Thursday, May 12, 2005

Emor: The Blasphemer

Towards the end of parshat Emor, we hear the case of the blasphemer.

Vayikra 24:
י וַיֵּצֵא, בֶּן-אִשָּׁה יִשְׂרְאֵלִית, וְהוּא בֶּן-אִישׁ מִצְרִי, בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וַיִּנָּצוּ, בַּמַּחֲנֶה, בֶּן הַיִּשְׂרְאֵלִית, וְאִישׁ הַיִּשְׂרְאֵלִי. 10 And the son of an Israelitish woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the children of Israel; and the son of the Israelitish woman and a man of Israel strove together in the camp.
יא וַיִּקֹּב בֶּן-הָאִשָּׁה הַיִּשְׂרְאֵלִית אֶת-הַשֵּׁם, וַיְקַלֵּל, וַיָּבִיאוּ אֹתוֹ, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה; וְשֵׁם אִמּוֹ שְׁלֹמִית בַּת-דִּבְרִי, לְמַטֵּה-דָן. 11 And the son of the Israelitish 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.
The Midrash identifies Shlomit bat Divri as the wife of the Hebrew slave being beated by a taskmaster. In Shemot 2:
יא וַיְהִי בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם, וַיִּגְדַּל מֹשֶׁה וַיֵּצֵא אֶל-אֶחָיו, וַיַּרְא, בְּסִבְלֹתָם; וַיַּרְא אִישׁ מִצְרִי, מַכֶּה אִישׁ-עִבְרִי מֵאֶחָיו. 11 And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown up, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens; and he saw an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, one of his brethren.
יב וַיִּפֶן כֹּה וָכֹה, וַיַּרְא כִּי אֵין אִישׁ; וַיַּךְ, אֶת-הַמִּצְרִי, וַיִּטְמְנֵהוּ, בַּחוֹל. 12 And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he smote the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand.
The Egyptian taskmaster had slept with the wife of the Hebrew (pretending to be her husband), and the Israelite suspected. This, says the Midrash, is why the Egyptian was beating the Hebrew. The blasphemer was the son of the Egyptian and the Hebrew slave's wife.

The midrash also states that וַיִּפֶן כֹּה וָכֹה, וַיַּרְא כִּי אֵין אִישׁ - "And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man" - means that Moshe looked with ruach haKodesh and saw that there would be no progeny from this man who would have converted to Judaism.

These two midrashim seems contradictory, since here we have Hebrew progeny of the Egyptian. I addressed this question in the past, in more detail, in a post on parshat Shemot. It is possible they are contradictory midrashim.

However, the most likely answer can be seen from an analysis of Bereishit 4:9-10:
ט וַיֹּאמֶר ה אֶל-קַיִן, אֵי הֶבֶל אָחִיךָ; וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא יָדַעְתִּי, הֲשֹׁמֵר אָחִי אָנֹכִי. 9 And the LORD said unto Cain: 'Where is Abel thy brother?' And he said: 'I know not; am I my brother's keeper?'
י וַיֹּאמֶר, מֶה עָשִׂיתָ; קוֹל דְּמֵי אָחִיךָ, צֹעֲקִים אֵלַי מִן-הָאֲדָמָה. 10 And He said: 'What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto Me from the ground.
Demai, blood, is plural, and the Midrash takes off on this to say that he killed not only his brother but every descendant that his brother was to have, who was no prevented from being born. From here we learn that anyone who kills an individual is as if he destroyed the entire world (for descendants of such an early person would have been many) and anyone who saves the life of an individual is as if he saved the entire world.

This seems the motivation behind the Midrash on וַיִּפֶן כֹּה וָכֹה, וַיַּרְא כִּי אֵין אִישׁ, which focuses on worthy descendants to come. It is not the merit of those descendants (of which the blasphemer perhaps anyway does not possess much) but rather the preventing of their being born. Since this event with Moshe happened after the Egyptian slept with the Hebrew's wife, she was already pregnant or on her way to becoming so. The killing of the Egyptian taskmaster would have no effect on eventual progeny, and this was what Moshe was looking for.

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