By Rabbi David Hartley Mark
The Capture of the Beautiful Captive Woman, in Wartime (Deut. 21:10-14):
The Master Sergeant’s War-Booty Bride
When you take the field against your enemies [in war], and the LORD your GOD delivers them into your power and you take some of them captive, and you see among the captives a beautiful woman and you desire her and would take her to wife….she shall spend a month’s time in your house lamenting [the loss of] her father and mother; after that, …she shall be your wife [Deut. 21: 10-14, adapted].
“You ask me about my newest wife-to-be, Stranger? I am Barbari ben Bulbul, if you please—Master Sergeant Barbari, that is.
“Aye, she’s a pretty lass—there she sits, singing away in her heathen tongue, a-spinning like an angel, still with her shaven head and clipped nails, mourning the loss of her kinfolk in the skirmish I grabbed her away on.
“Met her? Aye, I met her—well, captured her—just two weeks ago, on a tribal raid. Captain Elkan led us softly into a Hurrian pagan camp in the dead of night. Their thieving, lying, filthy shepherds had been encroaching on our Israelite watering-holes, drying them up; there was barely water enough for our flocks or theirs, but nay enough for two. We decided to go a-thundering into their camp, rough ‘em up a bit, show them a lesson. Did not the Most High God give this land to us, Friend Stranger? I’ll say He did, and it was time we made it clear to those cave-dwelling, lice-scratching Hurrians.
“Well, our Special Night Squad hit ‘em hard, from all points of their camp, waving torches, smashing clay pots to make a crunching noise, and yelling, ‘God for Israel and Captain Elkan forever!’ I and two of my lads—Yakum and Pildaf, sons of Einar, they were—went from tent to tent, firing them up with goodly amounts of nitre a-sprinkled on the roofs.
“Are we not to enjoy any booty this night?” called out Yakum—he’s a greedy sort, he is, and I nodded; as long’s the War-Priest gets his cut—begging your pardon, Stranger, his ten-percent for the Sanctuary, that is, in Shiloh, then we’re on the square with God-on-High—and so, we split off, and I entered the next tent.
“Well, there was naught there but an old, toothless crone, smelling to Heaven’s gates; I bade her ‘Be gone, Biddy,’ and she was, in an eye-blink—but I saw then a pile of old woolly blankets in a corner, and poked ‘em with my spear-tip; a tiny voice called out, ‘Ouch! Careful, mind your manners, now!’
“And there SHE was, my Ayshetbaal—a bit dirty ‘round the face, but a lovely face, at that—
“And so, we’re to be wed—the War-Priest himself, Damiel ben Reeve, will do the Nuptials, once the Mourning-Time is done—won’t you come, and honor us by your presence, M’Lord?”
The Wayward and Defiant Son (Deut. 21:18-21):
The Death of a Special-Needs Child
If a man has a wayward and defiant son, who does not [obey] his father and mother even after they discipline him, his [parents] shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town….They shall say…’This son of ours is disloyal and defiant; he does not heed us. …Thereupon the men of his town shall stone him to death [Deut. 21:18-21].
“I am Rofeh ben Rokeach, Priest of Healing, in this section of the Holy Sanctuary of Shiloh devoted to prayer and treatment of those who suffer in both body and, though we try to deny it, mind. My countrymen are—how shall I put it?—backward in their thoughts about mental deficiencies. ‘A demon has possessed him,’ they will say without hesitation, and, when a baby is born incomplete, lacking in some physical trait—a withered limb, blind, or deaf—they may bring the child to me. More often, I fear, they will simply—dispose of them, though the thought frightens me to my bones.
“I have fasted and prayed to the Almighty, that He grant me understanding of those who are born—different. Some of our babes cannot speak properly; some cannot learn in our schools. There are even some who progress normally, but reach a certain point in their lives, and begin to—how shall I say it?—deteriorate, as though God had planned—for God does everything, and wills everything, all-holy be His Name!—I say, as though God had planned for them to proceed to a certain point, and no further.
“Often, parents will bring such a child to me.
“’He does not heed us,’ they will complain, ‘He cannot help on the farm, or in our shop—he cannot learn, even the simplest of instructions—though we feed him, how can we continue to do so? Can you pray over him, Milord Priest? Can our God reach into his brain, and fix it? Can God remove the demon that is, so obviously, tormenting him? He is becoming a Wayward and Defiant Son, and we will take steps, Lord Priest, if you or God cannot fix him….”
“And I smile, and shrug, and lay hands on the child, and—well, what can I say? All is in God’s hands….
“Most recently, I have heard of some who—though it frightens me to think of it—are doing away with such children, citing the Law in the Torah. I will not stand for this. I will apply to the High Priest, and see if we can set aside a chamber or two in the Sanctuary compound for such children. I will care for them. I know also of several women who would join me in doing so.
“And more: it is possible that we could use herbs, to brew a tea that would calm such children down. I will not turn my back on them. I cannot believe that our Dear God would send demons into little children.
“If there cannot be a cure, there must be a caregiver. I, Rofeh ben Rokeach, will be that one. I will be God’s Caregiver, for as long as I can be, and I will train others to do so.
“There will be no more ‘Wayward and Defiant Children’ destroyed by Stoning, while I walk this earth….”