Thursday, September 08, 2011

Not leaving an executed corpse hanging overnight as a reformative law

Summary: The law of not leaving an executed corpse overnight is, according to HaMaamar, also a reformative law to correct a practice prevalent in the general culture.

Post: Continuing the ideas mentioned in the previous post about the laws in Ki Teitzei as reactive and reformative to the existing laws and customs prevalent in the Ancient Near East, I present this selection from HaMaamar:

"You shall not leave his corpse overnight:  It is known that in those days, the custom was to leave the corpse of a man who had been executed (whether his body or his head) as food for birds, which is a disgrace for all flesh, so that the nation should see and sin willfully no more. And just as we find regarding the flesh of the royal baker, 'and the birds shall eat your flesh from upon you' (Bereshit 6:19). Yet, the law of our holy Torah is that death cleanses all rebellion, and in his death all iniquity is erased, and all sin is atoned for, for from one end to the other, the law is only unto God, and there is nothing more in the hands of man to punish the sinner. And therefore, He commanded that he should have a burial like one of the nation, so that he and all his family should not be shamed. And it has already come via tradition {kabbalah} that they hang him close to sunset, and remove him immediately. And perhaps this is the position of Onkelos who translated אֲרֵי עַל דְּחָב קֳדָם יְיָ, אִצְטְלִיב. (Meanwhile, anyone who sins is liable before Hashem, if he did not as well blaspheme or worship idols.) אִצְטְלִיב, that is to say, he has already received his punishment. It further seems to me that in olden times, the gullible and foolish people, who believed in nonsense, whose eyes mislead them to see strange things, if they pass at midnight at the place where judgement was executed upon the man, and specifically if the body of the judged is still on the tree, satyrs {seirim} dance there, and imaginings of terrors horrify them them. And many think that with the skull of the judged man, or one of his other limbs, one can divine, as all of this is known. And our perfect Torah teaches this in order to distance this nonsensical belief from the chosen nation. Therefore, the command comes to bury the condemned man. And Chazal received a tradition that also the tree upon which he was hanged, and the stone by which he was stoned is buried with him. And this is extremely appropriate based on our approach. And upon this is stated, 'and you shall not corrupt your land', for upon all nonsensical beliefs, the Scripture states that is pollutes the land. Based on these words, it is possible that the mitzvah is not referring to the situation in the wilderness, for them they were on the road, in a desolate land, and if a man was hung upon a tress, this would be outside the camp, where no man would pass at night, such that there would be no cause for concern for this."

I can cite History of the viceroys of Ireland to provide such an example, of using the skull of an executed man in necromancy:

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