Devarim Twenty-Three: Honor

This chapter begins with some very practical advice. “A man shall not take his father’s wife, nor shall he uncover the corner of his father’s [cloak]. [A man] with injured testicles or whose member is cut, may not enter the assembly of the Lord (Deuteronomy 23:1-2).” Two very odd statements. The first one seems like common sense – it’s disgusting to think about and therefore we shouldn’t do it. Of course, that’s never stopped anyone from going beyond this limit. Flashback to the dysfunctional families of Bereshit and Reuben taking Bilhah! The second statement is almost sad. A man has clearly endured some massive problem, and now he can’t come before God either? How is that ok? I’m wondering if it has to do with how important virility was in the ancient world, and still is today to an extent. If a man felt like less than a man due to some physical problem, and therefore didn’t see himself as whole, maybe he couldn’t be fully present, as is needed before God.

On the list of people who can’t enter the assembly of God, we also have bastards (until the 10th generation), and Ammonites and Moabites. This is payback because the people of Ammon didn’t treat the Israelites well when they left Egypt, and the Moabites tried to curse them. However, right after the punishment of the Moabites is a kind word. “You shall not despise an Edomite, for he is your brother. You shall not despise an Egyptian, for you were a sojourner in his land (Deuteronomy 23:8).” The Torah has a long memory. Positive and negative attributes can mark a person not only for their lifetime, but through all of their descendants as well.

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