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D'varim/Deuteronomy 27:14 And the Levites shall respond and they shall say to every man of Israel, [in a] loud voice
This is the famous pronouncement of blessings and curses on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal respectively, where six tribes gather on each mountain for the proclamation. Although only curses are listed in the following verses, RabbiHirsch explains that "to agree with verses 12-13, each curse (here listed in verses 15-26) is preceded by the corresponding opposite blessing to Mount Gerizim, then the curse to Mount Ebal." We'll see in a moment how the verbs in the text support this idea. Jeffrey Tigay points out that the Levites are acting "in their priestly role. Although blessings and curses by any individual could be effective, priests' and prophets' curses were thought to be especially so. Hence the priests' duty of blessing Israel: 'Speak to Aharon and his sons, saying, thus you shall bless the people of Israel' (B'Midbar 6:23, ESV)."
There are three verbs in the verse. The first, , is the Qal 3cp affix vav-reversive from the root , to answer, respond, give testimony, testify, sing, sing responsively, announce, declare (Davidson). The English translations offer a range of vocal options: 'proclaim' (CJB, NJB), 'declare' (ESV, NRSV), 'recite' (NIV), 'shout' (NLT). None pick up on either the singing or responsive qualities of the ritual. All the curse formulations in verses 15-26 follow the same format: "Cursed be he who ... And all the people shall say, 'Amen'" (JPS). Not only is this in itself responsive between the Levites and the people, but the same formula - of a blessing, a curse or a prayer, recited by a leader, followed by a congregation response - is preserved throughout the Siddur; the phrase is an oft-repeated refrain, inviting the congregation to say 'Amen' at a pause in or the end of a prayer. In many Jewish traditions the liturgy is also sung or canted, preserving the ancient tradition of vocalising the prayers in easy to remember tunes and shapes so that they can be remembered, led and joined by all the members of the community.
The second verb in the verse is - the Qal 3cp affix vav-reversive from , to say. In biblical Hebrew, communication is usually split into two verb actions; the first - such as 'call', 'announce', 'speak' - tells us the quality or purpose of the communication, the second - such as 'say', 'write' tells us how the communication takes place. In this case, Moshe tells the Levites that they are to make a declaration and that they are to do it by saying; this is an oral transaction. The phrase following this verb tells us who is being addressed by this communication; the word one of several vocalisations from the root , usually means 'all', but when used with a singular noun - as is, 'man' - is instead 'each' or 'every'. That group of three words joined in the pointed text by the hyphen or maqqef character, form the first part of a construct with the proper noun as the absolute: to every man of Israel.
The third verb, the last word in the verse, is the ms Qal participle from , to be high, lofty, tall; to be loud (of the voice); to be powerful, mighty (Davidson). Although literally "being loud", it is better translated here as an adjective qualifying the voice; the Levites needed to make sure that everyone heard - perhaps the physical arrangement of the tribes on the two adjacent mountains with the Levites in the valley between them is an acoustic necessity! TheBaal HaTurim notices that the phrase 'a loud voice' is juxtaposed with the words beginning the next verse - "Accursed is the man who will make a graven image" (v. 15) - and suggests that "this indicates that it was by the voice of the , Exalted One, i.e. the voice of the Holy One, Blessed is He, that they heard the commandment, "I am the L-rd your G-d" (D'varim 5:6) and "You shall have no other gods" (v. 7)," on the basis that Scripture uses that name for HaShem, e.g. "For thus says the One who is high and lifted up" (Isaiah 57:15, ESV).
The importance of this ritual is to ensure that everyone both hears and responds to the twelve injunctions that follow. None of these commands is new; they have all been given before, with the possible exception of the last - "Cursed be he who will not uphold the terms of this Teaching and observe them" (D'varim 27:26, JPS) - which is essentially a summary implied in several places. This is a whole community affair, all the people are to affirm that they have heard and understood the implications upon themselves, the nation and each other. Every man is to know and agree not only that they themselves will be cursed if they break the covenant, but that their neighbours, their families and clans will be similarly cursed should any of them disobey the Torah, and that the whole nation is to be each other's keeper.
Within the believing world, driven by western political correctness, there is a strong sense of privacy and everyone's post-modern right to take their own decisions. It is considered offensive to challenge someone about the possibility or apparent evidence of sin in their lives, even in the mildest or most lovingly concerned way, unless they chose to bring the subject up themselves and even then it is very muted to respect the autonomy of the individual; or perhaps, in practice, to avoid frightening them away. This allows other believers to think that sin or inappropriate behaviour or standards are somehow acceptable after all, or that they will be tolerated even if frowned upon.
What does the Torah tell us? "Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbour frankly so you will not share in his guilt" (Vayikra 19:17, NIV). In spite of the full-stop in the middle of this verse, this is all one sense unit. Not rebuking your neighbour - and that can cover a multitude of approaches - is not only sharing in his sin by condoning his actions, but is hating him by not helping him to realise that he has a problem. Perhaps he doesn't understand that his actions are wrong; perhaps he has a habit that he cannot break, even though he knows it is wrong. By failing to say something - "Well, I don't want to get involved", or "It's not for me to judge" or some other well-meaning platitude - you are showing hatred, a total lack of care or concern, for your neighbour. You are essentially giving him permission to continue in sin. This is not fulfilling the very next verse quoted by Yeshua as the second greatest commandment: "Love your fellow as yourself" (v. 18, JPS). And, as John points out, "Anyone who claims to be in this light while hating his brother is still in the dark ... the person who hates his brother is in the dark - yes, he is walking in the dark, and he doesn't know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes" (1 John 2:9,11, CJB).
Yeshua makes it plain that discretion and concern for the brother are a high priority - "Moreover, if your brother commits a sin against you, go and show him his fault - but privately, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother" (Matthew 18:15, CJB) - after all, who knows the circumstances that have brought this about or the struggles that an erring brother is having. Privacy also protects the one having the concern; he might not have correctly understood the situation and be in need of correction himself. Only if this is unsuccessful is the matter made public. Make certain that you know what is happening here: this is not about creating a secret police force or an army of vigilantes to enforce standards of biblical behaviour; on the contrary, it is a means of expressing care and concern for those with whom we are in relationship - neighbour, sister - and being able to share and understand each others' situations in order to pray for and support each other. In the process, we encourage each other and perhaps even change our opinion of how Scripture is to be interpreted and applied when we see it from someone else's point of view.
Ultimately, however, all things that are done in private and remain hidden will be revealed in the most public way. Yeshua told the disciples, "Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops" (Luke 12:2-3, ESV). Interestingly, in Matthew's version - "What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops" (Matthew 10:27, ESV) - Yeshua has the disciples as the agents of disclosure. We must be careful of both our lives and our mouths: we must ensure that we put into practice what we say and speak only in a way to encourage and build up others. What we say 'Amen' to, we must certainly be sure to do.
Further Study: Joshua 8:33-35; Nehemiah 8:1-8; Titus 3:3
Do you always follow through on what you have publicly affirmed to be the
right thing to do? It's easier said than done, but today would be a great
opportunity to enlist the power of the Ruach to direct our lives in a
manner that pleases Him!
Comment - 16:48 31Aug15 'Tom Hiney': Probably not. One encouragement is Jacob as a person
Comment - 16:48 31Aug15 'Tom Hiney': Probably not. One encouragement is Jacob as a person
© Jonathan Allen, 2015
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