By Rabbi David Hartley Mark
In Which I Imagine a Rewrite of the Blessing and Curse of This Parsha
THE LORD GOD SPEAKS:
As Humans, the only earthly creatures whom I, the Lord your God, have gifted with Free Will, you have the right to choose to do Good or Evil, provided you accept the direct consequences of your actions. For this is the Law of Life, even though I, the Lord your God, do involve Myself in human activities to a large extent, in a manner which divines, philosophers, scientists, and skeptics will all find difficult to explain. Many will choose, therefore, not to believe in Me, which is fine, I suppose. After all, I gave them free will to do so.
But what if their activities force me not to believe in them? We’ll just have to see what develops.
How will they treat one another? That will be the Ultimate Test. But I digress:
O My People! Upon your Crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land for which you have prayed and yearned these Forty Years, I command you to stage a Grand Ceremony of Holy Covenant between the People Israel and Me near the City of Shechem. Why Shechem? It was the dwelling-place of your ancestor Jacob, who became Israel (unlike Abraham, who settled in Hebron, and Isaac, who lived in Beersheva). It is also the locale of Mt. Gerizim (the Place of the Blessing) and Mt. Ebal (the Place of the Curse).
Please note that the Land is already inhabited by Canaanites. These are not to be confused with the Palestinians who will live there in the Future, and with whom you will have both good, but mainly bad, relations. Dealing with, controlling, defending yourselves from, and, sadly, subjugating them, will involve a great deal of your time, existence, defensive and offensive activities, expansion, and survival. I will say no more about that; your politicians, rabbis, generals, and spies will have a great deal more to say, useless and self-serving, in the main. Politics and religion often result in a destructive mix. Such acrimony was certainly not My original intention, but, to quote My later, lugubrious servant, Jeremiah, “The heart of man is exceeding deep; who can know it?” And then, there is also that free will thing….
A centralized shrine, such as a Holy Temple, creates a national feeling and allegiance to a Deity (that is, Me) as well as to whichever king you decide upon—and my own position on kings is decidedly ambivalent; am I not your King? I therefore order you to destroy the local Canaanite pagan bamote, their idolatrous sacrificial places. No “religious” mixing with the Canaanites, either, although I know you will do whatever you decide; I can’t really stop you. Still, rest assured that if you go looking for trouble, trouble will find you. There will be Divine Retribution for your backsliding. Isn’t there always?
Be sure to keep kosher. Preparing and eating your meat in a particular manner will also ensure that you remain socially separate from the Canaanites. This will be a good thing, both in the eyes of the Kohanim/Priests, who will receive their 10% tithe of cattle and produce and amass a great deal of both economic and political power thereby. Never underestimate the connection between possession of food and possession of Power. It will persist, forevermore.
Let Me reiterate: by all means possible, avoid Paganism. It involves child sacrifice, divination, false prophecy, and other assorted disloyalties to Me. I do not take such offenses lightly, being a jealous God. You people need to be punished with an occasional plague, now and again; it will keep you in line. I did it to your ancestors, who, at least, appreciated My freeing them from slavery, and I can do it to you. That means, no gashing your flesh as a sign of mourning, and no eating icky things. Domestic quadrupeds make fine meals: split hooves, chewing the cud—you remember that, from Leviticus, and this Book of Deuternomy is a refresher course.
As for fish, fins and scales is the way to go. I don’t understand this eating fish in a traif restaurant, but it has evolved into a neutral zone. Well, let’s move on to poultry. Again, domestic fowl—no birds of prey—is permissible. Who would want to eat an owl or buzzard, anyway?
Most importantly, support Levites and Kohanim; they are My designated servants. Rabbis won’t become official teachers and religious leaders until the 6th Century BCE, around the time of the Talmud, which comments upon this Written Law, and tries to make it congruous with social conditions of the day. Actually, Judaism will be moving in this direction from the 2nd through the 6th Century, but that’s ‘way in the future. In the meantime, don’t neglect the poor and needy among you; leave them the corners of the field, and the gleanings of your harvest.
On the topic of food, don’t forget the Three Pilgrimage Festivals—Pesach, Sukkot, and Shavuote, albeit not in their chronological order. They are all harvest-based, and represent gratitude for having enough to eat in a country where rainfall is unreliable and, indeed, represents the visible sign of My grace. I choose to identify Pesach with the Exodus, not the Harvest Season alone.
Please try to be nice to one another. Give My poor folk both respect and sustenance; by so doing, you honor Me, as well. Before you do something harsh, evil, or ill-spirited to another person, ask yourself, “Is this what God would have me do?”
It’s called having a Conscience—a little Divine Whisper I have emplanted within you all. So have I blessed you all; so will you bless Me in return. Amen!