Last week, we learned about pursuing justice to create a compassionate society. This week, we read about 6 dozen laws that are meant to enable us to do that.
The U.S. is not a theocracy. However, I do get annoyed when members of our government profess to be pious adherents of the Bible while promulgating laws and policies that directly oppose both specific and overall directives to be fair, honest, and compassionate. Just a few recent examples, which were way too easy to find:
- Parts of the Bahamas were totally destroyed by Hurricane Dorian. Acting chief of Customs and Border Protection, Mark Morgan, said at a news conference that it would be “appropriate,” based on both law and historic practice, to extend temporary protected status (TPS) to the victims, which would allow them to stay in the U.S. for at least six months. Despite that, TPS is not being granted. Further, the refugees are required to have travel documentation with them, visa and passport, though there are mixed signals about this. (I don’t know about you, but if my house were totally smashed to pieces, it’s likely I wouldn’t stop to hunt for my passport. But that’s just me.). And that is all legal.
- Then there’s the case of Kaytora Paul, a 12-year-old Bahamian girl who was sent to a shelter for abused or abandoned children because she arrived in South Florida with her godmother, not a blood relative. She’d only been separated from her family because of the logistics of their evacuation, her aunt was waiting for her in Florida, and her mother arrived only 2 days later. Now her mother has to collect documentation to prove she’s Kaytora’s mother and apply to be her daughter’s sponsor with HHS. That takes weeks to months normally, and the mother must leave the U.S. by September 26 (no TPS). And that’s all perfectly legal.
- Then there’s the ending of the “medical deferred action,” program, which allows people to remain in the U.S. for two-year periods if they can prove extreme medical need. A letter was sent to participants giving them 33 days to leave the U.S. even if that is tantamount to a death sentence. Two who would die if deported testified this week on Capitol Hill, 16-year-old Jonathan Sanchez who has cystic fibrosis; and Isabel Buesos, 24, who was recruited to come to the U.S. as part of a research program to treat her mucopolysaccharidosis type VI (MPS-6). The medical-deferred action cases will now be reviewed individually, but so far there has been nothing in writing to participants negating the 33-day limit. All that is perfectly legal.
- Just one more, because it’s from the Supreme Court. SCOTUS has allowed enforcement of a new Trump administration rule that denies asylum to anyone who passes through another country on the way to the U.S. without seeking protection there, effectively preventing most Central American migrants from seeking asylum in the United States. The enforcement is allowed while a legal challenge progresses through the courts. Even if the rule is eventually overturned, thousands of refugees will have been hurt because of this perfectly legal ruling.
All legal, all unnecessarily cruel. All apparently motivated not to achieve a society that is fair and compassionate, but one that is closed off, homogeneous, and compliant.
(This next section, up to “flogged,” is mainly from 2013.) Some laws lead to justice, some to injustice, deliberately or not; and most to more laws. Laws typically arise because of something that you don’t want to happen, whether or not it actually has yet, or in response to a specific situation. Then you think of potential future complications and incorporate provisions for dealing with them into your law. Then, once the law is in force, real, unforeseen complications ensue, prompting even more laws.
There several dozen laws in this week’s portion, laws concerning captive war brides, rights of the firstborn of a less-favored wife, insubordinate sons, decent treatment of the body of an executed criminal (none of that sticking head on pikes for display on London Bridge), returning and caring for lost items and animals, helping with fallen animals, not cross-dressing, not capturing a mother bird with her nestlings, and building a barrier on the roof to prevent people from falling off it. There are specified forbidden combinations of seed, working animals, and fibers in clothing. Speaking of fibers, we also read details about tzitzit, the ritual fringes on a four-cornered garment. And then we get into sexual misconduct, suspected or genuine. Eventually, we read about purity rules for a military camp, asylum for escaped slaves, cult prostitutes, charging interest, and treating all fairly and respectfully: your customers, workers, the poor, the widow, the orphan, and those sentenced to be flogged.
But having a compassionate society requires more than adding goodness. We must remember that we are actively sweeping away evil. Six times in this portion, we are explicitly told that, by doing such-and-such, ‘you will sweep out evil from your midst’ (19:19, 21:21; 22:21, 22, 24; 24:7). Caring for the stranger (also translated “resident alien”) is specifically mentioned in this portion 8 times (24”14, 17, 19, 20, 21; 26:12, 13), usually in laws commanding we care for the fatherless and widows. Why? “In order that the LORD your God may bless you in all your undertakings” (24:19). Finally, “Always remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore do I enjoin you to observe this commandment.” (24:22)
The portion ends with verses recollecting how Amalek ambushed their weak rear guard (Exodus 17:8-16), which we read on Shabbat Zachor, the one right before Purim (Roz’s Bat Mitzvah!). The Israelites are commanded to remember Amalek: blot out his name but be vigilant against his actual and symbolic progeny.
A few words about the haftarah, or, at least at my shul, haftarot. Two weeks ago, instead of reading the assigned haftarah for Re’eh, the third Haftarah of Consolation, my shul read the haftarah for Shabbat Rosh Chodesh. To get all 7 Haftarot of Consolation read before Rosh Hashanah, this week we will read #5 (Isaiah 54:1-10) and then the one we missed, #3 (Isaiah 54:11 – 55:5).
These seven Haftarot of Consolation can be viewed as a dialogue between Israel and the Lord (Rabbi David Abudarham, 14th c. Spain, as cited in Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Devarim, pp. 154-5). In the first, Isaiah 40:1-26, the Lord commands the prophets to comfort the people. Then, in Isaiah 49:14 – 51:3, Zion wails that the Lord has forsaken her. Next, in Isaiah 54:11 – 55:5, the Lord recognizes that Zion is not Zion’s ready to be consoled, so the next three haftarot contain increasingly intense comforting: “I am He that comforts you!” (Isaiah 51:12 – 52:12); “Sing, O barren one!” (Isaiah 54:1-10); and, “Arise, shine, for your light has dawned.” (Isaiah 60:1-22). In the seventh haftarah, (Isaiah 61:10 – 63:9), Israel finally rejoices in ecstasy, with expectations of deliverance.
Quotes about Comfort
Bare feet on the grass comfort the spirit and connect the body to the earth all at once! Maximillian Degenerez
Families are the compass that guide us. They are the inspiration to reach great heights, and our comfort when we occasionally falter. Brad Henry
Now, God be praised, that to believing souls gives light in darkness, comfort in despair. William Shakespeare
Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always. Hippocrates
Life is made up, not of great sacrifices or duties, but of little things, in which smiles and kindness, and small obligations given habitually, are what preserve the heart and secure comfort. Humphry Davy
I have occasionally posted lists of “stupid laws still on the books.” Now for something a tad different: fake stupid laws from the Washington Post Style Invitational.
Nov. 21, 2012 Report from Week 998 in which we asked for bogus “still on the books” laws: Perhaps before long they’ll be appended to the almost just as bogus lists of such laws circulating everywhere online.
The winner of the Inkin’ Memorial
In Bethlehem, Pa., an innkeeper MUST provide a room for a hugely pregnant woman (because you just never know. . .). (Beverley Sharp, Montgomery, Ala.)
Half-writs: honorable mentions
In California it is not illegal to feed animals in the park, but you are required to report the caloric content of everything you give them. (Josh Feldblyum, Philadelphia)
In the Florida Everglades, it is illegal to catch and gut an alligator out of season, unless you are attempting to retrieve your severed arm. (Beverley Sharp)
In Hawaii, it is illegal to drive your car to another state. (Gregory Koch, Storrs, Conn.)
In Roswell, N.M., it is illegal to hold three-headed races. (Roger Hammons, Ashburn, Va.)
On cars purchased in Massachusetts, directional signals are optional equipment. Nevah use ’em. Why pay for ’em? (Jeff Contompasis, Ashburn, Va.)
In Alabama, all state laws must fit onto two equal-size stone tablets. (Rob Huffman, Fredericksburg, Va.)
Wisconsin now permits public employee unions to bargain only over how many “Dilbert” cartoons may be displayed on cubicle walls. (David Genser)
High school biology textbooks in Kansas must explain that parts of “Jurassic Park” were meant to be merely allegorical. (David Genser)
In Virginia, the “No Person Left Inside” law requires that the census include a transvaginal ultrasound of every female of childbearing age. (Roger Hammons)
All. The. Time!
From Jewish Jokes: A Clever Kosher Compilation: A Clever Kosher Compilation
By David Minkoff
The Government is going to put a special tax on tzitzit. They are being classed as fringe benefits.