Thursday, June 16, 2016

Bit at a Time Bible Hebrew -- Deuteronomy 4:10

So I said that uncertainty epistemics are crucial because of Jewish law.
They’re crucial because they reflect some feature of the law. Avraham’s uncertainty epistemics let Gd off His vow. The uncertainty epistemics in Deuteronomy 5:7 underline how Jewish law might let somebody off for not destroying something that might be pagan.
My last example is Deuteronomy 4:10.
יוֹם אֲשֶׁר עָמַדְתָּ לִפְנֵי יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּחֹרֵב בֶּאֱמֹר יְהֹוָה אֵלַי הַקְהֶל־לִי אֶת־הָעָם וְאַשְׁמִעֵם אֶת־דְּבָרָי אֲשֶׁר יִלְמְדוּן לְיִרְאָה אֹתִי כָּל־הַיָּמִים אֲשֶׁר הֵם חַיִּים עַל־הָאֲדָמָה וְאֶת־בְּנֵיהֶם יְלַמֵּדוּן:
This verse is all about “fear of Heaven,” meaning what it is that makes somebody obey the law even if there’s no immediate reaction one way or the other. It’s the same thing as the fact that 94% of the US population is not behind bars. Why does it use an uncertainty epistemic?
Because you can impose punishment on your underage kid for violating the law, but that won’t keep him straight once he becomes legally responsible for his own actions.
When the Israelites were at Mt. Sinai, they signed up to obeying the law voluntarily (not under duress as some people will tell you – you can tell by the binyan of the verb) in awe of the miracles they had been through as well as the smoking mountain.
Moshe is now talking to their children or grandchildren. These people may have been raised with the law, but a midrash says that all the strife between Gd and the Israelites happened between years 2 and 19 of the Exodus, and then the generation of the Exodus were sent wandering in the wilderness. The people Moshe is speaking to are at most 40 years old, and a lot of them are younger. They didn’t see the punishments with their own eyes. If they’re going to obey the law, they have to do it through fear of Heaven.
But what if they didn’t learn it from their parents, who only died because they didn’t have fear of Heaven? Or what if, becoming parents, they didn’t teach it to their children?
There are four situations under which an earthly court will let somebody off without punishment: mistake of the law or the facts; inattention; ignorance; and forgetting the law or the facts of the situation.
The fifth possibility is failure of due process. If the human court can’t convict via due process, they can’t punish the accused even if the disobedience was willful.
I believe Deuteronomy 4:10 uses uncertainty epistemics because there is one more way the accused might think he could get off, and that is, if he was not taught fear of Heaven. You can’t beat that into a kid; you have to set the example. You can make your kid letter-perfect in Torah and Talmud, but if you don’t obey the law, you can’t teach fear of Heaven, and your kid will try to skirt the law. It’s a form of willful transgression, but it’s not identical. Babylonian Talmud admits that Gd controls everything except Fear of Heaven.
Sounds like a recipe for chaos, right? Well, people have free will, and that free will is absolute. But there are consequences for everything people do, and with the Torah, they know what is prohibited and what can lead to the death penalty. So choose life. Deuteronomy 30:19.

Next week: uncertain or not, epistemics share one feature.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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