Parshat Emor (Leviticus 24: 10-23)): Merciful Killing
The characters of the story
A son of an Israelite woman came out, and he was the son of an Egyptian man
Among the Children of Israel, and they fought in the camp
The son of the Israeli woman, and the Israeli man
He cursed the Holy Name
And the son of the Israeli woman ‘pierced’ the Name, and he cursed
And they brought him before Moses. And the name of his mother was
Shelomi the daughter of Divri, from the tribe of Dan
Moses didn’t know?
And they placed him under guard , till his sentence would be uttered explicitly by YHVH
And YHVH spoke to Moses saying: Bring forth the one who has cursed outside the camp
And let all that heard him lay hands over his head, and let all the congregation stone him
The harsh Blasphemy Law
And you shall speak to the Children of Israel saying
Whoever, man and man, curses his ELKM shall bear his sin
And he who ‘pierces’ the name of YHVH shall definitely put to death
And al the congregation shall certainly stone him. Both a stranger and a ‘citizen’
When he pierces Name shall be put to death
Execute a murderer!
And whoever shall hit any man’s soul shall be put to death
Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth….I am YHVH your ELKM
They implemented stoning
And they took out the one who had cursed outside the camp
And they stoned him (with one stone)
And the Children of Israel did as YHVH had commanded them (Leviticus24: 10-26)
This awful story has raised many questions about its context. What does it have to do in Leviticus, preceded with the lists of holidays and festivals?
It must be an editorial error, say Bible critics (I have heard this in my own ears on TV)
The Torah, in their views, is just a compilation of ‘scrolls’ written in different times by different authors. No wonder, hence, that we find here a section that so much misplaced.
This is what they say. But the truth is that all the archeological discoveries so far have only supported our tradition. The scrolls of the Dead Sea have proven that our text is exactly the same that our ancestors had, thousands of years ago. Moreover, the Biblical computer code has unraveled stunning information that depends on the integrity of the text TO THE LETTER. Based on counting letters, the code is sensitive to the smallest change in the text. Remove a section, and you have interrupted the finding of the code. The more we know about the Bible, the more we appreciate its integrity. It has only one writer: Moses.
If so, we can raise again our previous question: what does this awful story of cursing G-d, to do here in Leviticus following the list of festivals?
In fact, the question seems more valid as we notice that it ends a long list of Commandments which we\ve discussed last class. The list starts with the declaration:
“You shall do my commandments and live in them”
Which is, as we’ve said, an opening announcement heralding the importance of Life. The Commandments are given to us, it says, “to live in them, and not to die by them” (Midrash.)
Then the list tells us how to be holy: climb up on the left Tablets (Commandments between Man and G-d) then proceed to climb on the right Tablet (Commandments between Man and Man) than reach the epitome of all Commandments (according to Hillel) which says:
Then comes the epitome of martyrdom: “And I shall be sanctified among the Children of Israel” which tells us that His Holiness is greater than our lives. But, as we’ve said, since the chain begins with the declaration of the importance of Life, it chews up much of martyrdom and diminishes it, leaving only the top three (see previous class.)
Thus a person climbs up to holiness on the Commandment’s list. He then observes the festivals and holidays mentioned early in our Parshah, and enjoy the closeness to HaSheM.
Why then does the Torah end here the entire long chain by giving us this ugly, awful story about cursing God?
But as we are about to see, our section does take you to a higher spiritual level than ever before. Not only this section is not misplaced, it is the continuation of everything before, in fact the epitome of holiness.
To see that let’s read the section more carefully:
From where did he come out? There are several explanations:
1. It is a style of the Hebrew: many stories in the Bible start like that: someone came out.. so we should not pay too much attention to this opening verb
2. He came out of his tent: to fight about tenets. As a son of an Egyptian man, he sought to join a tribe, possibly his mother’s tribe Dan, but was rejected. Hence his grievances.
3. He came out looking for trouble: hinting to his bad character. But not everyone agrees: as a son of an Egyptian man, he could have stayed in Egypt but opted to join Israel, for which he should be credited. He was not such a bad man.
4. He came out of the world: by cursing God, he would lose this world and the world to come
5. He came out of his people: he would be cut off from the Jewish people
6. He came out of Egypt: this explains his story. His father was, according to the Midrash, the Egyptian man whom Moses killed in Egypt. Fact, the Israelite man was fighting the Egyptian about his own wife, who had been molested by the Egyptian. Moses killed the Egyptian, but the Israelite woman was impregnated by him. her child was the young man who now came out to fight and curse. This story may put the woman in bad light. Yet we will soon see another facet of her story.
7. He came out of Moses’ court: the son of the Israelite woman came to Moses to find out to what tribe he should join, but Moses could not tell for sure, so the man came out cursing.
Some say the man, a son of an Egyptian, was converted to Judaism. This implies that at that time, a child of a mixed marriage went after the father. It is only alter in history that the rabbis enacted that such a child would go after his mother. In that case the child did not have to convert. (The reason for this rabbinic change was that in their time one could never tell for sure who the farther was.)
Now that we know the characters involved, let’s read the next verse that says:
You don’t see this in the English, but the word fo “fought,” nitzim, hints to a fierce, ugly fight like two hawks fighting each other by nails, tooth and so on. They also three at each other ugly, painful wards. This explains why the son of the Israelite woman became so angry that he wnet out and cursed. In fact, the verse says that
The expression “to pierce a name” is not unusual in the Hebrew language. When I simply name someone loudly, I pierce the air uttering his name. It is especially used when uttering that name is somehow either restricted or forbidden.
Here “The Name” may refer to YHVH. But in fact, YHVH is an acronym that CAN’T be pronounces as a word, besides reading it letter by letter, like you would read CBS, NBC, CNN. And that sort of reading is not forbidden.
(Note that YHVH is commonly written as YaHoVaH, where the vowels a-o-a come from the name AaDoNaI which is uttered in place of YHVH, following Abraham.)
Hence many say that the Name here refers to the mysterious, long forgotten Name composed of 72 letters. (There are three Holy Names: of four letters, of 42 letters, and of 72 letters.) We still have in our hands those 72 letters, yet we don’t know anymore how to read them as one name).
This holy Name of 72 letters is indeed forbidden to utter, apart from the high Priest of Israel on Yom Kippur. Rabbi Tarfon says in the Talmud that when he was young, he used to help his uncle to serve in the Holy Temple as a High Priest. I tried hard, he tells his student, to stay close to my uncle as he exited from the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, so that I could hear him uttering the Holy Name. But when he lifted his hands to bless the people by the Holy Name, the Levite Choir burst in such a loud hallelujah that I could not hear his voice.
So it is possible that the son of the Israelite uttered the forbidden Name of 72 letters. He pierced the air by this Name. How did he know this Holy Name?
He must have heard it on Mt. Sinai. When G-d said “I am..” He actually said the full Name of 72 letters that the entire camp of Israel heard. No other generation has ever merited this honor to KNOW HaSheM (“The Name”) so close.
According to this, the son of the Israelite woman did two things: (uttered loudly the Holy Name of 72 letters (2) then cursed.
This is important, since the Law says that a person is liable for the death penalty for Blasphemy only after he had mentioned the Holy Name twice. The first Name was said loudly, whereas the curse was aimed at the second Name (Like “let Jacob hit Jacob,” Talmud.) For instance he could have said “let the holy Name of 72 letters hit the Name of four letters.
This makes the possibility to perform this sin very unlikely. In fact, it has never happened again! The only person who was executed for it was this son of the Israelite woman. So why was it written? For teaching the principles.
But one can say that “to pierce the Name” actually mean “to puncture a hole” in the Holy Name. This makes his sin more complicated: he first mentioned the 72 letters Name in derogatory fashion, piercing its holiness, and then he added a curse. Only then he was executed.
Why do we refer to cursing YHVH Name as piercing? Here are several philosophical basic notions of Judaism.
The first explanation is given by the Sefer Hachinuch, a 13th century basic text found in almost all Jewish homes.
It says that by cursing YHVH, a person pierces his own heart, his own soul.
Indeed, YHVH dwells in our heart. At CREATION, ELKM carved a room in our heart where we would be able to accept the Merciful YHVH. ELKM would not place Mercy in our heart. For Six Days He created a long line of animals, who may never comprehend the Merciful YHVH. Even if they would become smart and intelligent, they would never comprehend MERCY. The Serpent in Eden was a Beast of the Field, who knew ELKM by Name but never mentioned YHVH. As a beast, it could never comprehend MERCY.
Adam too was created in the Image of ELKM, as the verse explicitly says. But ELKM carved out a room in Adam heart where Adam would be able to invite YHVH in and accommodate Her in his heart. We build a Temple for YHVH in our heart. That is our task, for this trial we were born.
Now when a person curses YHVH, it is as if he has punctured that bubble, that room in his heart where YHVH dwells. That person, says the Hinuch, becomes an animal.
But one can also say that by cursing YHVH one has punctured the world.
According to Genesis chapter One, Nature (the Six Days) are a cover for ELKM. The Name ELKM appears in that chapter 32 (Lb) times, indicating that ELKM dwell inside nature like a heart inside a body. He dwells inside every atom, electron, or subatomic particle. If we pierce Nature in our mind, we’d hit ELKM. In Kabalah ELKM is called “The One Who Fills the World.” It is said that “He is the Place for the World, not that the World is a Place for Him.”
Now if conceptually you’d ‘pierce’ ELKM, you’d hit YHVH “who surrounds all the worlds.” We live at the center, inside Nature, which is a Shield for ELKM. And E:LKM in turn is a Shield for YHVH. The verse in Psalms says: “For like the Sun and a Shield is YHVH ELKM.” It means: if YHVH is like the Sun, ELKM is like the Shield which protects our eyes from being blinded by \her awesome Light.
But now if you dare to pierce YHVH, you have pierced everything. You have lost your worlds, this one and the one to come. That is why it is said that the son of the Israelite woman ‘exited.’
Now the verse turns to his mother:
This can simply be her name. But Shelomite means “one who seeks peace.” And Divri means “one who talks.” Hence the notion that she talked to Moses, trying to defend he son IN THE NAME OF MOTHERLY MERCY. After all, she claimed, my son only offended the MERCIFUL YHVH. And the Attribute of MERCY, she said, would not care so much about what this son of mine, who has suffered from rejection, have said. How can you punish in the Name of MERCY? My son did not kill anyone, nor did he treat anyone with cruelty. Why should he be punished IN THE NAME OF MERCY?
So effective was her argument, they say, that Moses indeed did not know what to do. He locked the perpetrator up, waiting for YHVH herself to respond.
YHVH verdict was clear: stoning. The witnesses must place their hands on his head and “all the congregation” should stone him.
Is it the vengeful bloody Jehovah speaking here? Of course not. There is no such name, Jehovah. It is by itself a great blasphemy. Moreover, the notion attached to Jehovah is erroneous. The Attribute of MERCY is talking here!
So what does she really say to Moses? She says the law:
Whoever curses ELKM, should bear his sin, get lashes.
Whoever pierces YHVH’s name, shall be stoned.
But as we\ve said, this has never happened again. No one knew the holy Name of 72 letters, and no one could repeat it twice in this particular fashion: let Jacob hit Jacob.
But unexpectedly YHVH switches course, apparently, to murder. She says:
It is the editor’s error? Is it the vengeful YHVH speaking again?
In fact, this verse spells out the retribution for “Thou shall not murder” mentioned in the Ten Commandments. There is the warning, here is the punishment. A murderer, YHVH says, should be executed by a human court. Don’t thing that MERCY would show compassion to a proven murderer.
But why does Moses repeat this to Israel?
We know that BLOODSHED was given first to Adam and Eve in Eden, then held by Noah, so why repeating it to Israel?
In fact, the BLOODSHED laws are the core of Noah’s Rainbow Covenant. There the law is spelled out in details, in seven steps. It also focuses on Man’s cruelty. Man’s heart is evil from his youth, it says. To prevent BLOODSHED, Noah received another commandment; one over Adam’s six, the prohibition to consume blood and limbs torn from a living animal.
So why repeating it here to Israel?
But in fact, the Torah follows here the rule that “a commandment given to Noah and repeated by Moses to Israel, applies to both, Nohides and Israel.” By repeating BLOODSHED here to Israel, Moses upheld it to ALL MANKIND.
But Moses did not just repeat BLOODSHED here. He also placed MURDER at the level of BLASPHEMY. Whoever takes away an innocent human life, is considered as if he has pierced YHVH Name. Not only did the murderer leave a vacuum in society, he has also pierced a hole in Holiness. Here Moses elevated MURDER to a sin above what Adam or Noah had perceived.
You can see that in the Ten Commandments.
At the top of the first, left Tablet it is said “ I Am…”
And at the top of the second, right Tablet it is said “Thou shall not murder”
Violating one commandment on the line, is equivalent to violating both.
So far we have seen that our section takes us to a higher level than the entire chain of Commandments that preceded. Now we continue to go even higher. The verse adds another dimension to MURDER, not seen before.
It prohibits taking the life of a soul, in Hebrew “breathing” man.
It prohibits the taking away life from a person, as long he or she breathes.
Even if that person is dying. Even if that person got only few second top live.
Whoever shortens the life of such a dying person is considered by Moses a murder who deserve the capital punishment.
Again, Noah had been given such a law in his Rainbow Covenant. The verse there says “And I shall demands the blood taken by man’s brother.” Who is the murderer called a brother? He is one who has acted in compassion, in the name of MERCY.
So why does Moses repeat it here to Israel? To make it applicable to both, Noahides and Israel.
But Moses adds here a new facet to the law: it is forbidden to shorten the dying person’s life even for a minute.
Moses says: YOU CAN’T KILL IN THE NAME OF MERCY. SINCE MURDERING IS TANTEMOUNT TO BLASPHEMY, LIKE CURSING YHVH, KILLING IN HER NAME IS LIKE “let Jacob curse Jacob.” It is as the killer has desecrated YHVH Name TWICE.
Like in the Rainbow Covenant, the law prohibits Abortion. But there is an apparent paradox here: the verse seems to prohibit killing a soul, a breathing human. It seems to exclude killing of an embryo, who does not breath air.
The Talmud therefore makes the following comment: How can abortion be tolerated to Israel, and forbidden to Noahides?! Hence Abortion is punishable by death in both Noahide and Israeli courts.
The verse now says: “An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth”
No, this is not an editor’s error, misplaced here. This is an input of YHVH: though ELKM would demand an absolute Justice, the Merciful YHVH says otherwise, monetary compensation.
Like in the case of the person who curses G-d, the verdict has never been implemented as written. YHVH prevails!
An apparent terrible execution
and the stoned him by one stone…
The person who has cursed the Holy Name, may deserve a bad, public execution.
But in reality the Israeli court has never stoned a person the way shown in Hollywood movies. People of Israel did not assemble on the hills and threw piles of atones at the poor man down below.
The Mishnah describes the process of stoning in details: the Court had a “house of stoning” outside the city, where the person was first hung. Then the Court, representing the congregation, placed one stone over his heart. And that was all.
Since he had pierced his heart, since his heart had become a stone, he died with one stone placed over his heart.
Life is precious and holy. Whoever takes an innocent life away has also pierced the Holy Name. Whoever shortens life even for a second, even for a dying person, has cursed the holy G-d of Israel.