Parshat Shoftim: The perversion of the blemished animal


By Rabbi Avi Billet

Issue of August 21, 2009 / 1 Elul 5769

There are many behaviors which the Torah describes as to’evot, translated as abominations or perversions. Other than in Acharei Mot and Kedoshim, all of the to’evot appear in Moshe’s good-bye speech that is the book of Devarim. With an overview glance, only one of the to’evot — offering a blemished animal as a sincere sacrifice to G-d — seems not to fit in the general category of to’evot.

The to’evot can be summarized in the following: missionary and idolatrous actions, sins of sexuality, cheating in business, eating non-kosher animals, and utilizing witchcraft. As bringing a korban is not, in and of itself, a problematic activity, where does bringing an imperfect animal as an offering fit into this list and how is it considered repulsive to G-d?

Let us examine the other to’evot to see exactly why their perverse behaviors are considered repulsive to G-d.

In Vayikra 18 and 20, perversions of intimate relations, whether with close family relatives, same gender, or animals are all heaped into an overall category of abominable activities.

Devarim 7 categorizes idols which seem enticing as abominations. The idols, the Torah says, are not to be brought into one’s home as a souvenir, even as spoils of war. The act of serving pagan gods, including the practice of child sacrifice, is called an abomination in Devarim 12. Missionary behavior — to proselytize away from Judaism — particularly when undertaken by Jews, is considered abominable in Devarim 13.

A similar episode is described in Devarim 17, when either an individual man or a woman is responsible for causing others to turn away from G-d.

Before listing kosher animals in Devarim 14, the Torah says that eating non-kosher animals is an abomination. Witchcraft, necromancy and forms of idolatry that include child sacrifice are together categorized as to’evot in Devarim 18. The prohibitions against mistreating animals that belong to others and cross-dressing precede the statement of “It is an abomination to G-d, whoever does these things.” Immediately afterwards, a compassionate treatment of an animal, sending away of the mother bird, is described as one of the few commandments in the Torah which guarantees a long life.

Prostitution is listed as a to’evah in Devarim 23.

In the event a woman marries a new husband after a divorce, if her second marriage ends in divorce or his death, she may not return to her first husband, as this is repulsive to G-d as listed in Devarim 24. The Seforno explains this as an abomination since the possibility of returning to an original marriage after a different one legitimizes “quickie marriages” done for the sake of experimentation. Cheating in weights and measures is considered repulsive in Devarim 25. Finally, a person who makes a sculptured or cast idol is cursed in Devarim 27, for having carved an image that is repulsive to G-d.

With our list including idolatry, immoral behaviors regarding sexuality and business, and putting non-kosher items in one’s mouth, the question of the blemished offering remains unanswered. Where does it fit in the to’evah scale?

The prophet Malachi says “When you present a blind animal... or a lame animal, is there nothing wrong? Offer it to your governor, will he be appeased? Will he show you favor? asks the God of Hosts.” (Malachi 1:8) The questions are rhetorical, says Rabbi David Kimchi (Radak), as the foregone answer is, “He will hate you and become angry at you for offering him such a miserable present.”

The Sefer HaChinukh (Mitzvah 286 — Emor) explains that a person is moved by the strength of his actions. A person won’t experience the value of the offering or sacrifice if it is a half-baked effort. A blemished animal smacks of an insincere service to G-d, while an unblemished, complete animal offering is indicative of a person’s devotion and dedication to his Creator.

As we enter the month of Elul and start thinking of the ways in which we must improve ourselves in anticipation of Rosh Hashana and beyond, the larger categories of to’evot are obvious behaviors to avoid.

It is the to’evah of Parshat Shoftim which is most in our hands to avoid and to improve upon. We can and must make our service to G-d, most notably as practiced in the synagogue, a sincere and respectful demonstration of our dedication to God.