Parashat Emor concludes with the disturbing story of the megadef – the man who publicly blasphemed God in the middle of the Israelite camp. After the incident, the megadef was detained until God instructed Moshe that he should be put to death.
Rashi (24:12) cites the comment of Torat Kohanim that the story of the megadef occurred at the same time as a different unfortunate incident of a public Torah violation, namely, the Shabbat desecration of the mekoshesh eitzim, of which we read in Sefer Bamidbar (15:32-36). In that case, too, the violator was held in detainment while the nation waited for God to instruct Moshe how to respond, and Torat Kohanim tells us that the sin of the mekoshesh eitzim was committed at around the same time as the megadef’s blasphemy. However, Torat Kohanim tells, the two perpetrators were detained in two different places, and were not held together.
We might wonder why Chazal found it necessary to inform us that these two sinners were not detained together. Why is it significant that the nation’s officials held them in different locations while awaiting God’s instructions?
The answer, perhaps, is that our Sages sought to teach us that wrongdoers should not be “lumped together” in the figurative sense, either. Each wrongful act has its own context, background, causes, and unique set of circumstances. We should not view all acts of misconduct as being cut from the same proverbial cloth, as being all the same, and as deserving the same kind of response. Chazal here call for a nuanced and calculated reaction to sinful conduct, urging us to carefully consider each act on its own in light of its particular nature and context before responding. It is worth noting that Chazal indeed commend the mekoshesh for his noble intentions, as he chose to violate Shabbat and be put to death in order to demonstrate the relevance of the commands after the sin of the spies (Midrash cited by Tosefot, Bava Batra 119). When it comes to the megadef, however, Chazal seem less charitable in their assessment of his offense. Accordingly, we might suggest that our Sages’ depiction of these violators as being incarcerated in separate locations is intended to warn against mindlessly grouping all mistakes together, and to instead respond to each in a sound, prudent fashion.