Larchmont Temple Chevra Torah

Questioning faith in the parsha


May 7, 2011/31 Iyar 5771
Modern Author: Philip Roth
 – “The Conversion of the Jews”
 Leviticus 24:10-23

KOSHI: What is the covenantal impact of the case of the one who blasphemes God? What does it teach us about the nautre/sanctity/reality of God’s name?

V.10          The son of an Israelite women  came out among the Israelites, the son of an  Egyptian man…And a fight broke out between that son of the Israelitess and a certain Israelite.

RASHI“VaYetzeh” From where did he go out?  From the court of Moses.  For he sought to pitch his tent in the midst of the camp of the tribe of Dan.  They said to him: What is your connection here?  By what right do you come?…He said to them: I am from the sons of Dan.  They said to him: “Each man by his banner, according to his father’s house, shall the Children of Israel encamp…” [Num 2:2]  He entered the court of Moses to claim the right to pitch his tent, but left without an answer…[Whereupon] he stood up and blasphemed The Name. [SIFRA]

Da’AT MIKREH“the son of an Egyptian man”—His education by an Egyptian father and his mother’s dubious loyalty to the Israelites were what caused him to “come out against Israel,” to commit the sin.

TANCHUMA…From where did he “come out?”  R’ Berachyah taught, From the previous passage.  He came to mock and asked in wonderment, ‘It is written, “He shall arrange the 12 loaves placed on the table in the Sanctuary once a week on the Sabbath day.” [Lev 23:8] Kings eat hot, fresh bread every day.  Must God eat cold bread nine days old?!’

Prof H.GENIZI…According to the Midrash, R’ Berachya believed it was the man’s scorn that caused him to commit such an extreme act.  Refusal to accept Torah’s logic and lack of faith provide the wicked with a pretext for being scornful, as with Korach’s mockery of the laws of tzitzit.  He sinner mentioned in our reading ridiculed the things that others held as sacred, and his seeming concern for the honor of the King of Kings—lest He eat non day old bread, in contrast to human kings who eat fresh bread daily—is an indication of his cynicism, since God does not “eat” the showbread at all.  Thus, scorn for Torah’s commandments, laws which we do not always fully understand, and the mockery of matters which others hold dearly sacred, can lead to blasphemy.

V.11-12     The son of the Israelite woman pronounced the Name in blasphemy, and he was brought to Moses—now the name of his mother was Shlomit bat Dibri of the tribe of Dan—and he was Placed under guard, until the decision of the Lord would be clarified for them.

SARNA…The Hebrew “NaKaV” literally means “to pierce.”

TARGUM ONKELOS renders it in Aramaic as “u’faresh—he identified specifically.”  The force of the two verbs taken together  is “he pronounced by cursing blasphemously.” …A penalty against blasphemy is preserved  in the Book of the Covenant [Ex 22:27] “Elohim lo t’kalel” That the penalty for blasphemy is death is intimated in Job 2:9, where we read that Job’s wife urged him to end his life, which had become insufferable, by committing blasphemy.

RASHI“VaYiKoV” He said explicitly, that is, he said the Special/Singular Name, cursing—the very same Sacred Name he heard at Sinai.

V.14-16   Remove the blasphemer outside the camp, and all who heard should lean their hands upon his head; and the entire assembly should stone him. Speak to Bnai Yisrael saying: Any man who blasphemes his God shall bear his guilt; if he pronounces the Name he shall be put to death…stranger or citizen, if he explicitly utters the Name, he shall be put to death…

RASHBAM…Why the difference? [between the two punishments]…The first is cursing God, punishable by karet; the other is using The Name,  punishable by death.

The BIUR…The reason for placing the tale of the blasphemer here is to sum up, by way of contrast, the dominant theme of the book, which is holiness.  Till this point, VaYikra has treated the sanctity of the body, with the sanctity of the land about to come. Our sidra begins “You shall fear, every person, his father and his mother…” so that all should know man was created in the Image of God.  Similarly, in the code of transgressions, it is stated: “Whosoever curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.”  But neither the crime of blasphemy nor its punishment is mentioned, even though it is of a much more serious nature…This is because it seems unnecessary for the Almighty to warn against blasphemy of His Name.  Far be it from the Children of Israel, safeguarding the sanctity of relationships with parents, to desecrate their relationship with the Parent of us all…Such a crime was unthinkable. 

Joel LURIE GRISHAVER…  The man was at Sinai.  He heard God’s Voice directly.  He heard God speak the Divine Name in that first commandment.  He learned that cursing with that Name was against God’s law—a denial of Sinai. And he did it on purpose.  This was not any curse—but a denial of the experience of the Holy One at Sinai.  In Torah experience, cursing with God’s Name is a kind of murder of the spirit….This is not just any taking of God’s Name in vain.  This is the ultimate verbal assault on the Empire of heaven….


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