Monday, September 08, 2003

Parshat Ki Tavo #1: Talk of a Death Cult?

Devarim 26:12-15 discusses the vidui maaser, confession of maaser, in which a person states that he has properly distributed/disposed of his tithes:

כִּי תְכַלֶּה לַעְשֵׂר אֶת-כָּל-מַעְשַׂר תְּבוּאָתְךָ, בַּשָּׁנָה הַשְּׁלִישִׁת--שְׁנַת הַמַּעֲשֵׂר: וְנָתַתָּה לַלֵּוִי, לַגֵּר לַיָּתוֹם וְלָאַלְמָנָה, וְאָכְלוּ בִשְׁעָרֶיךָ, וְשָׂבֵעוּ
וְאָמַרְתָּ לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בִּעַרְתִּי הַקֹּדֶשׁ מִן-הַבַּיִת, וְגַם נְתַתִּיו לַלֵּוִי וְלַגֵּר לַיָּתוֹם וְלָאַלְמָנָה, כְּכָל-מִצְוָתְךָ, אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתָנִי: לֹא-עָבַרְתִּי מִמִּצְו‍ֹתֶיךָ, וְלֹא שָׁכָחְתִּי.
לֹא-אָכַלְתִּי בְאֹנִי מִמֶּנּוּ, וְלֹא-בִעַרְתִּי מִמֶּנּוּ בְּטָמֵא, וְלֹא-נָתַתִּי מִמֶּנּוּ, לְמֵת; שָׁמַעְתִּי, בְּקוֹל יְהוָה אֱלֹהָי--עָשִׂיתִי, כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתָנִי.
הַשְׁקִיפָה מִמְּעוֹן קָדְשְׁךָ מִן-הַשָּׁמַיִם, וּבָרֵךְ אֶת-עַמְּךָ אֶת-יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאֵת הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר נָתַתָּה לָנוּ--כַּאֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתָּ לַאֲבֹתֵינוּ, אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ.

"When thou hast made an end of tithing all the tithe of thine increase in the third year, which is the year of tithing, and hast given it unto the Levite, to the stranger, to the fatherless, and to the widow, that they may eat within thy gates, and be satisfied,

then thou shalt say before the LORD thy God: 'I have put away the hallowed things out of my house, and also have given them unto the Levite, and unto the stranger, to the fatherless, and to the widow, according to all Thy commandment which Thou hast commanded me; I have not transgressed any of Thy commandments, neither have I forgotten them.

I have not eaten thereof in my mourning, neither have I put away thereof, being unclean, nor given thereof for the dead; I have hearkened to the voice of the LORD my God, I have done according to all that Thou hast commanded me.

Look forth from Thy holy habitation, from heaven, and bless Thy people Israel, and the land which Thou hast given us, as Thou didst swear unto our fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey.'"

There is a dispute about the meaning of the words לֹא-אָכַלְתִּי בְאֹנִי מִמֶּנּוּ.

Rashi writes that it means "I did not eat it while in aninut," that is, during the period of time after a close relative dies and has not yet been buried. Rashbam writes that `on means power, and thus I did not take it in gezel, stealing, by force.

The pasuk states later, "וְלֹא-נָתַתִּי מִמֶּנּוּ, לְמֵת" which Rashi, following an opinion stated in the Sifrei, claims that it means "I did not use it's value to purchase a coffin and shrouds for a dead body." Ramban discusses it at length, and cites and dismisses the Rambam. Ibn Ezra includes the intriguing possibility that "וְלֹא-נָתַתִּי מִמֶּנּוּ, לְמֵת" means that he did not give it as an idolatrous offering, mes meaning idol, like zivchei meisim are sacrifices to gods who are not living gods.

I would offer the following suggestion: We are dealing here, in the vidui maaser, with the statement that he did not give of the maaser and neta revai to a death-cult. We know of the meonen (spelled with an AYIN, so it is not equal to "lo achalti biOni," with an ALEPH), a necromancer who communicated with the dead. There may have existed, as mantic methods of inducing prophecy from the dead, rituals which might be described in this pasuk. "וְלֹא-נָתַתִּי מִמֶּנּוּ, לְמֵת" could mean that he did not give the maaser as an offering to the dead. To speak to the dead and to get them to manifest their presence on a person, he might become unholy, by becoming tamei, and then partaking of this offering. Thus, וְלֹא-בִעַרְתִּי מִמֶּנּוּ בְּטָמֵא could be eating of burning of an offering. Rashi recommends himself as more pshat-ful than Rashbam in terms of onen, even though onen has two nuns and "oni" and "on" only has one, for the topic should be death. This partaking of the korban while in this death-associated state of aninut might be a mantic method of inducing death-prophecy.

A word of warning, though. I once suggested while in shiur that ""וְלֹא-נָתַתִּי מִמֶּנּוּ, לְמֵת" meant giving it as an offering to the dead, perhaps in some form of ancestor worship, and was told by the rebbe of that shiur that I was being doresh torah shelo kihalacha.

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