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DEUTERONOMY: The Bible Non-stop
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Deuteronomy 24: 1-13
Lunch had completed and Moses resumed his seat in the Supreme Court tent. The afternoon sessions were open for pleadings. First up was a man looking not unlike a weasel. But with less fur.
“Your Worshipfulness…” he began. This was unfortunate because Moses was reluctant to have worship directed towards HIM when he was dispensing the judgment of You-Know-Who. People had been on the receiving end of lightning bolts for less. Moses set his jaw firmly and glowered. The man went on: “I was married to a woman.” (“What a surprise,” muttered Moses.) “Then I discovered that there was an indecency about her; an impropriety, if you will; an offensiveness; a (so to speak) nakedness of a thing. So I divorced her and evicted her from my house.”
Moses straightened up, greatly cheered. This was simple: “You have done what the law…”
“No, no!” said the weasel, hastily. “That’s not the issue.” Moses’ jaw regained its rockiness. The man went on: “She then went and became somebody else’s wife…”
“Who?” asked Moses.
“It doesn’t matter,” said the man. Moses’ eyebrows shot up, looking rather like furry birds flying over the rocky outcrop of his jaw. “The thing is, he divorced her, too. Or he died. I forget which. Either way, she is now free to marry again. And I want to marry her, but God’s Little Helper won’t let me. I seek relief.”
Moses growled majestically: “You…want…to…remarry…her? The woman with the naked thingamajig? That you divorced? God’s Little Helper was absolutely correct! Such a remarriage is offensive to the One-of-Many-Tenses, and I am not fond of it either! Request Denied! Such conduct must not be permitted in the land the Lord gives you as an inheritance because it brings guilt upon the land.” Moses turned to the Master Clerk. “Make a note of it.”
The Master Clerk turned to the Master Scribe and said: “Make a note of it.” The Master Scribe turned to Scribbler (Dribbler not having made it back from lunch): “Make a note of it.” Having nobody to shift the task to, Scribbler made a note of it. And so it was done.
The next case involved the Public Prosecutor, who addressed Moses. “Sir,” he began respectfully, but not worshipfully, “this young man here <indicating> is due to go into the army to do his part to protect The People™. But he refuses to do his patriotic duty and go.”
The prosecutor checked his notes. “He is newly married and wants to be with his wife.”
“Newlyweds!” beamed Moses, who, in his advanced years, had grown rather grandfatherly towards future generations. “Ah, yes. The happy bliss of marriage, which He-Who-Is-With-Us blesses. I quite agree with the young man: a newly married man need not go into the army or the like for a full year, so that he may bring joy to his new wife. Make a note of it!”
The Master Clerk turned to the Master Scribe and said: “Make a note of it.” The Master Scribe turned to Scribbler: “Make a note of it.” And so it was done, as before.
The next case came up: A middle-aged man, burly, with the hands of a laborer, approached the bench. With him was a more prosperous looking man. The prosperous one spoke: “This man received a loan from me. I demand some security for the loan.”
“That seems reasonable,” said Moses.
“But,” said the laborer, “Your Lordship…” (Moses flinched, hearing the sound of thunder. That was almost as bad as the “worship” thing.) “…what he seeks as security is one of my millstones.”
“Which one?” asked Moses. “Upper or lower?”
“Does it matter?”
Moses thought about that for a moment. It really didn’t. Take either one and the other is pretty much useless for milling. “Good point. You must not take either the upper or lower millstone as security, because that would be the same as taking away his whole livelihood, his whole means of feeding his family. You cannot demand a life as security for a loan. Make a note of it!”
And so it was done, as before.
The Public Prosecutor came up again, this time with the Court Bailiff dragging a man in tow. The man was known as Abner.
“This man…” began the prosecutor.
“I have a right to make a living!” shouted Abner.
The prosecutor went on. “This man kidnaped one of The People™…”
“I have a right to make a living!”
“…and sold him as a slave.”
“At a nice profit!” said Abner. “I have a right to…”
The bailiff clubbed him over the head. “Thank you,” said Moses, appreciatively. “That conduct is evil and must be purged. Put the kidnaper to death. Make a note of it.”
Another man appeared at the bench. “Your Honor,” he began (much to Moses’ relief—not even You-Know-Who could take offense at that), “there has been a small outbreak of leprosy amongst my loved ones and, you know, it would be nice to take care of them at home. Could we, perhaps, be allowed to…”
“NO!” shouted Moses, waking up many of the spectators in the courtroom (who were enjoying a post-lunch nap). “Do
what the priests instruct with respect to leprosy.”
“Remember Miriam?” asked Moses with a dangerous edge in his voice.
The man blanched (which, considering the topic, was rather a dangerous thing to do). “Ah. Yes. Of course. Miriam. Quite right. Follow the priests’ instructions. To the letter. Right you are.” He glanced at the Master Clerk. “He probably wants you to make a note of it.” But the Clerk already had. Some things are obvious.
The prosperous-looking man approached again. “About lending protocol…”
Moses gestured for silence and then turned to the Master Clerk. “Not that I want to tell you how to do your job, but is there any chance that, in the future, you could cluster similar topics together? The scroll is going to look silly with two discussions of loan protocol interrupted by a kidnaping and leprosy.” Since the subject of silly
had been raised, Scribbler considered asking for clarification on the whole cross-dressing bit [
Chapter 22], but decided (wisely) that discretion was the better part of valor.
The protocols were then discussed at length and the rulings given. Notes were made. Just to summarize:
Do not go into the borrower’s house to collect the security; the borrower is to bring the security out to the lender.
If a poor person offers his garment as security, the lender is not to use it for their own. That’s just icky.
If a poor person’s garment is given as security, it should be returned to the borrower at sunset so that the borrower can sleep in it. This is non-icky and is simple human kindness.
This will also be considered a just deed by the Lord, your God, who is probably wondering why doing the decent thing really had to be put down in writing to force the moneylenders to do it.
As you may gather, Moses was getting a little cranky by the end of the discussion. Accordingly, a brief recess was taken.
After the brief recess, Moses sat back down. There was a distinct whiff of alcohol in the air.
The next petitioner approached. Oddly enough, he was distinctly orange in hue. Moses stared, then shook his head, shut his eyes, and said, "Yes?"
The orange one said in a sulky voice, "I can't get anybody to work for me anymore, and I want you to make them. Like, now. Threaten them with death or something."
Moses opened his eyes again. "What the hell are you doing to them?" he inquired.
"Oh, nothing... the same thing everybody else does... I'm a PERFECT employer.... it's called fiscal responsibility!"
Further questioning was met with an extraordinary array of excuses, subject changing, and outright lies. Moses sighed and called in as many of the man's former employees as he could find.
After disposing of a claim of "executive privilege," accusations of witch hunts, and a number of derogatory nicknames applied to his person, Moses directed the Court Clerk to bind and gag the plaintiff. He then examined the witnesses.
Several hours later, the Master Clerk took down these rulings:
"Don't be an asshole to your workers, whether they are immigrants or citizens. PAY THEM WHAT YOU OWE, IMMEDIATELY.
"Don't be killing people for no reason at all. (Geez, why do I even have to say this?)
"Treat migrant workers properly. Treat poor children and widows properly. Remember where you came from, because God definitely does, and you weren't no great thang.
"Fix the fucking welfare systems and do not enrich yourself at the expense of the poor."
Once all this was down, Moses commanded the bailiff to relieve the plaintiff of his wallet and pay the workers out of it. He then had the plaintiff carried bodily out of the camp and deposited in a location sufficiently far away that nobody would have to listen to the enraged screaming.
After a long day of making rulings from the judge’s bench, Moses liked nothing better than to wander down to the local pub (“Moe’s on IX
Street”) and down a few tankards of adult beverage. He beckoned to the chief scribe to come with him. “Bring your note pad. I have a few instructions to give you while I remember them. We’ll worry about putting them in order later.”
They arrived at Moe’s, and Moses found his favorite bench (close enough to the bar to be able to be heard shouting “Moe! Another round!” without having to get up).
“I tell you,” said Moses to his scribe, “the law court is wonderful thing. If a dispute arises between two people, they should come to the court to resolve it, neat and simple. The judge, hearing the merits, will exonerate the innocent and condemn the guilty. That is far better than people taking the law into their own hands.
“Oh, that reminds me,” he went on, after taking a good swallow from his mug, “if a guilty person is sentenced to a beating, the judge shall have the man lie down and be beaten in the judge’s presence, however many strokes the judge orders. The absolute maximum such sentence, though, should be forty blows. If you order more than forty, and people will begin to think you don’t like the guy. Make a note of that.”
And the scribe wrote it down. While he was doing that, Moses looked out the window of the tavern and saw a farmer with his ox muzzled. “Hey!” shouted Moses. “Don’t muzzle your ox when it is treading grain!” And the scribe wrote it down. Honestly. You can look it up for yourself.
A couple of men at the bar turned to speak to Moses. “Look, Big M, I’ve gotta problem,” said one of them. “I live with my brother and his wife. He died, but without a son. It seems a shame that my brother’s name will die out simply due to the lack of a son.”
Moses took a swig, emptied his mug, waved the empty mug in Moe’s direction, and said “I agree. Here is what you do. The late husband’s brother must marry the widow and the first son that she bears will then be attributed to the dead man. That boy will continue the name of the dead brother.”
Another at the bar said: “But what if the surviving brother doesn’t want to marry the widow?”
“Then,” said Moses, taking a fresh mug from Moe, “the woman should complain to the town elders at the town gate, and they will have a heart-to-heart talk with the surviving brother. If he still refuses to do his duty to his dead brother, then the widow, in full view of the elders, shall remove one of his sandals and spit in his face. Thus may it be done to any man who does not maintain his brother’s family line! That surviving brother’s family name will thereafter be referred to in Israel as ‘the Footloose and Sandal-Free Family.’”
“But,” said the second man at the bar, “suppose that there was a family that had seven brothers and the first died...”
Moses shushed him. “Let’s leave that for somebody else to work out!” He then muttered to the scribe: “Don’t make a note of that last bit.”
As Moses tilted back his mug, the second man at the bar commented: “Loyalty between a man and his wife is wonderful. Why, I once saw a fight between two men--just punching and stuff, no weapons--and the wife of the one man came to help! A truly loyal wife! She reached in and grabbed the other man’s naughty bits and...”
Moses slammed down his mug hard. “No!” he shouted. “Cut off her hand! There are some things you just don’t do! Make a note of it! Moe! Another round!”
After he had drained that mug, Moses beamed at everybody in the bar. “I’ll tell you some other thingsh you should not do-do. In your bag, don’t carry stones of different weightsh! Nor have measuring cupsh that are of different shizes. One shtone weight, one meashuring cup! That’s it! That will please the One-Of-Many-Tenses when you come in to the Land of Promise. And anybody who does differently ish abhorrent to the Lord!”
With a couple dubious glances at Moses, the scribe wrote it down. He then suggested, diplomatically, that it was time to go.
The couple at the bar had gone on to talk of other things while the scribe tried to help Moses stand up. The one said: “Hey, do you remember what the tribe of Amalek did to us on our way from Egypt?”
“Do I?” asked the other, rhetorically. “They would come up to us on the trail and, when we were completely exhausted, they would cut off all stragglers at the rear of the procession! That was awful! They were awful!”
As he was leaving the pub, Moses called back, gesturing vaguely: “When I-Am-In-Various-Tenses-With-You gives you relief from your enemies--once you get to the Land of Promise--remember to completely wipe out the memory of Amalek! Remember! Make a note of it!”
And the scribe did so, although that rather defeated the whole point of the “wipe out the memory” thing.
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