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July 9, 2018 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Mattot

One argument I have heard for the perfection and Divinity of the Torah is as follows: the Torah commands all Jewish men to go to the Temple in Jerusalem three times a year (Exodus 23:17). If everyone did this, obviously the women would be defenseless and foreign powers would invade. Since this command seems obviously suicidal, it wouldn’t be in the Torah unless God commanded it.

Drazin and Wagner make a point which is relevant to this argument. In this week’s Torah portion, the Reubenites and Gadites ask for land on the east side of the Jordan rather than in Eretz Yisrael with the rest of the Jews, because that land was better for cattle. When Moses responds by suggesting that they should fight for Eretz Yisrael rather than staying behind, these two tribes respond that “all” of them would cross over to join in the fight, and would return only after the war was over (Numb. 32:27).

Drazin and Wagner comment that the term “all”, if taken literally, “would mean that the tribes left their families unprotected for several years.” They reject this literal interpretation, because in the Bible “all” often means “a large number” rather than literally “all.” For example, in I Chronicles 10:6 the Tanach says that all of Saul’s household died with him- yet we know from other portions of Tanach that half a dozen of his sons survived (including Ish-Boshet, who was king over part of Israel for a few years).

It logically follows that when Exodus 23 tells all Jewish men to go to the Temple, it also does not literally mean “all” just many. So this particular argument may not be a correct interpretation of the Torah.*

*Of course, it has other flaws too (such as the idea that the sillier the command the more obviously Divine it is), but that’s a can of worms I don’t feel like going into right now.

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