By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
17 Iyar 5764 - May 7, 2004
The book of Vayikra has few examples of narrative, being
concerned mostly with commandments. One – among the strangest incidents in the
Torah – appears near the end of our portion:
And there went out (VAYETZEI) the son of an Israelite woman, and he was the
son of an Egyptian man, in the midst of (BETOCH) the Children of Israel, and
they fought in the camp, the son of the Israelite woman and an Israelite man.
And the son of the Israelite woman uttered the Name and he cursed (VAYEKALLEL).
And they brought him to Moshe. And his mother’s name was Shelomit daughter of
Divri, of the tribe of Dan. And they placed him in the holding cell, to be
explained to them by the command of Hashem (Vayikra 24:10-12).
It was not clear what punishment to give him. Consequently, the
laws of blasphemy are taught, and the unnamed blasphemer is executed by stoning.
The commentaries are concerned with the background of this disgraceful act. We,
however, shall deal with its placement in the book of Vayikra. According to
Rashi (on 24:12; see also on Bamidbar 15:32), this event occurred early in the
first year in the wilderness. If so, why did the Torah intentionally place the
story of the blasphemer here, out of sequence?
We have called Vayikra the book of the sanctified society. It presents a program
for achieving and maintaining holiness (kedushah) within the people of Israel, a
community in which Hashem is not only close, but also an active Member. If we
examine Vayikra to this point, we derive a number of general principles of this
• Hashem is brought close through proper service, namely the various sacrifices
• The Kohanim are invested and authorized to aid in bringing Israel into
intimate connection with Hashem, both by offering the sacrifices and by teaching
Israel the laws of sanctity (Chapters 8-10, 16-17);
• The entire people of Israel strives for holiness by withdrawing from the
impure and by exercising self-discipline in the most basic areas of
self-preservation, food and sexual relations (Chapters 11-15, 18);
• Ultimately, the ideals of holiness pervade every aspect of life (Chapters
What emerges from this program is that kedushah has both a negative and a
positive side: firstly, our Sages identify kedushah with abstinence (Torat
Kohanim), and then built on that restriction is devotion:
“Kedushah is the product of the most complete mastery by the god-like
free-willed human being over all his forces and natural tendencies, with the
allurements and inclinations associated with them, and placing them at the
disposal of G-d’s Will” (Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, 1808-1888, commentary to
Furthermore, kedushah is an all-encompassing goal, meant for the
totality of the nation, everywhere and for all times:
And you shall be holy to Me because I am holy, and I shall separate you from the
nations to be Mine (20:26).
So far, very little differentiation has been made within the
spatial, temporal and personal parameters of kedushah. The sanctity of the
Mishkan has mostly been phrased in positive terms; laws of drinking wine are not
inherent to Kohanim, but apply also to anyone who renders halachic rulings; and
even the chapter on the Yom Kippur service mentions the day as an afterthought.
Beginning with our portion, however, the focus of kedushah changes. Additional
prohibitions are taught that devolve on holy places, holy persons, holy objects
and holy times. As Sforno (R. Ovadia ben Yaakov Sforno, c. 1470-c.1550) points
out throughout EMOR, the Torah starts to delineate these distinctions within
(Chapter 21:1-22:16) — Because Kohanim are innately holier than the rest of
Israel (which endows them with more privileges), more prohibitions apply to them
in the realms of withdrawing from impurity and self-discipline in food and
sexual relations. As Hirsch says, “their priesthood is not due to any special
qualities of their own, but it is only thanks to their birth.” Behavior or
physical imperfections can disqualify born Kohanim. The Kohen Gadol must observe
still more prohibitions.
• (Chapter 22:17-33) — Animals designated for sacrifice are subject to greater
restrictions than those marked for personal consumption.
• (Chapter 23) — The full yearly cycle of festivals – which is predicated on the
concept that special times impose special laws – is presented.
• (Chapter 25, in BEHAR) — The laws of the Shemittah and Yovel – particular to
the land of Israel – are itemized.
Before BEHAR we have the lighting of the Menorah and the arranging of the
Show-bread (24:1-9), which Hirsch says symbolize spiritual enlightenment and
material blessing. These national achievements of the Torah’s program for
kedushah, in a sense, bring the book of Vayikra full circle.
But then the episode of the blasphemer interrupts. Hirsch says that the phrase
And there went out (VAYETZEI) … in the midst of (BETOCH) the Children of Israel
indicates a departure from a norm. Abravanel (Don Yitzchak Abravanel, 1437-1508)
adds that the blasphemer “went out” from preserving the honor and care due to
the sanctity of Hashem and His nation. The blasphemer is the antithesis of
Vayikra; the incident is placed here as a counterpoint to the honor and sanctity
that surround it.
We would like to suggest taking this a step further. Sforno (22:2) says that the
Kohanim must observe all the restrictions of the sacrifices
“So that they will not think that, due to their exalted status, the holy things
of the people are like unconsecrated things for them, along the lines of
‘forbidden to the student, but not forbidden to the master’ (Moed Katan 16a).”
The blasphemer too may have felt so “at ease” with Hashem that
he felt no qualms about treating His Name lightly (and he cursed – VAYEKALLEL –
from KAL, light).
There is a danger inherent to sanctity: that closeness to G-d means entitlement
without discipline, leading to over-familiarity and laxity. The incident of the
blasphemer stands as a warning against the mistaken feeling that sanctity
Indeed, kedushah bestows upon us great responsibility.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
In this week's parsha we read about the
law of chadash (Vayikra 23:11-14), that one is not permitted to eat of the
new grain until the Omer offering is brought on the 16th day of Nissan.
The Mishna in Menachot 83b teaches that all communal and individual meal
offerings may be brought from grain grown in Israel or abroad, either from
chadash (new grain) or yashan (old grain), except for the Omer offering
(brought on Pesach) and the Two Loaves offering (brought on Shavu'ot),
both of which must be brought from new grain that had been grown in
This law is codified in the Mishna Torah of Maimonides, Laws of Beit
Habechira 7:12, which states: "The entire Land of Israel has greater
sanctity than all other lands. How is its sanctity expressed? In that the
Omer offering, the Two Loaves offering and Bikurim (first fruit) are
brought from produce grown there, and not from produce grown in other
What is the message of this Halacha in our time, when chadash and yashan
are determined by the date, and not by the offering brought in the Temple?
The message may be that when one must choose between buying goods produced
in Israel and goods produced outside of Israel, one should opt for the
Israeli product. The holiness of the Land of Israel is transferred to its
produce, as seen in the Law of Omer. Supporting Israel’s economy,
especially in these difficult times, is of critical importance.
Rabbi Stanley Fass
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Roness , Exec. Dir., Aloh Naaleh,
At the OU Center, 22 Keren HaYesod
Tel.(02) 566-7787 ex. 254