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Vayikra (Leviticus) 19:1 - 20:27
Haftorah - Ezekial 44:15-31
The Jewish world today is entrenched in a war of legitimacy between the Orthodox and virtually the rest of Jewry. At the heart, intermarriage and the authenticity of non-orthodox conversions are the main issues. Can we ever learn to live together, or will this dilemma continue to be one of the omens of the coming of the true Moshiach (messiah)? At the end of this week's Parsha a situation is recorded that will help shed light on the present day conflict and the dangers that may arise from the hatred spreading among us.
But first, the issue of non-orthodox conversions was ALSO the cause of the split between the early Christians and Judaism. After the death of Yeshu (Jesus), and finding the Jews unreceptive, Christian missionaries went out to spread the JEWISH gospel to the heathens. Inroads were made among the pagan nations surrounding Judea, but when a pagan converted, he appeared before a tribunal of Rabbis, and conformed to the three-fold Jewish conversion process:
1. Acceptance of the Torah and its (613) commandments.
When Paul of Tarsus attempted to convert the pagan masses, he found tremendous resistance to the acceptance of the Torah and its (613) commandments and circumcision. He petitioned the Jerusalem Counsel (Acts 15) and they agreed that only emersion in a Mikvah would be required. At this point, Christianity and Judaism separated. Not because of ideology or doctrine, but because converts were no longer converting to Judaism but to a religion that was very similar.
Today, we are entering an antagonistic conflict between brothers over the issue of conversion. Acceptance of the Torah and its (613) commandments, circumcision, and emersion in a Mikvah are again no longer the mainstay of the conversion process. Ideologies may change but do they reflect the precepts of the mother religion? That is the question and it is highly emotional. The spreading of hatred by either side will only carry suffering for many generations to come.
In order to understand the conflict in our Parsha one must note that the physical camp of Israel was organized and appeared as concentric squares. The second chapter of Bamidbar (Numbers) describes the configuration of the Israelite camp in detail. In the center was the Ohel Moed (the tabernacle) which was surrounded by the dwellings of the Levites. To the east were the tribes of Judah, Issachar and Zebulun, to the south were the tribes of Reuben, Shimon and Gad. To the west were the tribes of Ephraim, Menasheh and Benyamin. And to the north were the tribes of Dan, Asher and Naphtali. Surrounding this core group of Israelites were the Erev Rav (the mixed multitude) who attached themselves to the Israelites upon their departure from Egypt.
Now to our Parsha.
"The son of an Israelite woman went out - who was [also] the son of an Egyptian man - among the Children of Israel; the son of the Israelite woman, fought with an Israelite man in the camp. The son of an Israelite woman pronounced the Name [of G-d] and blasphemed - so they brought him to Moshe; the name of his mother was Shlomit bat Divri, of the tribe of Dan. They placed him under guard to clarify for themselves through Hashem. Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: Remove the blasphemer to the outside of the camp, and all those that heard [his blasphemy] shall lean their hands upon his head: The entire assembly shall stone him..."
Every episode in the Torah has a purpose; every episode in has a lesson that must be taught. Often times a lesson can be passed on in simple words such as - any person who blasphemes will be put to death. Other times the Mitzvah is taught through a story in the Torah. When that happens, the teaching is more detailed than just the restriction or the punishment.
The Meam Loez (Ladino compendium and commentary on the entire Torah begun by Rabbi Moshe Culi of Constantinople, 1680 - 1732) gathers the background of this episode from our many different sources.
"When Israel was enslaved in Egypt they were compelled to generate a specific quota of bricks (Shemot [Exodus] 5:8). Pharaoh appointed Egyptian taskmasters and Jewish overseers over the Israelites, and every taskmaster administered 10 overseers. When the Israelites did not complete their full quotas the taskmasters would beat the overseers so that they would make sure that all quotas were met. The taskmasters would awaken their overseers daily so that they would rouse the Israelites to work.
‘The son of an Israelite woman ... who was [also] the son of an Egyptian man.'
In other words, his mother was Shlomit bat Divri of the tribe of Dan, but his father was the taskmaster that Moshe later killed.
Now it is the son of this union who wanted to pitch his tent in the
camp. For each tribe had their own encampment and flag and did
not reside within another tribes territory. As it says in Bamidbar 2:2;
‘The Children of Israel shall encamp, each man by his banner according to the insignias of their fathers' household...'
It doesn't say - according to the insignias of their mothers' household (women lived according to their father's or husband's tribe). And since on his father's side he did not have a tribal identity, he could not pitch his tent in Dan's area (he would have to live in the area designated for the mixed multitude). When he went to Moshe for guidance, who told him that since his father was not Jewish, he had no tribal rights, he stormed out of the Bait Mishpat (court) agitated, angry and then he blasphemed. That is why the verse states:
‘The son of an Israelite woman went out..' He went out of the court of Moshe and denied G-d's existence and blasphemed."
We see from this episode the anger displayed when one's lineage is questioned. Though the blasphemer was always considered Jewish (only his tribal rights were in question), his loss of control, which led to blasphemy is what caused his own personal downfall.
With all the rhetoric today over the question of Jewish status, the pitfalls of both criticism and acceptance of criticism, can be very dangerous. History has shown us that the issue of status can lead to disastrous results.
With Lag B'Omer (the 33rd day of a 50 day counting period) upon us, we are obligated to remember that 12,000 pairs of students of the great Rebbi Akiva that died of a strange plague during this period. Our tradition teaches us that the plague was caused by their showing a lack of respect for one another. The Tikkun (repair) for this flaw in our national character, is to actively show each other respect. By using this opportunity to be respectful of our differences, as difficult as it may seem, may merit in bringing our people together in strength and in solidarity.
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
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