Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Deuteronomy: Chapter 25


Who do you hold
What do you carry
And what cannot be grasped?

[For full chapter, click here
If the previous chapter closed with a focus of forgetting, on learning to leave things behind, this chapter focuses on remembering. “Remember what did to you on the way, when you came forth from the Land of Egypt” (25:7).  It is not only the memory of the path of national history that must be preserved, but also the individual names of those die “that his name be not blotted out from Israel.”

The forgotten are given to the forgotten: the left produce of the previous chapter are  left for those on the margins, for “the window, the fatherless, the stranger.” Memory is connected to belonging, to brotherhood—the leitwort of this chapter. Again, and again, the chapter speaks of ahim (brothers)—brothers, even if one is “wicked” (25:3); brothers, even if they fight. Brotherhood creates a space of “togetherness” (yahdav, another key word of the chapter).
Until now, Deuteronomy has focused on the socially vulnerable, insisting that the weaker parts of society—the widow, orphan the stranger—must be protected.  The lesson of slavery is providing a safe space for the weak. Yet now the focus on togetherness and brotherhood create a sensitivity to another type of vulnerability: the vulnerability of those who are “together” and alike to you. One must recognize the vulnerability of the guilty man punished in court, “so that your brother will not destroyed before you”; Amalek is condemned for attacking “all those who faltered behind” when the nation was  “enfeebled and weary.” A woman who “reaches forth her hand” (that terrible key phrase of Genesis) to grab a man's "vulnerable parts  (mevushav)" is to be punished by the loss of her own hand.

Which leads us to the fact that the place of women in this "together" space is questionable. The wife of a man who dies without children remains within the family space “she shall not go outside,” unless her husband’s brother does not wish to perform a levirate marriage that will “preserve the name of his brother.” Here, the wife becomes the glue in the continued “togetherness” of the brothers. Yet in the case of the a fight (“if men strive together, a man against his brother”), the woman cannot get involved: if she jumps in to protect her husband, she is punished. She is not to put her hand in the intimate space of their grappling together. Her own vulnerability is not taken into account.]

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