Some Messages Are Hard To Deliver
The severity of the war against the Midianites should motivate us to examine our own behavior and root out our own forms of idolatry.
The person who sins, only he shall die. Thus if a man is righteous and does what is just and right: If he has not eaten on the mountains or raised his eyes to the fetishes of the House of Israel; if he has not defiled another man’s wife or approached a menstruating woman; if he has not wronged anyone; if he has returned the debtor’s pledge to him and has taken nothing by robbery; if he has given bread to the hungry and clothed the naked; if he has not lent at advance interest or exacted accrued interest; if he has abstained from wrongdoing and executed true justice between man and man; if he has followed My laws and kept My rules and acted honestly, he is righteous. Such a man shall live, declares the Eternal God. Suppose now that he has begotten a son who is a ruffian, a shedder of blood, who does any of these things, whereas he himself did none of these things. That is [the son] has eaten on the mountains, has defiled another man’s wife, has wronged the poor and the needy, has taken by robbery, has not returned a pledge, has raised his eyes to the fetishes, has committed abomination, has lent at advance interest or exacted accrued interest: Shall he live? He shall not live! If he has committed any of these abominations, he shall die; he has forfeited his life (Ezekiel 18:4—13).
People could not hear these prophets because these prophets said what the people did not like to hear…. These prophets made people feel uncomfortable (Sheldon H. Blank, Understanding the Prophets, URJ Press, 1996).
Do you agree with Seeskin’s assessment of idolatry as being a moral rather than an intellectual error?
Amos warned the people of their doom because of their transgressions, and Ezekiel reminded them that the wicked are responsible for their own guilt and will die if they do not repent. How do you think the messages of these prophets were received?
Do contemporary prophets exist? Should they? Who delivers to you the challenging messages that you don’t want to hear regarding modifying your life? Do we need to be given severe messages like those in Amos and Ezekiel or those in Parashat Mattot to force us to listen?
Based on any of the texts above, should we warn our friends and family members about their lifestyles and idolatrous materialism regardless of how difficult we find such a prophetic function to be?
In Mattot the Israelites pursue revenge against the Midianites as a divinely imposed obligation. I searched for someone like Abraham who argues with God as our patriarch did on behalf of the people of Sodom in Genesis 18, but in Mattot there is no such negotiation for a more peaceful resolution.
The Torah was written over a period of time. As Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut points out, this kind of historical writing was completed long after the events in the Five Books of Moses took place. Rather than deal with the accuracy of the history, let us consider some possible reasons for the wording in the Torah.
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