Rabbi David Walk
Each of the five books in our Torah has a different style and character. The book of Genesis is entirely narrative or stories, and even the couple of mitzvoth mixed in have a story attached to them. Exodus, on the other hand, is essentially all narrative until half way through when we switch to all legal material. Then we have Leviticus which is basically all laws, and the book of Numbers is the most interesting in that the stories are interspersed with laws. Finally, Deuteronomy is the hardest to classify because it is the farewell address of commander and king, Moshe. So, it is a cause for concern and consternation in this week's parsha when we have one of the two stories in the entire book of Leviticus, and neither is very happy except for the pro-execution lobby.
Back in chapter ten we have the difficult episode of Nadav and Avihu, the two sons of Aharon who are summarily executed by God for bringing a strange fire into the newly minted Mishkan. This week we have the equally strange story of the blasphemer. Here's the entire text: Now the son of an Israelite woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the Israelites, and he and a man of
There are many attempts to explain the sin of the blasphemer. Most revolve around his lineage, namely a Jewish mother and an Egyptian father. He may have found himself estranged from society and therefore lashed out at God and the religion. He had a fight within the community which is not described in the text. Many say that he strove to receive a portion of land in
Putting this disturbing incident into proper context is our next and more difficult assignment. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks recently came out with his volume of essays on the book of Leviticus. On the cover he subtitles Leviticus as The Book of Holiness. And, of course, this is true. This third volume of the Torah, I believe, develops a theory of holiness. The early sections of the book present the obvious issues of holiness, namely the
In the structured realm of sanctity which existed in the
The continuation of our Book of Holiness describes how sanctity extends beyond the walls of the
Now we can understand why these are the two stories which make their way into the book of Leviticus. Each in its own way warns us to keep the message of our volume. Maintain Godliness in our world, according to the demands of every circumstance.