Compassion For the Blasphemer
These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: CD #855 The Brother-in-Law Who Threw Out The Ring. Good Shabbos!
The end of Parshas Emor contains the tragic incident of the Megadef (Blasphemer). Moshe and the rest of the Jewish people did not initially know the appropriate punishment for one who cursed the Name of G-d, so the violator was placed under guard pending clarification from Hashem what his fate was to be.
Rashi deduces from use of the pronoun “they placed HIM (vayanichuHU) in confinement” that the blasphemer was placed in confinement by himself. Even though the incident of the chopper of wood on Shabbos (mekoshesh eitzim) happened at the same time and he too was placed in jail pending further instructions from the Almighty, they were not placed in the same jail cell. [In the case of the Shabbos desecrator, it was known that he was deserving capital punishment, but it was not known at the time which form of punishment was appropriate.]
I saw a very interesting insight in the Sefer Ikvei Erev by a Rav Azriel Lankeh. Rav Lankeh asks why the two sinners were not placed in the same cell. Rav Lankeh explains that it was not yet known that the Megadef was going to be killed. If a person has not committed a capital crime he does not want to be put in the same cell as a person on death row. It would have been inappropriate “inueey hadin” [anguish of judgment] to place him on death row if in fact he himself would not have been destined for that fate. Until they actually heard what his punishment was going to be, they put him in a separate jail cell so that he shouldn’t have the worry and concern “Look, they have placed me on death row with another person who is going to be executed.”
This is a beautiful sensitivity on the part of the Torah that we do not want to cause this person undue distress. Consider what type of person we are dealing with: a person who committed the terrible crime of blaspheming the Name of G-d! This is not a crime of passion or a crime of lust. This is outright rebellion against the Master of the Universe. What pleasure does a person receive from cursing the Name of Hashem? This is a bona-fide wicked individual. Why should he be shown any sensitivity and compassion? Our initial inclination would be to put him in jail, throw away the key, and let him rot there! Let him worry all he wants! We are not exactly dealing here with a Tzadik!
We see that despite all this, he is still a Jew and even such a Jew must be treated with sensitivity. We do not yet know his fate. The Almighty will tell us in another day or so. In the meantime, we need to show him compassion and not callously compound his anguish by causing him to contemplate a fate that might be worse than that which the Almighty will inform us he actually deserves.
If the Torah is so concerned about the feelings of a Megadef, how much more so is it that we need to be sensitive to the feelings and concerns of a regular Jew who is not accused of such a serious crime?
Eating For The Sake of Heaven
Parshas Emor contains the Parsha of the Festivals and amongst the Festivals listed is Yom Kippur, about which it is written: “It is a day of complete rest for you and you shall afflict yourselves; on the ninth of the month in the evening – from evening to evening – shall you rest on your rest day.” [Vayikra 23:32] Yom Kippur is on the Tenth of Tishrei and yet the pasuk specifies “on the ninth of the month in the evening”.
The Gemara [Yoma 81a] asks a simple question: “Do we fast on the ninth? Behold we fast on the tenth!” One of the lessons the Talmud derives is that “whoever eats (i.e. — feasts) on the Eve of Yom Kippur, Scripture renders it as if he fasted on both the ninth and the tenth”.
The following “Chassideshe Ma’aseh” (story involving a great Chassidic personality) may be helpful in appreciating this teaching. This is a story involving the Baal Shem Tov.
The identity of The Baal Shem Tov’s neighbor in the World of Truth was once revealed to the Baal Shem Tov in a dream, even including where this Jew currently lived. The Baal Shem Tov was curious to know who his neighbor in the next world was going to be so he travelled a great distance to a little village at the edge of a forest to find him.
The Baal Shem Tov located a lumberjack who was 6′ 4″ tall and weighed 320 pounds. The Baal Shem Tov was shocked. The Baal Shem Tov was not even sure the lumberjack was Jewish! The lumberjack certainly did not fit the profile of a Tzadik. The Baal Shem Tov thought perhaps the lumberjack was one of the 36 hidden righteous people in the world. The Baal Shem Tov decided to stick around a few days to observe the lumberjack’s actions and see what hidden merit the lumberjack might secretly possess.
The Baal Shem Tov spent several days there and discovered nothing. The lumberjack barely davened daily. The lumberjack spent all his time chopping wood and eating. The lumberjack ate and he ate and he ate. The Baal Shem Tov could not figure it out. Finally The Baal Shem Tov approached the lumberjack and began asking him questions. Who did you learn with? The lumberjack told him that he did not learn with anyone and that he could barely read a siddur. The Baal Shem Tov was incredulous. He thought perhaps he must have misinterpreted the dream and he was about to leave for home.
Before leaving, he decided to ask one final question: “How come you eat so much?” The lumberjack responded: “I’ll tell you why. My father lived in an area where the governor of the region decided he was going to force all the Jews who lived in his territory to undergo conversion. The Jews were beaten to death or to the point where they agreed to convert to Christianity. My father was a small frail little man. They took my father and started beating him. My father was on the verge of saying ‘fine I’ll convert’ but before my father could say anything he died. I made up my mind then that I am never going to be a small frail little Jew. I made up my mind that I am going to eat and eat so that I will be a strong person who will not have to submit to forced conversion no matter how much I am beaten. That is why I eat like this.”
The Baal Shem Tov left satisfied as to why this person was considered such a worthy individual. Every time he ate something it was for the sake of Heaven. His eating was a Kiddush Hashem. He ate so that he could someday be a martyr for the sake of the Almighty.
This Chassidic story is instructive in understanding the Talmudic exposition regarding “eating” on the ninth of Tishrei. When one eats for the sake of Heaven on the Ninth of Tishrei – so that he will be fortified and better be able to fulfill the mitzvah of not eating on the Tenth of Tishrei – then it is considered as that day too he fulfills a mitzvah equivalent to fasting.
As is the case many times, this is not only a “Chassidic insight.” This is a “Litvishe insight” as well. One of the great Maggidim of the Mussar Yeshivos once gave an example. The town baker arose at 4:00 am each morning to make sure that fresh bread would be ready for breakfast for the people of the town. The Maggid said the baker could get up early, thinking that he is doing this to make a living. That would be perhaps the normal attitude. But if the baker got up at 4:00 am each morning with the intent that he was doing this so that the Jews of his village can have fresh bread for breakfast, then he was fulfilling the mitzvah of Gemillas Chassadim [doing acts of kindness]. Every single hour that he baked, he fulfilled a mitzvah.
A more modern application of this principle is two fellows who are part of a band that plays at Jewish weddings. They both play the drums. They both go 3 or 4 nights every week to play in the bands at weddings. They both get paid. One drummer plays in the band because that is his livelihood. The other fellow plays the same music, the same drums, but he is thinking “I am fulfilling the mitzvah of gladdening the hearts of chassan and kallah.” The second fellow will have a much more prominent place in Gan Eden.
The first drummer will be astonished. We were both drummers in a band. Why does he deserve such better treatment in the next world than I do? The answer is that with proper intent, almost any mundane act can be turned into a mitzvah. If one focuses his actions towards fulfilling the Will of G-d, he will receive far more reward than someone else who did those exact same actions in a mundane and thoughtless manner.
We can eat for the sake of Heaven. We can drink for the sake of Heaven. We can exercise for the sake of Heaven. We can turn almost anything into a mitzvah. It does not require an iota more of effort. It just depends on what a person is thinking. That is why that voracious lumberjack in the story with the Baal Shem Tov was going to merit an honorable place in the world to come.
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:
# 010 – Can Kohanim visit Graves of Tzadikim # 053 – Are Our Kohanim Really Kohanim? # 096 – “Kovod Habrios”: The Concept of Human Dignity # 144 – Kohanim in Hospitals: A Real Problem # 191 – The Bracha for Kiddush Hashem. # 281 – Kiddush Hashem: Is “Giluy Arayus ” Ever Permitted? # 327 – The Cohain and the Divorcee # 371 – The Mitzvah of Ve’Kidashto: Honoring Kohanim # 415 – The Ba’alas Teshuva and the Kohain # 459 – Eliyahu Hanavi and the “Dead” Child # 503 – Standing Up While Doing Mitzvos # 547 – The Wayward Daughter # 591 – The Kohain and the Gerusha # 635 – Bracha of Mekadaish Es Shimcha B’rabim # 679 – Mrs. Cohen is Having A Baby # 723 – Is the Kohain Always First? # 767 – Kohain, Kaddish, and Kadima # 811 – Is Adultery Ever Permitted? # 855 – The Brother-in-Law Who Threw Out The Ring # 899 – Motrin For Your Children? # 944 – Honoring Kohanim – Even Children? # 986 – The Child of a Jewish Mother and Non-Jewish Father: Jewish? #1030 – The Bonfires of Meiron-When Did it Start? Why? Mutar? #1075 – Can I Steal Your Medicine To Save My Life? #1117 – Must We Honor Leviim As Well As Kohanim?
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