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Pop Quiz: What punishment was given to the blasphemer??

by Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

"A man who will blaspheme his G-d...and a man, if he strikes any human life...and a man who strikes an animal" (Vayikra 24:15-18)

The Torah describes someone who blasphemed the Holy Name of Hashem and his ultimate punishment of being put to death. What strikes us as highly unusual is the fact that right after that, the Torah teaches us the "regular" laws of hitting another person or even causing damage to someone else's animal. What does this have to do with blasphemy? One would assume that to curse the Name of G-d would involve someone totally demented or evil enough to stoop to the lowest level. The Torah, however, is teaching us that there is a progression for everything. If one person starts off by damaging someone's animal, he may go to injure his friend personally. If left unchecked, a person can deteriorate so rapidly that under the right circumstances, he may even blaspheme the Name of Hashem. The Gemara tells us that when the Rabbis wanted to know who stole a silver cup, one of the masters noticed someone drying his hands on the sleeve of someone else and deduced that this was the culprit, which indeed he was.

Everything we do affects us and if not corrected will lead us to another level, lower than the one we started on. On the other hand, a good act which we do will also lead us to do even better things, as it says, "misvah goreret misvah, aberah goreret aberah - a misvah leads to a misvah and a sin leads to a sin." Shabbat Shalom.

by Rabbi Reuven Semah

"They shall protect my commandments and not bear a sin" (Vayikra 22:9)

This pasuk, along with another similar pasuk in Parashat Aharei Mot (Vayikra 18:30), serves as a base for the concept of the need to make a fence around the Torah. We should see to it that Hashem's misvot are not inadvertently violated.

Rabbi Zev Leff explains that we often hear those who do not understand the true nature of the laws that Rabbis legislate. They complain that the Rabbis make observance more difficult. Imagine a group of people situated on a mountaintop which ends in a cliff-drop of several thousand feet. One civic-minded member of the group erects, on his own initiative, a safety fence to prevent anyone from venturing too close to the edge. Would anyone complain that the fence limited his freedom to fall off the mountain? A person who truly understands the seriousness of violating the law feels more secure with fences. For instance, the danger of striking a match by mistake on Shabbat is drastically reduced if one never touches matches.

Sometimes Rabbinic rules serve to instill correct attitudes that reduce temptations to sin. For instance, we are prohibited from drinking wine poured by a non-Jew, or eating food cooked by a non-Jew. On the surface it seems far-fetched that drinking this wine or eating this food in the confines of his home could lead to his marrying a gentile. However, this mistaken reaction fails to understand the purpose of this law. It's not to protect one against intermarriage of any particular non-Jew, but rather to create an attitude. Prohibiting the eating of the food cooked by a non-Jew or the drinking of wine touched by a non-Jew creates a feeling of a chasm between Jew and non-Jew. It creates a feeling of separateness that makes the thought of intermarriage even more remote.

A congregant once asked his Rabbi if his sick old uncle could stay in an apartment usually occupied by his two teenage daughters. The Rabbi told him it was a problem of yihud (members of the opposite sexes being alone together). The man thought it was absurd. The answer is that we are a holy people. True, being alone with a sick old uncle may not lead to immorality, but allowing a situation where immorality is even remotely possible is not a situation of holiness.

We learn from this that the more we understand the reasons and logic behind some of the laws, the more we appreciate them. Shabbat Shalom.


"Say to the Kohanim the sons of Aharon and say to them: Each of you shall not defile himself for a dead person among his people" (Vayikra 21:1)

Since it says "emor el haKohanim - say to the Kohanim," aren't the words "ve'amarta alehem - and say to them" superfluous?

A hasid of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Hasidut, once said that through conceit he overcame the urge to transgress. Whenever his yeser hara (evil inclination) would approach him he would scream, "Do you know who I am? I am a prominent person, a hasid of a great Rebbe. How can you expect me to sin?"

Hashem is conveying two messages to the Kohanim, one general and one specific. Firstly, Hashem said to Moshe, "emor el haKohanim - say to the Kohanim, 'B'nei Aharon - always remember that you are the children of Aharon. As children of such a prominent father, you must conduct yourselves in a way befitting to your genealogy." In addition, "ve'amarta alehem - tell them the laws of defilement that apply to them."

This is important to remember when we get an urge to transgress a law. We belong to the holy nation of Israel and we must conduct ourselves accordingly. (Vedibarta Bam)


"And the daughter of a Kohen who profanes herself, she profanes her father, she shall be burnt by fire" (Vayikra 21:9)

The punishment of death by fire which is meted out to a Kohen's daughter who profanes herself is doubly more stringent than that which is prescribed for a Yisrael's daughter, who is executed by choking. The Alter of Kelm notes that the pasuk itself gives the reason for this. "She desecrates her father's name." Kohanim, because of their exposure to holiness and sanctity are extremely vigilant in caring for themselves and their families, and are wary of situations where they might become contaminated. The Kohen will make every effort to provide his children with a superior education replete with sanctity and purity. When a daughter raised in such an environment profanes herself, she desecrates not only herself, but she besmirches her education and entire upbringing. This profanity deserves a punishment which is out of the ordinary, since her promiscuity maligned the whole institution of the priesthood. Nonetheless, we may wonder how a child raised in such a home with such a superior education degenerated. What happened to the influence of her environment and education? We may suggest that the one who is afforded an opportunity to receive a very special gift must first be made aware of its uniqueness. To hand over a beautiful jewel to one who does not appreciate its beauty and value is essentially wasting this gift. Parents must display their excitement regarding their children's education for their child to hold this education in its proper esteem. A child responds to his parents' endorsement. It is perhaps for this reason that the Torah emphasized the word "ish - man." The father acted as an ordinary man, not as an exalted member of the priesthood. The vibrancy and excitement of being able to serve Hashem did not permeate his household to the extent that his children fully appreciated the wonderful opportunities afforded them. For children to fully value their education, parents must first show their own sense of appreciation by holding this education in its proper esteem. (Peninim on the Torah)


Rabbi Yosef Weissberg is one of the world's best known mohels, with more berit milahs to his credit than one could count. Once, he had barely completed a berit milah in a Jerusalem hospital when a nurse materialized and signaled him frantically. Yosef went out into the hall, where she told him, "You must report to the head of the pediatric department immediately."

Yosef complied with the urgent request and met the department head, whose demeanor radiated anxiety.

"Yosef," they whispered urgently, "You just circumcised the wrong baby - and this one is only two days old!" Yosef blanched. The dilemma was more an ethical one than a medical one, and the physician was at a loss for how to avoid a scandal. "We will stand behind whatever you decide to do," he told Yosef.

Yosef's mind raced. What the medical staff failed to realize was that the problem at hand was not merely an embarrassing situation; it was a thorny halachic issue. Yosef wanted to ensure that the baby who was just circumcised prematurely would indeed undergo the mandatory ritual on his eighth day, and that the one that had not yet been circumcised would be circumcised immediately.

Yosef's investigation into the matter revealed that in both cases the parents were not observant, and Yosef feared the halachic details might be lost on them. Although in Israel, even non- religious Jews attach great significance to berit milah, he couldn't risk the possibility that these parents would be the one in a hundred who didn't really care if the circumcision was performed on the Torah ordained day.

He quickly devised a two point plan which would fulfill all of the halachic requirements and spare unnecessary embarrassment. His scheme was granted whole-hearted cooperation by the hospital staff, who were eager to put the fiasco behind them.

On Yosef's say so the head of the department informed the mother of the two day old circumcised baby that her son was suffering from a minor urinary infection that required treatment. He strongly advocated that a mohel, because of his experience and expertise in such matters, perform the procedure. The mother acquiesced and Yosef swiftly feigned an operation. He explained to the parents that the minor surgery he had just performed did not preclude the need for a berit milah on the baby's eighth day, which he would happily do gratis.

Moments later, Yosef assembled a minyan to perform a berit milah on the correct eight day old infant. (A Midrash and a Ma'aseh - Hanoch Teller)

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