Insights into people in the Torah: The blasphemer

Lessons in holiness. The Torah Portion of EMOR, Leviticus 21:1–24:23 (Israel)

Moshe Kempinski

Judaism Moshe Kempinski
Moshe Kempinski
צילום: PR

The Torah portion of this week in Israel reveals insights into the delicate “Walk of Holiness”.

The portion begins with the words;

“And Hashem said (VaYomer) to Moshe: Speak (Emor) to the Kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and say (VeAmarta) to them: Let none [of you] defile himself for a dead Soul (Nefesh) among his people” (Leviticus 21:1)

The rest of the Torah portion describes the boundaries and the instructions of the manner and form of holiness. We are presented with the rules of sanctity and worship on the Day of Atonement. We then learn about the procedures of the sacrifices and about the rules of sexual morality. Rules, restrictions and constraints. In a world wherein the concept of holiness and spiritual ascent is seen as an ecstatic leap into “freedom from the mundane” we are presented with rules and restrictions.

That may be why we see the repetitive use of derivatives of the Hebrew word "amar" (spoke).

Throughout the Torah we had been accustomed to reading the words “VaYidaber Hashem (and G-d told) Moshe Le-Emor (to speak)”.

Our Sages tell us that the difference between “Vayomer”(he spoke) and “Vayidaber” (he told) is that the latter is a harsher type of speech, while the former is much softer Furthermore, Dibur is always the concise, pregnant expression of G-d’s Will , while “Emor” is the full and revealed explanation of that Will.

G-d is charging the kohanim with the parameters of holiness and the obligations of being a role model. As a result, He is demanding of them a higher level of responsibility, self denial and sacrifice. Yet, as Rav Moshe Feinstien (zt”l) explains He does so with the compassionate use of the word EMOR.

Furthermore in order to understand the need for all the limitations and restrictions ,we need to understand why  at the end of the Torah portion we are told of a difficult and tragic event;

"Now, the son of an Israelite woman and he was the son of an Egyptian man went out among the children of Israel, and they quarreled in the camp this son of the Israelite woman, and an Israelite man.    11And the son of the Israelite woman pronounced the [Divine] Name and cursed. So they brought him to Moses. ....13Then Hashem spoke to Moses, saying:  14Take the blasphemer outside the camp, and all who heard [his blasphemy] shall lean their hands on his head. And the entire community shall stone him. " .(Leviticus 24 :10-14)

While the act of blasphemy is a sin according to Hashem's law "“Do not bear the name of Hashem your G-d in vain,”(Exodus 20:7). It is clear that the issue here was not about disbelief or spiritual rebellion.

The crime that brought about this tragic declaration from Hashem; "Take the blasphemer outside the camp, and all who heard [his blasphemy] shall lean their hands on his head. And the entire community shall stone him."  was the desecration of the Name of G-d rather than the desecration involved with the lack of belief in G-d.

It would seem an unusual story to tell at this point especially considering the different form of the narrative than the rest of the Portion’s text which  is very functional and legal. In addition, it may very well be that this event occurred at a completely different time than the chronolical time of this Torah portion.. Yet the relating of this incident at this point is not happenstance.

The Parshah of Kedoshim began with the statement: “You shall be holy, for I, Hashem your G‑d, am holy.


We continue to read of this concept several more times

”You shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am Hashem, your G-d." (Leviticus 20:7)

Then again;

“And you shall be holy to Me, for I, Hashem, am holy, and I have distinguished you from the peoples, to be Mine.” (Leviticus 20:26)


So how can we understand the concept of “Holiness” and why would the reality of Hashem being holy result in His people being holy as well?

The clear message in the recent Torah portions describe examples of how one is to live a designated and purposeful life . A life that at times involves separation and at other times consists of engagement. That is to say, a live lived within the will of a Holy G-d that transforms a people to become the language of that holiness. As the prophet Isaiah declares;

“He said to me, you are My servant, Israel - that through you I am glorified” (Isaiah  49:3).

This is even more dramatically expressed in the following Hassidic story;

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk once asked his students “what language does G-d speak?” One student said "Hebrew". Another said in all languages and another said in “no language”. Rabbi Menachem Mendel answered “you are all partially correct, yet "Man" is the language of G-d. “

Man has been given the role of expressing G-d in the world."

We have been given the opportunity to represent Hashem’s purpose and holiness in this world.  The  choice to do that that has been given to every human being. If one then decides to live up to that challenge the Torah gives us boundaries and limits . This is done so  that we can truly become a less self-serving vessel of that holiness.

 Without those rules and limitations the ego and pride within us can overcome our divine desire and create chaos and a desecration of Hashem’s Holiness.

The most extreme example of this failure is the Blasphemer in our Torah portion. He did not only abandon the role of being the vessel of holiness but actually attempted to desecrate the source of that sanctity. At that point, the life of that individual ceased to be relevant in the divine plan.

This was an important lesson for all of the people of Israel of that time and a critical one for all of mankind for all time.

“Speak to the entire congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them, You shall be holy, for I, Hashem, your G-d, am holy.”( Leviticus 19:2)

Lerefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved and Yehudit bat Chaya Esther