Emor 2017 - 5777 Everything in Moderation. Even Moderation.

Post date: May 11, 2017 9:44:46 PM

Parshat Emor, Leviticus 21:1 - 24:23

My grandfather, Nissim Asher, of blessed memory, used to exhort people to be reasonable. "Everything in moderation," he would say, then follow it tongue-in-cheek with, "Especially moderation in moderation."

This week we read parshat Emor, and we near the end of the book of Vayikra. Much of the early part of the parsha focuses on the kohanim and how they must be separated from the rest of the community. Then, the Torah describes each of the haggim – the agriculturally based harvest holidays of Pesah, Sukkot, and Shavu’ot.

At the end of this week’s parsha, the Torah tells an interesting story.

“And the son of an Israelite woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the children of Israel; and the son of the Israelite woman and a man of Israel took a stand together in the camp. And the son of the Israelite woman blasphemed the Name, and cursed; and they brought him unto Moses. And his mother's name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan. And they put him to rest in a guarded place, that it might be declared unto them at the mouth of God. And God spoke unto Moses, saying, ‘Bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him….’”

This is a curious story, placed in the midst of some of the many laws, statutes, punishments, and prohibitions that comprise the book of Vayikra. The end of the story is yet more prohibitions – primarily forbidding blasphemous statements, and reiterating the code of Hammurabi (which is also noted elsewhere in the Torah).

One particularly strange part of the story is the action of the son of the Israelite woman and “a man of Israel.” The Torah says that they va’yi’na’tzu. The root of this word is nun-tzadi-hey, which is translated variously as: to fly, to take one’s stand, to set up or erect, to be stationed, to keep watch, or to preside over. It is not clear from the story what the son of the Israelite woman and the Israelite man were taking a stand regarding – were they keeping watch over something? Were they proverbially “taking a stand,” and declaring their belief (perhaps, lack of belief)? The Torah leaves us at a loss, and we must only wonder.

Rashi translates this word as “quarreled,” and interprets this story to be related to an argument over lineage. He argues that the “son of an Israelite woman” tried to set up his tent in the encampment of the tribe of Dan. Because lineage is passed through the father, the man was taken to Moshe’s court and found guilty. After this, he cursed the name of God.

Certainly Rashi’s explanation helps to fill in some narrative gaps. However, I wonder what it could mean that the Torah simply says that this man “took a stand,” and then began cursing the name of God. I wonder if a man or woman could become so consumed with the things for which they stand that they may (intentionally or inadvertently) begin to curse God – one of the most harshly punished sins in the Torah.

I have seen people (and, at times, found myself) lately becoming this consumed with many political and social issues. For many people, it is difficult right now not to be so consumed with our beliefs that we could find ourselves blaspheming – perhaps cursing God or destroying relationships that we value. To take a stand is not necessarily a bad thing, I would argue. Having convictions that we believe strongly and are willing to fight for creates impassioned citizens who work to make our country stronger. The ways in which we go about strengthening our country seem to be what is causing the most tension.

So what do we do? Do we abandon our beliefs and try to get along with everyone? Or do we stand by our convictions and alienate people who are part of our lives? The Torah certainly seems to argue against only standing by your convictions. I think it is incumbent on each of us to find a balance – a place we can stand where we feel both honest and true to our beliefs, but where we also are able to join together with people we love, though with whom we may disagree.

Yvonne Asher