Posted on May 7, 2008 (5768) By Rabbi Yissocher Frand | Series: | Level:

Parshas Emor

Customs Going Back To The Days of Pharisees and the Sadducees

These Divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: Tape # 547, The Wayward Daughter. Good Shabbos!

Parshas Emor contains the Biblical command of Counting the Omer: “And you shall count for yourselves on the morrow of the Sabbath, from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving, seven weeks, they shall be complete.” [Vayikra 23:15]. The interpretation of the phrase “on the morrow of the Sabbath” (m’macharas haShabbos) was one of the classic debates between the Tzedukim and the Perushim [Sadducees and Pharisees].

Rabbinic interpretation, based on the tradition of the Oral Law, was that the “morrow of the rest day” meant the day after the first day of Pesach, namely the 16th of Nissan. It is based on this tradition that our practice is to begin counting the Omer on the second day of Pesach.

The Tzedukim were literalists who did not believe in the Oral Law, and interpreted “the morrow of the Sabbath” to mean Sunday. Thus, the Sunday of Pesach would be the first day of the Omer count and the holiday of Shavuos would always be Sunday, 7 weeks later .

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach made an interesting observation. The Shabbos before Pesach is referred to as “The Great Sabbath” (Shabbos haGadol), and there are dozens of explanations why this is so. Rav Shlomo Zalman offered his own interesting conjecture.

We see from this pasuk [verse] that the first day of the Yom Tov of Pesach is called Shabbos. Thus, the week of Pesach contains within it two days called “Shabbos” — the normal Shabbos day, and the first day of Pesach which is also called Shabbos. How does one differentiate between a “regular Shabbos” and “Shabbos that is really Pesach”? Rav Shlomo Zalman answers that the regular Shabbos is called “Gadol” as it states (in the Sabbath addition to the Birkat HaMazon) “for this day is ‘Gadol’ (i.e. – great) before you”. Since the regular Shabbos is called ‘Gadol,’ the Shabbos before Pesach — to distinguish it from the other day that week called Shabbos — is known as “Shabbos haGadol”.

Rav Shlomo Zalman also has another interesting observation. When we call someone for an Aliyah to the Torah, we call him REB so-and-so ben so-and- so. Where did this term “REB” come from? Rav Shlomo Zalman suggests that perhaps this custom began with the Tzedukim and the Perushim. The people who followed the Perushim were the Rabbanan (followers of the Rabbis). Every follower of the Perushim therefore had the title “Reb”, that signified which camp he belonged to. It was a badge of honor to be called Reb, meaning the person was not a Tzeduki, but rather a follower of the Rabbis.

There Is Capital Punishment, But Only After We Learn To Appreciate Human Life

The end of Parshas Emor contains the parsha of the Blasphemer (Megadef). The son of an Egyptian father and a Jewish mother got into a fight and uttered a blasphemy against the Name of Almighty. The people did not know what to do with such a person. His case was brought before Moshe. In the meantime, the blasphemer was placed under guard. At this point, Hashem taught Moshe that the punishment for blasphemy is stoning (s’kila) by the entire congregation. [Vayikra 24:10-16].

In order for the narrative to continue smoothly, at this point it should say, “Moshe spoke to the children of Israel and they brought the blasphemer outside the camp and they all stoned him. And the children of Israel did as Moshe commanded.” [Vayikra 24:23]

The Torah does indeed teach this, but only after a six verse tangent that seems to interrupt the narration of the blasphemer. The “tangent” reads as follows:

“And a man — if he strikes mortally any human life, he shall be put to death. And a man who strikes mortally an animal life shall make restitution, a life for a life. And if a man inflicts a wound in his fellow, as he did, so shall be done to him: A break for a break, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth; just as he will have inflicted a wound on a person, so shall be inflicted upon him. One who strikes an animal shall make restitution, and one who strikes a person shall be put to death. There shall be one law for you, it shall be for convert and native alike, for I, Hashem, am your G-d.” [Vayikra 24:17-22]

How are we to understand this strange interruption in the narrative? Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, explained that this section marks the first time in Jewish history that capital punishment was being carried out. This was a very significant event.

Taking a life is not a small matter. We do not execute the blasphemer because life is cheap. The Almighty wanted to emphasize to people that they were about to kill another human being. “But you should know that killing another human being under other circumstances (when it is not because he is being executed by the Court for committing a capital offense) is a terrible thing. Under normal circumstances, one who kills another person shall himself be put to death. Not only that, but if a person even wounds his fellow man then he deserves to pay with an ‘eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’.”

We know that this expression is not to be interpreted literally. Rabbinic exegesis teaches that this means that one has to pay the value of an eye or the value of a tooth. But there is a very interesting Rashbam in Parshas Mishpatim. The Rashbam asks, why is the Almighty making life difficult for us? If the Torah wanted to teach that one is obligated to make monetary restitution for such cases, why didn’t it say so explicitly? Why do we need to hear, up until today, that the Torah is barbaric because it demands “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”?

The Rashbam explains by emphasizing there is a difference between peshuto shel mikra [the literal meaning of a text] and Rabbinic exegesis. Even though we practice halacha according to Rabbinic exegesis, we do not disregard “peshuto shel mikra” entirely. The literal meaning teaches important lessons. There is a message in peshuto shel mikra. The message in this case is that technically speaking, this is what should happen to a person: if he knocks out someone’s eye, he should have his own eye put out. So severe a sin is it to damage another person that it really should require ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’.

Were it not for the fact that there was an Oral Law (to temper the literal meaning), Hashem could never have recorded the Written Law in this fashion. People would be misled. Given the fact however that we do have an Oral Law, the literal meaning of the verse gives us another dimension of understanding in terms of what the law should morall y really be.

Once the Torah has clearly spelled out the important lesson of the value of life and the value of property in this “tangent”, then and only then can it proceed to conclude the narrative. Once the children of Israel have integrated the teaching of the importance of human life and property into their personalities, then and only then, were they allowed to go out and proceed with an execution of the blasphemer, the first execution in Jewish history.

This write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tapes on the weekly Torah Portion. The halachic topics covered for the current week’s portion in this series are:

Tape # 010 – Can Kohanim visit Graves of Tzadikim
Tape # 053 – Are Our Kohanim Really Kohanim?
Tape # 096 – “Kovod Habrios”: The Concept of Human Dignity
Tape # 144 – Kohanim in Hospitals: A Real Problem
Tape # 191 – The Bracha for Kiddush Hashem.
Tape # 281 – Kiddush Hashem: Is “Giluy Arayus” Ever Permitted?
Tape # 327 – The Cohain and the Divorcee
Tape # 371 – The Mitzvah of Ve’Kidashto: Honoring Kohanim
Tape # 415 – The Ba’alas Teshuva and the Kohain
Tape # 459 – Eliyahu Hanavi and the “Dead” Child
Tape # 503 – Standing Up While Doing Mitzvos
Tape # 547 – The Wayward Daughter
Tape # 591 – The Kohain and the Gerusha
Tape # 635 – Bracha of Mekadaish Es Shimcha B’rabim
Tape # 679 – Mrs. Cohen is Having A Baby
Tape # 811 – Is Adultery Ever Permitted?
Tape # 855 – The Brother-in-Law Who Threw Out The Ring

Tapes or a complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit for further information.

Transcribed by David Twersky Seattle, WA;
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman, Baltimore, MD

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