Accepting Communal Responsibility

May 1, 2014
BY Natan Gamliel
Parshat Emor

After listing many other rules to help keep the Jewish people pure, Parshat Emor concludes by telling us about a man who blasphemes God. All those who heard him blaspheme God are to put their hands on his head and then stone him. God explains that anyone who commits blasphemy should be put to death and adds that a murderer should also be put to death.

Blasphemy is specifically prohibited by the Ten Commandments. By concluding with the story of the blasphemer, this week’s parshah is telling us that all of our community’s efforts to pursue holiness and purity are, in effect, undone by an act of blasphemy. It has even been said that, since human beings are created in God’s image, speaking ill of another person — committing the sin of lashon hara — can be regarded as blasphemy. In essence, we are being told that our words have the power to make our entire community unholy.

The Torah tells us that Shlomit, the mother of the blasphemer, was from the tribe of Dan. Since his father was an Egyptian, the blasphemer did not belong to any tribe and when he requested a land inheritance, the tribal elders refused to grant it. This made the man so angry that he cursed God.

Although by blaspheming God, this man did something terrible, the Midrash explains that the leaders of the Tribe of Dan were told to put their hands on the man’s head before he was stoned to show that they too had responsibility for his death. If they had only been more sympathetic and offered to help him out, he might not have been driven to curse God. The message is that by being helpful to people on the fringe of our community, we have the power and the duty to prevent our kehilah kedoshah from becoming unholy or impure.

Natan Gamliel is a seventh-grade student at Krieger Schechter Day School.

See also, Stop the Cycle of Violence

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