Last week, we heard Moses tell the Children of Israel that the people they will be fighting against in Canaan are evil. This week we find out why: The people do “everything abominable (disgusting) to God, which God hates; indeed, even their sons and their daughters they burn with fire to their gods!“ In other words, the Canaanites practice child sacrifice!
The other really gross thing Canaanites do, besides killing children, is practice ritual mutilation. In other words, they slash themselves. These things are both total no-nos. If you’re found doing them, you are to be put to death!
Now, the people of Israel are not meant to march into Canaan and kill everyone who isn’t one of them. They can settle among the Canaanites. But they better not start following Canaanite gods!
There’s another topic in the parsha. This is what the scholar Meesh Hammer-Kossoy calls a system of “taxation”.
In the first of seven years, there’s a 10% tax (tithe) that you give to the Levites. (According to Wikipedia, the Tribe of Levi served certain religious duties for the Israelites and had political and educational responsibilities as well. They did not have any land.)
In the first, second fourth and fifth year, you’re supposed to take a tenth of your crop and flocks, take your whole family up to Jerusalem and feast on that tenth in the presence of God. If you can’t bring all your stuff to Jerusalem, sell it. Then go to Jerusalem and buy food and wine with the money and have a great big feast. Spend it on anything you want, including wine as well as food. Professor Hammer-Kossoy calls it a family vacation.
Imagine a religion that commands you to bring your whole family to beautiful Jerusalem and feast and drink wine!
In the third year of the seven years, though, something different happens. You don’t bring that tithe of food and animals to Jerusalem. You don’t have a big feast. Instead, you leave all that stuff in the town you live in. It’s for the Levite, the stranger, the orphan and the widow. In other words, Levites and poor people. You leave it for them so that God will bless you “in all the doings of your hand that you do.”
The seventh year is a big deal. It’s called the Release. You have to forgive all debts owed you by your fellow Israelites and you have to let your Israelite servants go free. Again, you must give freely to the needy. Don’t toughen your heart! Why? Because if you’re generous, “God will bless you in all your doings.”