Friday, April 30, 2010

Notes on the blasphemer

At the end of Emor, we find the story of the blasphemer. See how its told in the chumash here.

What follows are some midrashic notes. Any similarity to fan fiction is a coincidence.

(1) We're told the blasphemer "went out" but not where he went out from, or where he went to. By the conventions of midrash this is odd, and its a question some attempt to answer, and in away that sheds some light on the sin.

ר' לוי אמר: יצא מעולמו, כמה דאת אמר: (ש"א י"ז): ויצא איש הבינים

This midrash's  proof-text (which Rashi does not include) is from 1 Samuel, and refers to Goliath, the hero who also "went out." As with the blasphemer we're not told where he went, nor where he came from. Other parralels between the blasphemer and Golaith are: 
  • The act of blasphemy
  • Which took place during a fight
  • and resulted in the death of the blasphemer via stoning
Q: What does Rav Levi mean (in the Hebrew above) when he says the blasphemer left his world?
  • He lost his world to come, ie heavenly reward
  • He lost this world, by commiting a sin that led to his execution
  • He lost his status as a man, in the he used his power of speech - the one thing that separates us from animals - for a degrading purpose
  • He lost his mind, see Reish Lakish who says that we only sin when we take leave of our senses.
Another answer:

ר' ברכיה אמר: מפרשה של מעלן יצא אמר, כתיב: ולקחת סלת ואפית אותה, דרכו של מלך להיות אוכל פת חמה שמא צוננת?!

R. Berechiah takes the view that the blasphemer sinned by mocking the rite of the showbread, cakes that were kept on a dedicated table in the Tabernacle, saying "An ordinary king eats hot, fresh bread; look at God with his stale loaves!"

According to R. Brechiah's reading, the blasphemer "left" the previous parsha, that is Torah section, which, as it happens, discusses, the showbread.

Possibly, R. Brechiah also means to say that he left his old beliefs, or "came out" with his true beliefs.

- Interjection-
The complaint about the showbread sounds something like the complaint about tzitzis and mezuzot put by the midrash into the mouth of Korach, who mocked the rational of those commandments. Ibn Ezra seems to note this. He answers our question (from where did the blasphemer leave?) this way, "From his tent" a seemingly innocuous comment, until you take note of his prooftext, which comes from Korach. (Datan and Aviram also "left their tents) so perhaps the suggestion is that the blasphemer "left" in a spirit of mocking rebellion
- End Interjection -

Yet another answer (Long, but well worth the reading time):

The blasphemer, we're told in Leviticus 24:10, was the son of an ish mizri -- the same ish mizri, the midrash says, that Moshe killed in the first of the two episodes of his young adulthood told in Exodus 2. (The midrash is taking advantage of the appearance of the phrase ish mitzri in that story and this one, too) Continues the midrash: This ish mitzri raped Shlomis bas Divri, the blasphemer's mother, and when he saw that the matter was known to her husband (the infamous Datan, one midrash says) the ish mitzri attempted to work him to death. This is the drama Moshe interrupted in Exodus 2:11 when he came upon an ish mitzri beating an ish ivri  (ish, in many places, being taken by the midrash as code for Datan;  when plural, the word is take as code for Datan and his partner in crime Aviram).

Moshe responded by killing the ish mitzri.

In the very next verse Moshe comes across two men fighting. The midrash (again seeing ish as a code word for Datan and Aviram) fills in the blanks. Aviram wanted Datan to divorce his raped, and by now impregnated wife, but Datan refused. When Moshe attempted to mediate, one of the men told him to beat it, adding: הַלְהָרְגֵ֙נִי֙ אַתָּ֣ה אֹמֵ֔ר כַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר הָרַ֖גְתָּ אֶת־הַמִּצְרִ֑י. Figuratively this means, "Do you mean to kill us like you killed the Egyptian?" but the locution is strange: literally, it means something like "To kill us with speaking, as you killed the Egyptian?" Concludes the midrash: Moshe murdered the Egyptian through some supernatural trick involving the use of the divine name.

Fast forward to the day of the blasphemy.

According to the midrash, this son of the ish mitzri, who had left Egypt with his mother, wanted to set up his tent in the area reserved for members of his mother's tribe, the tribe of Dan. Some Dannites objected, and though he belonged outside the camp with the mixed multitudes, or rabble [=erev rav]. They took the matter to Moshe for ajudication, who ruled that the son of the ish mitzri belonged with the rabble. This made him angry (see above R. Levi "he took leave of his senses") and, upon leaving the court (remember our original question? He "left" the court; or possibly he "came out" as an Egyptian) he blasphemed.

What was he so angry about? As the son of Dannite woman, he was a Jew with all the obligations of a full-fledged member of the tribe, but as the son of an Egyptian he was required to live outside the camp. He had all the obligations, but none of the benefits. An injustice that would make any of us angry. Moreover, he was already doubting the rational of the divine system. The showbread system made no sense (R. Berachiah above) and now this? Obviously Moshe is just making stuff up, he thought. And so he cursed.

Incidentally, other interpreters say this is exactly why Moshe took the question to God. He wanted it made clear that he wasn't "making stuff up", and more importantly that any grudge he may have had against the blasphemer on account of his father, and their old fight, was not affecting the judgment.

Q: Why did the blasphemer attack God, if he was mad at Moshe's judgment?

During the argument about the camp (Rashi: Don't read יִּנָּצוּ֙ בַּֽמַּחֲנֶ֔ה as "they fought in the camp" but as "they fought about the camp") someone reminded the blasphemer that his father had been killed by Moshe through the use of the divine name (this, we see even on the blogs is what people do during arguments: the bring up nasty details about the person's past) He responded, by cursing the divine name, ie, the source of his father's death.

Search for more information about midrahs at

No comments: