׁנֵה הַתֹּורָה הַזֹּאת עַל־סֵפֶר מִלִּפְנֵי הַכֹּהֲנִים    17:18

הַלְּוִיִּם

Deut. 17:18 “And it shall be after his being seated on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write a copy of this Torah for himself on a scroll from before the priests, the Levites.”

                                                                                                                       [Return to 1Kin. 11:10]

Presumably, the priests and Levites had, or would have, this Torah in their possession.  But if the book of Deuteronomy was not written or completed until after Moses’ death, as I suspect (Commandment 506. You shall put as a king only of your kindred.), then It’s probable that when Moses spoke these words, the priests and Levites didn’t yet have the original in their possession, at least not the complete original.  It is likely that much of this book was either written by Moses or dictated by him to a scribe or scribes, but it was not completed before he died.  These words of Moses must have been deemed too important to not record them virtually as he spoke them.  So I believe that the priests and Levites had the responsibility to possibly record these words as well as to guard the scrolls on which they were written.  Besides this, do you think this verse really means that the king should write his own Torah?  I doubt that.  I believe he would have more likely had it written for him by a scribe.

                                                                                                                    [Return to 1Sam. 13:23]

וְהָיְתָה עִמֹּו וְקָרָא בֹו כָּל־יְמֵי חַיָּיו לְמַעַן יִלְמַד לְיִרְאָה אֶת־יְהוָה אֱלֹהָיו לִשְׁמֹר אֶת־כָּל־דִּבְרֵי   17:19

הַתֹּורָה הַזֹּאת וְאֶת־הַחֻקִּים הָאֵלֶּה לַעֲשֹׂתָם

Deut. 17:19 “And it shall be with him, and he shall read to himself all the days of his life, so that he may learn to revere the Lord, his God, to heed all the words of this Torah and these statutes, to observe them,

לְבִלְתִּי רוּם־לְבָבֹו מֵאֶחָיו וּלְבִלְתִּי סוּר מִן־הַמִּצְוָה יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאול לְמַעַן יַאֲרִיךְ יָמִים עַל־מַמְלַכְתֹּו   17:20

הוּא וּבָנָיו בְּקֶרֶב יִשְׂרָאֵל

Deut. 17:20 so his heart is not raised up more than his kindred and so he does not turn away from the commandment right or left, so that he will prolong the days for his kingdom, he and his children, in the midst of Israel.                                                                           [Return to 1Sam. 13:23]

The commandments for Israelite kings, as specified in vss. 18:16 to 18:18, are pretty explicit.  Yet King Solomon, whom Jews have always thought of as the wisest of men, violated all of these commandments.  He greatly multiplied his horses, and many of them from Egypt; he amassed a great fortune; he multiplied wives, possessing a harem of over 600 wives and over 300 concubines; and to our knowledge he did not have a copy of the Torah written for himself.  Is this why, as opposed to v. 17:20, the kingdom broke up almost immediately after his death?

Torah Commandments in this Chapter

454. When stoning a guilty idol worshiper, the first to cast stones shall be

         the witnesses.    V. 17:7

455. When a matter of any judgment is too difficult for you, you shall consult

        the priests, Levites, and the judge in the place of the Lord.    V. 17:8, 17:9

456. You shall follow the decree they will declare.    v. 17:10

457. You shall put over you only a king whom the Lord chooses.    V. 17:15

458. You shall set as king only one of your kindred.    V. 17:15

459. You shall not set a king over you who is a stranger, one who is not of

         your kindred    V. 17:15

460. The king shall not amass horses for himself.    V. 17:16

461. The king shall not lead the people back to Egypt.    V. 17:16

462. The king shall not amass wives for himself.    V. 17:17

463. The king shall not amass a treasure of silver or gold.    V. 17:17

464. The king shall write a copy of the Torah for himself.    V. 17:18

465. The king shall read the Torah all the days of his life.    V. 17:19

 

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