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THOUGHTS FOR PARASHAT EMOR BY RABBI WILKINSON

Parashat Emor includes the moadim and we learn about the laws of lighting the Menora and placing the lechem ha-panim on the Shulchan, both of which take place in the Mishkan. This is followed by the story of the megadef, the blasphemer. Following that story, the Torah focuses on the laws of shemitta and yovel, returning to the theme of sanctity of time. The episode of the megadef appears to be out of place. What is its connection to the parshiot that precede and follow it? Why did the Torah record the story after the parasha of the moadim and before that of shemitta and yovel?

Maybe one solution would be to say that chronologically the episode of the megadef occurred at this point. That might be an answer but Sefer Vayikra is almost entirely halakhic in nature, not narrative. The events that occurred after the inauguration of the Mishkan are recorded in Sefer Bamidbar so a chronological explanation might not be correct.

An additional difficulty is that the section itself seems to lack focus and unity. The Torah describes that after the megadef sins, he is placed under guard because Moshe does not know what punishment he deserves. Then Moshe receives an odd list of laws, which begins with instructions regarding the proper punishment of a megadef, but quickly digresses into a seemingly unrelated discussion about murder and damages.

There is not sufficient space to explore all these questions and possible answers, but that doesn’t mean the questions should be ignored and various explanations considered. Here I would like to try and see what we can learn from the story.

Rashi deduces from use of the pronoun “they placed HIM (vayanichuHU) in confinement” that the blasphemer was placed in confinement by himself. Even though the incident of the chopper of wood on Shabbat (mekoshesh eitzim) happened at the same time and he too was placed in jail pending further instructions from Hashem, they were not placed in the same prison cell.

Rav Frand shlita offers an insight from the Sefer Ikvei Erev by Rav Azriel Lankeh. Rav Lankeh asks why the two sinners were not placed in the same cell. Rav Lankeh explains that it was not yet known that the Megadef was going to be killed. If a person has not committed a capital crime he does not want to be put in the same cell as a person on ‘death row’. It would have been inappropriate “inueey hadin” [anguish of judgment] to place him on death row if in fact he himself would not have been destined for that fate. Until they heard what his punishment was going to be, they put him in a separate cell so that he shouldn’t have the worry and concern about being in the same place as someone due to be executed.

As Rav Frand emphasises this demonstrates such sensitivity on the part of the Torah in not wanting to cause this person undue distress. The individual had blasphemed the Hashem. This is not a crime of passion or a crime of lust. This is rebellion against the Master of the Universe. There is no ulterior motive or pleasure from cursing the Name of Hashem. We are dealing with an individual who was a sinner. Why should he be shown any sensitivity and compassion? Our initial inclination would be to put him in prison and throw away the key. Let him be distressed.

What the Torah is teaching us, Rav Lankeh explains is that notwithstanding his actions he is still a Jew and even such a Jew must be treated with sensitivity. We do not yet know his fate. The Almighty will tell us in another day or so. In the meantime, we need to show him compassion and not callously compound his anguish by causing him to contemplate a fate that might be worse than that which Hashem will inform us he deserves.

The lesson is clear. If the Torah is so concerned about the feelings of a Megadef, how much more do we need to be sensitive to the feelings and concerns of a regular Jew who is not accused of such a serious crime?

Shabbat shalom.

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