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The Blasphemer Lesson

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

The Torah is not merely an ancient historical document, but a document with eternal life. When we study any part of the Torah, we need to ask ourselves: “How is this relevant to me today?”

At the end of Parshat Emor, the Torah speaks of a conflict between two men (one a man born of two Israelite parents, the other born to an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father). While both men are considered halachically Jewish (having been born to Jewish mothers), the tribal affiliation in Jewish law is governed by the father’s lineage. The Jewish people were commanded to arrange their encampment in the desert according to their tribal affiliation. The man with the Egyptian father was upset because he was not allowed to join his mother’s camp (tribe of Dan). He vented his anger by cursing God—he blasphemed God’s name. The Torah concludes that cursing God’s name is a capital crime, and the blasphemer was put to death by stoning.

The eternal message the Torah is communicating to us is the severity of the sin of blasphemy. Since most of us would not dare to commit such a terrible sin, thank God, what is the message for us? I would suggest that, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we can relate to the blasphemer in ways we would rather not admit. God has chosen the structure of the Torah laws that we are commanded to observe, and God has chosen the rules/circumstances under which our world and our personal lives operate. Is it possible that we may look at certain laws of the Torah and the ‘limitations’ they place upon us with anger and frustration? Is it possible that we look at our world filled with war, antisemitism, and many other forms of suffering and feel a sense of anger and frustration as to how world affairs are being conducted? Is it possible that we are angered and frustrated by the ‘unfair’ circumstances of our personal lives?

The important thing is how we deal with this sense of anger and frustration. If our egos lead us to the conclusion that we know better than God how to structure moral laws, what the circumstances of our personal lives should be, and how to run the world, the result may, God forbid, be blasphemy. When we feel this anger and frustration, we need to humble ourselves and deeply understand what our sages teach us: God is the ultimate goodness. God in His infinite wisdom, which is beyond our finite human understanding, has given us a perfect Torah which is good for us. God has given us unique personal circumstances which we need for our growth, and (while it seems incomprehensible to our limited intellects) the same is true for the entire world. Additionally. we should focus and bear in mind our Divine mission to promote justice and righteousness and to do our part to positively impact the world using our God-given talents.