Constraining Sinful Appetites
Kee Taytsay (“When You Go Out”) – Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19
This week’s parasha Kee Taytsay, meaning, “When you go out”, covers Deuteronomy chapters 21 through 25. This portion of the Torah contains little narrative, but rather comprises a lengthy list of assorted commands – by Maimonides’ count 72 separate injunctions! If one had to find a theme woven through this parasha, it would be the necessity of law in order to constrain our sinful appetites.
Some liberal theologians argue that many, if not most, of these various commands are irrelevant to today’s world. I couldn’t disagree more! When, for example, we read that we are not to turn a blind eye to our neighbors’ troubles (or even that of his animals), or that we are to treat with dignity those who have fallen on hard times and are in our debt, that speaks of compassion. How is that irrelevant? When we are enjoined to return lost property to its rightful owner, and warned that we had better have equal weights and measures, that speaks of honesty. How is that irrelevant? When we are commanded to promptly pay a day’s wages for a day’s work, or when we are prohibited from taking advantage of our brother’s financial hardship by charging interest on his loan, that speaks of fairness in our financial dealings. How is that irrelevant?
Included also in this section of the Torah are prescribed punishments for capital offenses, such as kidnapping and mistreating or selling people, and adultery. Adulterers and kidnappers were to be put to death. If you thought that kidnapping people and selling them was a thing of the past, you are sadly mistaken. Young girls are being kidnapped across the world at this very hour and forced into prostitution. Children are being kidnapped and sold as slaves in countries where Islam has taken control of the government. This is one more reason why I detest the comparing of Islam to either Judaism or Christianity. As for adultery, not only have we decriminalized it, but it has become standard fare in most television programming today.
So many aspects of this parasha are saddening. Men with more than one wife were warned not to disregard the rights of a first-born son if that son happened to be from one of their wives that they didn’t love. God may not have forbidden polygamy in the Scriptures, but on account of our hard hearts it was necessary for Him to establish limitations. It was, and is, necessary that our selfish, sinful natures be kept in check. Women were not to be seen as possessions to be acquired or disposed of at a man’s whim. If a husband accused his wife of not having been a virgin at the time of their wedding, and it was proven false, he would receive a stinging public rebuke and a monetary fine. Laws governing divorce lead off the list in chapter 24. The list of prohibitions in these chapters is a sad commentary on the sinfulness of mankind. We’re looking at everything from callous favoritism to defamation of character to the dissolution of one’s covenant vow of marriage. Transvestism (cross-dressing) was also prohibited, and God calls it an abomination.
These laws are not, as some suggest, the product of a backward civilization and therefore unnecessary for us today. They are still very much necessary as a means of deterring us from behaviors that destroy civilizations. Laws that protect us from ourselves should be seen as gifts from a loving and all-wise God, who knows perfectly well the depths to which human beings are capable of sinking. Given the breakneck speed of our technological advancement, it’s frightening to see that mankind is still wallowing in moral filth. What will we do with that technology? We can split the atom; we can manipulate bacteria, we make advancements in chemistry, and from one and the same technology we cure illnesses and create doomsday weapons.
Perhaps another theme that ties together these many and varied commandments and prohibitions is the need to show compassion and justice – especially toward the weak and most vulnerable members of society: orphans, widows, unmarried women, those in debt – the very ones most likely to be taken advantage of. In fact it has been argued that because compassion toward the weak and vulnerable is so much a theme here, that chapter 25 ends with a reminder about the Amalekites. When Israel had just come out of Egypt, and were weary and traveling through the wilderness, the Amalekites ambushed us (cf. Ex. 17:8-16, 1 Sam. 15:2-3). In fact we are told in Deuteronomy 25 that they attacked from the rear – targeting those who were struggling to keep up (the elderly, the infirm, perhaps also women with very young children). The Amalekites are remembered in Scripture for infamy, for their targeting of the weak and vulnerable.
This parasha proves Yeshua’s teaching as to what constitutes the greatest commandment. He said we are to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we would just pattern our lives according to the 2, the other 611 would not need to have been written. But it is precisely our sinful nature that necessitates the written law, and that written law condemns every one of us, for whoever keeps the whole law, but fails in one point, has become guilty of all (Jam. 2:10/Deut. 27:26).
It also proves the necessity of the New Birth. Legislation may constrain us, but by itself can never transform us. But God mercifully promised through the prophet Jeremiah (31:31-34) a New Covenant. Unlike the covenant made at Sinai, which we callously disregarded and broke, the New Covenant, which would be ushered in through the Messiah, would so transform the human heart that it would actually cause us to desire to do the will of God. His instruction, His law, would be written on our hearts!
So if we declare that Messiah has come, and His name is Yeshua, and that He has ushered in the New Covenant, and unbelievers wonder why there is no peace in the world, it is because they themselves have refused this New Covenant. It is like refusing to listen to your doctor: you are free to disbelieve his diagnosis and disregard his prescribed course of treatment, but if you do, you are not free to be cured of your illness. The sole cure for mankind’s terminal sinful condition is the atoning death and victorious resurrection of Messiah Yeshua.