Name in Vain: Emor 2016

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-game Chatter: What experiences cause us to overreact? How often do we realize our over reactions soon afterward? And how often do we not realize how we’re reacting until someone else points it out?

The sin described at the end of the Torah portion of Emor mentions what might be seen as numerous overreactions – by the people who fight, and by those who must exact punishment.

The Pitch: “There came out among the Israelites a man whose mother was Israelite and whose father was Egyptian. And a fight broke out in the camp between that half-Israelite and a certain Israelite. The son of the Israelite woman pronounced the Name in blasphemy, and he was brought to Moses – now his mother’s name was Shelomith daughter of Dibri of the tribe of Dan – and he was placed in custody, until the decision of Adonai should be made clear to them. And Adonai spoke to Moses, saying: Take the blasphemer outside the camp; and let all who were within hearing lay their hands upon his head, and let the community leadership stone him.” (Leviticus 24:10-14)

Swing #1: “‘The son of an Israelite woman … went out.’ From where did he come out? R. Levi said, From his world.” – Tanhuma

Swing #2: “Why is the blasphemer identified only by his mother’s name? … Why do both he and and his father remain nameless? … Leah the Namer counters: Utterly preposterous! [The mother’s] name means ‘Woman of Peace,’ the daughter of ‘Divri,’ a version of the ‘Word of God.’ you yourselves acknowledge that she was raped. Dinah the Wounded One cries: Don’t blame the victim! The Sages in our own time suggest: That the priestly book of Leviticus identifies her as a Danite may reflect the fact that in later centuries, the temple of Dan in northern Israel was one of the sites of a rival cult, where a golden calf was set up by the rebel king Jeroboam.” – Ellen Frankel, The Five Books of Miriam

Swing #3: “The reason for placing the story of the blasphemer here is to sum up, by way of contrast, the dominant theme of the book [of Leviticus], which is holiness, separation from defilement and immorality. Till this point the book has treated of the sanctity of the body and the precepts. After it the sanctity of the land and jubilee is dealt with. Our sidra begins, ‘You shall fear every man, his father and mother’ so that all should  know that man was created in the image of God. Similarly in outlining the penal code, it is stated, ‘For whatsoever man there be that curses his father or mother shall surely be put to death.’ But neither the crime or blasphemy nor its penalty is mentioned, though it is much more serious than the cursing of parents.” – Biur

Late-Inning Questions: All three commentaries assign at least some blame on the background or upbringing of the man who commits blasphemy. It implies that, while his blasphemy may have been an overreaction, it also may have been expected given his personal circumstances. Is this fair? Is his punishment an equal (or greater) overreaction? And does this give us some insight of how we should deal with matters of crime and punishment?

On Deck at Emanu-El: Mazal Tov to our two Adult B’not Mitzvah, Debbie Engel and Lisa Isaacson, who will read Torah and help lead services tomorrow morning. Our Adult B’nai Mitzvah service has become an annual highlight, filled with meaningful moments, and this year promises much of the same.

The Big Inning at the End: One of the great stories of the first part of the season has been a man of that name – Trevor Story. The rookie Rockies shortstop has 12 home runs already. He also has one of the best baseball names in the business. Do you have a favorite baseball name?

Shabbat Shalom!