Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Parshat Emor

The Tale of the Blasphemer

Sefer VaYikra is not a historical book. It propagates the attainment of holiness, whether through the sacrifices, purification from ailments and other impurities and our ethical behavior. It does not generally tell stories. The tale of the blasphemer at the end of this week's parsha, is one of its two exceptions.

A man has an argument which results in him blaspheming publicly. He is remanded in custody until God says that he is to be executed by stoning, which is subsequently performed.

The story is brief: we do not know what the argument was about, what his blasphemy entailed, why he did it publicly and why there was a doubt as to what to do with him. We do not even know his name!!

At the same time, we are provided with some information which appears to be superfluous: We are told his mother's name and her tribe, we are told of his mixed parentage, i.e. that his father was an Egyptian, and we are told that all those who heard his blasphemy had to be involved in his execution.

The rabbis tried to piece these fragments together. The mother's name Shlomit bat Divri, i.e. "greetings, daughter of talker" hints at her flirtatious nature. Her behavior resulted in her being raped by an Egyptian, possibly the man Moshe killed in his youth. Note how the root "נצה" – "argue" appears in both episodes.

Since the tribes were to be apportioned "by families following their fathers' houses" (Bemidbar 1:2), this man, whose father was Egyptian, found himself tribeless and therefore landless. The individuals charged with apportioning the tribes were "were indicated (נקב) by names" (ibid 17), so he argued with the Dan representative, his mother's tribe, over his predicament and subsequently, "pronounced (נקב) the Name" (VaYikra 24:11).

The people do not know what to do with him. He was a stranger, 'ger', someone who was landless. Do the laws also apply to him? God responds in the affirmative: "One law shall be exacted for you, 'ger' and resident (i.e. landowner) alike" (ibid 22).

Why are these details missing?

These details are irrelevant to Sefer VaYikra. Leviticus is concerned with maintaining the holiness of the people. This story only belongs in Sefer VaYikra because the consequences of the blasphemy could have been disastrous to the people. Therefore, all the people who heard his blasphemy had to be involved in his execution. They must understand the seriousness of the crime and not allow themselves or the camp to be polluted by his actions. This factor is irrespective of the perpetrator's background.

Therefore this story is also taken out of its historical and human context. Sefer VaYikra is not concerned with when and how it happened. It is also not concerned with showing compassion to the man, who is also a victim, just as it is not concerned with compassion for Aharon over his sons' deaths, nor with compassion for Elazar and Itamar and neither with the compassion for any priest whose relatives die. Sefer VaYikra's only concern is how we maintain the camp's sanctity in all circumstances, including death, illness and crimes such as blasphemy.


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