Emor - Guard Your Thoughts

This parshah has a very unusual and seemingly out of place episode, almost tacked on to the end of the parshah with the episode of the 'blasphemer'. Following a thorough review of all of the holidays, and a return to activity in the mishkan, the 'blasphemer' and his unusual personal history appears, where he is quickly aroused and curses in front of a large congregation.

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.
Vayikra 24:10
  • Why is this episode positioned directly after the description of the activities in the mishkan?
  • Why is this episode introduced with "and he went out..."
  • Why is 'the blasphemer' family background described so clearly?

The Blasphemer Episode
And the son of the Israelite woman pronounced the [Divine] Name and cursed. So they brought him to Moshe. His mother's name was Shelomith the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan
Vayikra 24:11
Why mention his mother's name outright?

The Blasphemer and The Mishkan 
The positioning of the Blasphemer episode immediately following the description of important activities in the mishkan, like lighting the menorah and placing the showbread, is no accident. The Baal HaTurim explains that the Torah "positioned the blasphemer to the verse 'Each and every Sabbath day' (Vayikra 24:8) to say that the blasphemer and the wood collector (Bamidbar 15:32) were at the same period, and that is to say one who desecrates the Sabbath is a heretic (Mesechet Chullin 5A). That is to say that the episode of the Blasphemer took place on the Sabbath, as introduced by the previous verse, and that inherent in the Blasphemer's behavior was lack of respect for the Sabbath. This is the first insight into his way of thinking.

Is the Blasphemer Jewish?
The Blasphemer is introduced with a brief overview of his lineage, "the son of an Israelite woman and he was the son of an Egyptian man" (Vayikra 24:10). Why is this necessary? Furthermore  the verse describes that he  "went out among the children of Israel" - what does this refer too?

Don't we already know that any child of a Jewish mother is considered fully Jewish, a 'Kosher Yid'? The Ramban explains that yes this is true, the child would be a kosher Jew, but his background makes him unsuitable for the priesthood and leaves him without an inheritance of land in Eretz Yisrael. The Ramban elucidates further explaining that before the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, the practice was to set a child's religion according to the father. So he would have converted and followed his mother's way, hence the expression "went out among the children of Israel" - that he was not like a Jew from birth.

Who was the Blasphemer's Mother?
Further exploring the elements that formed this Blasphemer's psyche and way of thinking, the Torah is very clear and deliberate about showing who his mother is. The Torah says "His mother's name was Shelomith the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan."

Rashi explains on this verse that 'Shelomith' herself was considered promiscuous (zona). Furthermore Rashi elaborates and explains the meaning of her family name, Dibri. The root of Dibri is DBR or to talk. Rashi says that she was a gossip, asking about the welfare of everyone.

Here we get further insight into the values that were transferred to the Blasphemer from his mother, constantly collecting information and talking about people behind their back.

Who was the Blasphemer's Father?
Rashi notes quite succinctly that the Blasphemer's father was the Egyptian that Moshe had killed (Shmot 2:12). By looking at the episode that occurred then, we get more insight into this Egyptian.
Now it came to pass in those days that Moses grew up and went out to his brothers and looked at their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man of his brothers.  He turned this way and that way, and he saw that there was no man; so he struck the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.
Shmot 2:12-13
Rashi explains that the 'Egyptian man' was appointed as a watchman of the Israelites and he sent men to their labor. The 'Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man' was the husband of ... Shelomith Bat Dibri. Shelomith had caught the eye of the Egyptian, so at night, the Egyptian had her husband sent out to carry out work. Then the Egyptian came and was with her. According to Shelomith, she thought that this was her husband. Later that night, the husband returned and saw this situation. The Egyptian man realized that he had been seen with the Israelite woman, so he beat this man all day. And as the narrative continues Moshe saw this beating taking place and "he struck the Egyptian" - killing him.

This creates a fuller picture of this Blasphemer - a heretic, son of a whore and gossiper, illegitimate son of an Egyptian taskmaster who was murdered right after his conception.

Know Your Heart
The Kli Yakar comes to clarify further the details of this episode. The Blasphemer, son of an Israelite woman and the Egyptian that was killed by Moshe, had nurtured in his heart without telling anyone curses towards Moshe for killing his father.

The Kli Yakar brings the mishna in Pirkei Avot:
"Rabbi Yochanan ben (son of) Beroka said, whoever desecrates the Name of Heaven in secret will be paid back in public. Whether one acts unintentionally or intentionally, [both are accountable] regarding desecration of the Name."
Avot 2:5
Thus the verse of the Blasphemer is introduced with the expression "and he went out...", to show that he had finally come out of his inner world and was revealing to the outside world what his deep inner feelings really were. For in the confrontation he had with the Israelite man, the Blasphemer was provoked, angering him, and the natural reaction was letting loose his innermost, and truest feelings - curses and hate.

Lesson to All: Guard Your Thoughts
The life lesson from this episode is about perfecting our character traits. It is not enough to focus on how we present ourselves to others, behave in public situations like work, synagogue or on the street, but to focus on our inner most thoughts and what consumes our thinking. Is it anger, jealousy, spite, and frustration? or is it more about learning how to accept the bad with the good, going easy on ourselves without inflicting self-criticism, and learning to value and appreciate the positive traits we have. By guarding ourselves with positive thoughts we can influence how our outer behavior will turn out to be.

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