This dvar Torah was adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: #1159 – The “Morranos” of Spain: Their Halachic Status. Good Shabbos!
At the end of Parshas Emor, there is a very peculiar story of the son of a Jewish woman, whose father was an Egyptian, getting into a fight with another Jew. In the course of the argument, the son of the Jewish woman blasphemed (Megadef) the name of G-d and was brought before Moshe. The Torah says that the name of the mother of this blasphemer was Shlomis bas Divri from the Tribe of Dan. The man was put in jail until they would hear from the Ribono shel Olam what to do in such a case.
Who was this fellow, and why, when he got into a fight with this other Jew, did he curse the Almighty? We might expect him to curse the fellow he was fighting with, but why did he suddenly curse the Shem HaShem? What is going on here?
Rabbeinu Bachaye and other commentaries as well (all based on the Zohar) explain that the history of this fellow goes all the way back to the days of Egyptian bondage. We are familiar with the Biblical personage of Dasan (as in Dasan and Aviram – troublemakers from way back). An Egyptian taskmaster entered Dasan’s tent early one morning to rouse him to get out of bed and go to work. This Egyptian laid eyes on Dasan’s sleeping wife. He pretends that he is her husband, and climbs into bed with her in the pitch-black tent. She became pregnant from that episode.
Dasan returned to the tent and found the Egyptian in bed with his wife. The two got into a serious altercation and the Egyptian was about to kill Dasan, because he didn’t want anyone to find out what he did. The young Moshe passed by and saw what was happening. Moshe rescued Dasan by killing the Egyptian. This is the famous incident in Chapter 2 of the Book of Shemos.
Chazal say that Moshe used the Shem HaMeforash (the Explicit Divine Name) to kill the Egyptian. Fast forward quite a few years, to the period of the Wilderness. This fellow who blasphemed the name of Hashem was the product of that early morning union between the Egyptian and Dasan’s wife. He knows he has an Egyptian father, and he knows he has a Jewish mother. He meets another Jew. Who is this other Jew? The Zohar says that this other Jew is now married to Shlomis bas Divri – i.e., the present husband of this Blasphemer’s mother!
This second husband tells Shlomis’ son, “You know how your father (the Egyptian) died? Moshe cursed him with the Shem HaShem!” The son is astonished: “Moshe Rabbeinu killed my father with the Name of Hashem? I, then, am going to curse the Name of Hashem!”
That is how this incident transpired! That is the history behind the story of the Megadef! How does the Torah describe the resolution of this incident?
“Remove the blasphemer to the outside of the camp, and all those who heard shall lean their hands upon his head: The entire assembly shall stone him.” [Vayikra 24:14] Then the Torah launches into what appears to be a superfluous discussion of Halachos that are not even relevant to the incident at hand. It says what to do with a person who blasphemes. Then it says if someone kills someone, he needs to be put to death; if someone kills someone’s animal, he must pay monetary compensation. If a person wounds another person, he must pay compensation. This digression continues for several pesukim and then concludes with the words “Ki ani Hashem Elokeichem” (for I, Hashem, am your G-d) [Vayikra 24:22].
Most of this is superfluous. It is not needed here, and we also know it already. All that we need to know here is what the punishment if for a person who blasphemes the name of HaShem. Why does the Torah need to repeat the laws of murder and of property damage and of wounding someone?
On top of that, what is the point of the final pasuk, “There shall be one law for you, it shall be for convert and native alike, for I, Hashem, am your G-d”? There are 36 times in the Torah where the Torah equates the Ger (convert) and the Ezrach (citizen). Every one of those times, the point is explicitly made because there was some reason to think that this rule would not apply in that specific instance. Why should there be any difference between native Jew and convert in the matters mentioned in the prior five pesukim [Vayikra 24:17-21]?
The sefer Mor U’Ketzia suggests an interesting interpretation of what is happening here: After saying “When you curse My Name, you shall be put to death”, the Torah wishes to establish that the Almighty is not only particular about His own honor. “I care about the honor and wellbeing of every Jew!” Therefore, when the Torah metes out the punishment of a person who blasphemes the name of HaShem, the Ribono shel Olam says “I want you to know that it is not just because I am G-d and you are merely human beings.” No, the Torah needs to emphasize over here, once again, that human beings are also Tzelem Elokim (made in the Image of the Ribono shel Olam). “An attack on another human being is really an attack on Me.”
Indeed, the Talmud states: Whoever slaps the cheek of a fellow man, it is as if he slapped the cheek of the Shechina [Bava Kama 90a]. Everyone is G-d-like. Therefore, if you kill someone, you need to pay for it with your life. If you hurt someone, you need to pay for it. If you even damage the property of someone, you need to pay for it. With the Almighty, the consideration is “B’Zelem Elokim asa es haAdam.” [Bereshis 9:6] And “One who slaps the cheek of his fellow man is as if he slapped the Shechina.”
Rav Moshe Feinstein, in his sefer, Darash Moshe, deals with the same question but has somewhat of a different take on the matter: The Torah says that a man is to death. Before taking such a harsh step, a person needs to carefully review the laws of what it means to be a human being. Before executing a Jew, a person needs to remind himself that life is precious. Taking a human life – which is necessary in some situations – needs to be done with the greatest Koved Rosh and the greatest seriousness. Under normal circumstances, if you kill someone, you should be put to death and if you hurt someone, you should be punished. If you even hurt his property, you should be punished. In the situation of blasphemy, this person needs to be killed, but minimizing the Tzelem Elokim of another person should never be taken lightly.
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetsky cites a very interesting idea that echoes this thought:
Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin was one of the first Rabbonim of the city of Brisk. He had a custom that before he would sit down to his meal Friday night, he would review all of Maseches Shabbos. Maseches Shabbos has 156 blatt! I am sure he did not need to take out a Gemara and turn all the pages. What did he do? He sat there and mentally reviewed page after page. He was about to begin Shabbos. There are innumerable laws with intricate detail. So he chazered Maseches Shabbos each and every week before beginning his Seudas Shabbos.
One time, he was taking a little longer than usual (Perhaps he got stuck on a Tosfos or something). The Rebbetzin came into him and said, “Rebbe, the guests are hungry. They are sitting at the table. They are not reviewing Maseches Shabbos. Can’t you for once forgo your custom and not review the whole Masechta before starting the Seuda?”
He heard what his wife said and then started mumbling again. He told her, “If this is something I have always been doing and now you are asking me to stop—it becomes a shaylah of Nedarim (vows). I need to review Maseches Nedarim now to see if I am allowed to suspend my Minhag!”
We see from this story that when someone is about to begin Shabbos, he needs to remind himself about the severity of the halachos of Shabbos, and when someone is about to cancel a minhag, he needs to remind himself about the severity of the laws of Nedarim. The Torah says here: You are going to take a human life; you need to remind yourself of the severity of any loss of human life or property. Human life should never be taken lightly!
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Emor is provided below:
- # 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?
- #1159 – The “Morranos” of Spain: Their Halachic Status
- #1203 – Mesiras Nefesh Challenges From Biblical Times Through the twentieth century
- #1248 – The Challenge for the Occupational and Speech Therapist: Feeding Non-Kosher Food to a Jewish Child
- #1291 – The Fascinating Case of the Kohain Who Showed Up In Shul After They Sold The Aliyah to A Yisroel
- #1335 – May We Accept Tzedaka From Non-Jews
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 http://www.yadyechiel.org/ for further information.