May 5, 2009

Cultural Relevance pt. 5 (Torah as Law)

As part of my take home final exam for one of my classes this semester - I had to answer the following question.

It is mid-summer of the eighteenth year of the reign of Jehoshaphat, our good and just king (may he live and grant us shalom!). You are a 20-year old vinedresser from the village of Eincerem, still single (although you have made certain discrete inquiries from the daughter of your neighbor, the son of the brother of your father’s brother.) Unfortunately, a hungry ox belonging to this very neighbor has broken the stonewall surrounding your vineyard and trampled a good portion of your vines. This ox-owner has a reputation in Eincerem (as well as in surrounding villages) for being a very hard man (you are hoping that this characteristic has not been passed on genetically), but he also enjoys the support of many of the leading men of the village who have deferred to him on a variety of matters in the past. What do you do?

My name is Yochanan son of Zecharyahu, son of Zecharyahu of the tribe of Levi. King Jehoshaphat my king is in his mid-fifties (53 according to 1 Kings 22:42) and Ahaziah the son of Ahab has just ascended to the throne of Israel a year ago (1 Kings 22:51). My grapes were due to be exceptional this year (as they are every year – well except for those three years of drought during the days of my father (1 Kings 17:1) – praise Yahweh that King Jehoshaphat did not marry a Phoenician!) What else would you expect from a vineyard in a town called “the spring of the vineyard?” However, my neighbor, Shaul, has proven that he cannot control his oxen. Shaul’s irresponsibility has caused severe damage to my family’s livelihood. This is especially egregious when you consider that my father’s father, Zecharyahu, built those terraces and my beit av has been maintaining them for the last thirty years! Luckily, my father, Zecharyahu, was diligent to the mizva (command) of Moshe (Deut. 11:19) and taught me Torah all the days of his life until his death at Ramoth-Gilead at the hands of Syria three years ago (May Yahweh bash their little ones against a stone! (Ps. 137:9). On this specific matter Torah is as clear as the waters of En Gedi (Exodus 22:5). Shaul should give me the choice vintage of his vineyard, which is not as good as the vintage of Zecharyahu, but .90 cents on the shekel is still better than letting my mother, Elisheba, and my sisters, Rivka and Miriam, starve. The problem is that Shaul is very influential over the elders of Eincerem, and although he is a Levite like myself his father neglected to teach him the mizvaot of Moshe. Another problem is Shaul’s 14-year-old daughter, Yehudit, (whose hips seem wide enough to bear many sons and whose “dibs” (grape honey) is the best in Judah) is my best option for a wife.

Because of my affinity for Yehudit it seems better to deal with Shaul directly rather then to go before the elders at the gate (Deut. 21:19) and present my case (even though my neighbors, Uriyahu and Baal-zephon (he is a proselyte, cut him a brit (circumcision)) saw the dreaded ox trample my vines to pieces (Deut. 17:6)). After all I am not a young man any more and the beit av (father's house) of Yochanan should not die with me! Maybe Shaul out of respect for my father’s memory and my knowledge of Torah will follow Moshe’s mizva. Who knows maybe we can close two deals at the same time – half-a-year’s crop and a wife – that would be a good day’s work. May Yahweh let it be so! Besides if he does not concede to the mizva of Moshe I can always appeal to the elders at the gate and if they let their respect of Shaul cloud their judgment I can appeal to King Jehoshaphat’s appointed judges in Jerusalem (2 Chr. 19:8) (he’s named “Yahweh judges” for a reason). Enough thinking, it is time to go to Shaul and present my complaint – I will have Miriam prepare some cakes for our inevitably lengthy discussion. “Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.” (Psalm 26:1)

12 hours later…

Praise be to Adoneinu Eloheinu (Our Lord, Our God)! Shaul, despite driving a hard bargain, heeded the mizva of Moshe and promised to give me the best of his vintage (luckily for him he has many vines – his beit av will come out even this year). More than that Yahweh has seen it fit to bless me with a wife! Hopefully all of the arrangements will be finished before the harvest so that my beloved and I may spend our first night under the succa (tents for Feast of Booths festival.) The marriage timing is perfect since it looks like that pesky Mesha of Moab is stirring up trouble again (2 Chr. 20). It will only be a matter of time before King Jehoshaphat invades the sheep-breeders (2 Kings 3 and Mesha Stele/Moabite Stone). War is most assuredly on the horizon, but not for my Yehudit and I for this year at least, that is if the village elders will respect the mizva of Moshe (Deut. 24:5).

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