Emor – Torah In Haiku


A blasphemer killed …
But we do not know his name …
Only his mother’s ——-

Near the end of Emor, we learn that the punishment for blasphemy was death by stoning:

Lev 24:16 – “He who blasphemes the name of G-d shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him.”

Most of the time, when commandments (and the punishments for violating them) are outlined in Torah, it’s done in general terms … “If someone does “x”, then the punishment is “y”. This time, however, there is a specific blasphemer identified:

Lev 24:10-11 – “The son of an Israelite woman, whose father was an Egyptian … blasphemed the name of G-d and cursed.”

The blasphemer isn’t identified by name – we only find out about his lineage. His father is an unnamed “Egyptian man”, although Rashi says the blasphemer’s father was the taskmaster killed by Moses back in Exodus. But his mother is not anonymous:

Lev 24:11 – ” … his mother’s name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan”

It’s reasonable to conclude that Shelomith, because she is named, bears some responsibility for her son’s behavior. A commentary by Tamar Kadari, from the Jewish Women’s Archive website, uses Midrash to fill in several blanks in the story and perhaps gives it a different spin.

Kadari relates several midrash saying Shelomith’s son was the product of one of several possible sexual sins. Because “everything follows from the seed; from sweet to sweet, and from bitter to bitter … the offspring of an Egyptian from an act of defilement, cured the Lord”. Although these stories imply that the blasphemer was simply “born that way”, and thus there is no redemption for him, they do help to lessen the suggestion Shelomith is to blame for her son’s behavior.

But another midrash is critical of Moses (and G-d?) taking the position that Shelomith’s son cursed because he was not accepted by his mother’s tribe, even though he “tried to mend his ways: he converted [encampment followed the father’s line and his father was Egyptian] and wanted to be part of his tribe.” This doesn’t say much positive about the tribe’s acceptance of the “other”, despite so many repetitions in Torah of the commandment to “love the stranger because you were strangers in the Egypt”

As usual, there are conflicting views about this story, told with so few details in Torah. But that’s why we have midrash … and commentary … and blogs! It’s how we manage to find interesting ways to engage with the same Torah portions year after year after year.

Ed Nickow | The Torah In Haiku

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