Tuesday, September 6, 2011

God Cursed?

This week's parasha has a fascinating commandment. The following pasuk deals with what to do with a person who is put to death, and hanged:

כג  לֹא-תָלִין נִבְלָתוֹ עַל-הָעֵץ, כִּי-קָבוֹר תִּקְבְּרֶנּוּ בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא--כִּי-קִלְלַת אֱלֹקים, תָּלוּי; וְלֹא תְטַמֵּא, אֶת-אַדְמָתְךָ, אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה.  {ס}23 his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt surely bury him the same day; for he that is hanged is a reproach unto God; that thou defile not thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance. {S}

 "קללת אלוקים"  is difficult to translate. קללת comes from the hebrew word for curse - and so the phrase can be inerprented in differnt ways - cursing god, or god being cursed, or in the manner it was translated above. Rashbam has an explanation I've always liked, though it is far from any pshat:

כי קללת אלוקים תלוי, כשרואין בני אדם את התלוי רגילין לקלל את הדיינין או קרובים של הרוג או שאר בני אדם לפי שפעמים על עבירה מועטת הוא נהרג כמו מקושש והקב"ה אמר אלוקים לא תקלל, לפי שרגילין בני אדם לקללם.
When people  see the hanged they will often curse the judges or the relatives of the killed or those he left behind, because sometimes a person is killed for a minor sin like "the Gatherer", and god said not to cancel the judges because people often curse them.

Elohim in hebrew can mean as well as deity, simple human judges - a sign of the high esteem at which they are held. Rashbam's explanation is that the person must not be left hanged, because it is human nature to curse the judges who have ordered to kill a man - especially when he was killed for a minor event. 

No comments: