SALT - Monday, 12 Iyar 5777 - May 8, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg

            Parashat Emor concludes with the story of the megadeif (“blasphemer”), the man who publicly cursed the Name of God, a crime for which he was put to death.  Rashi (24:10), citing the Midrash, brings two explanations for what led this man to an act of public blasphemy.  One view claims that he protested the law of lechem ha-panim – which appears in the Torah just prior to this incident – that requires the kohanim to eat the special bread in the Mikdash one week after it is baked.  The megadeif found it wholly inappropriate for bread to be eaten in the sanctuary a full week after it is baked, as opposed to eating it fresh.  And this rational objection to a divine command led him to blasphemy.  The second explanation is that this man, who was fathered by an Egyptian, was denied the right to pitch his tent among the tribe of Dan, to which his mother belonged.  After Moshe affirmed the tribe of Dan’s legal right to deny him residence among them, he furiously set out to curse the Name of God.

            Many writers raised the question of why, according to the first view, it was specifically the mitzva of lechem ha-panim that struck such a sensitive chord and led this man to blasphemy.  Why was he so unnerved by the requirement to eat the lechem ha-panim a week after it is baked, to the point where he went out into the middle of the Israelite camp and cursed God?

            This question led some (see, for example, Rav Avraham Nesher’s Pirchei Shoshana) to conclude that in truth, these two views cited by Rashi are complementary, and not mutually exclusive.  It is because the megadeif was resentful over his losing the case against the tribe of Dan that he set out to challenge the Torah.  He was not actually disturbed by the mitzva of lechem ha-panim, but he posed this challenge as an ideological backing for his grievance.  After losing is case, he set out to discredit the entire system, and he found an ideological argument that he could use as a basis for his rejection of Moshe and the Torah’s laws.

            Reflecting upon this tragic incident, it seems that both parties are to blame for the unfortunate outcome.  The people of Dan, for their part, insisted on exercising their strict legal rights to bar this man from residing among them.  Rather than displaying reasonable flexibility and finding a workable accommodation, they decided to bring the matter the court, causing the man understandable and justifiable resentment and ill will.  On the other hand, the megadeif erred in blaming and dismissing the entire system, and then setting out to wage war against it, on account of his legitimate grievance.  Rather than going out into the camp to seek help in finding a solution, he went out into the camp to denounce God and Torah generally.  The megadeif was certainly entitled to feel embittered, but he was wrong for allowing his grievance to develop into public blasphemy.  And thus while the people of Dan were wrong for creating this man’s unfortunate situation, his unfortunate situation did not grant him license to embark on a campaign to publicly smear God and His Torah.