Former Shaliach in Memphis
Oh Snore, a Bore, It’s Emor
The combination of daylight savings time and my son being an eager reader have led to the recurring situation where I find him dozing off regularly during Torah reading. Unfortunately, I know that waking him is hopeless, since he’s already made the profound, and to a certain extent, uncontested claim that Vayikra is boring. While I don’t share his belief, I cannot help but understand that for a child, and for many others, it’s the stories that make it interesting.
There are two events in the entire book of Vayikra. The first happens to be the pinnacle of the mishkan (tabernacle), and one of the highlights of the Torah – The tragic inauguration of the mishkan, severely blemished by the death of Aharon’s two sons, Nadav and Avihiu. The second story is situated somewhere at the back end of this week’s parsha, and the only details known about the main character is his mother’s name and that his father was Egyptian. The whole story is all of 3 verses long (Ch. 24, 10-12) with the verdict announced a couple of verses later. The story reads as follows:
“And the son of an Israelite woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the children of Israel; and the son of the Israelite woman and a man of Israel strove together in the camp. And the son of the Israelite 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. And they put him in ward, that it might be declared unto them at the mouth of the L-RD… ‘Bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him.”
At first glance it would seem that this episode is out of place, yet the fact that it was able to make it into Vayikra is not merely impressive, it also deems the verses worthy of a second look. Both stories in our sefer involve individuals who are primarily known by their parents. In the other story, the main characters go into the Holy of Holies, from among the children of Israel, in complete contrast to the above story, where the son of the Israelite goes into the camp and encounters a man of Israel, with whom he quarrels. The formers try to get too close to Hashem warranting death by a heavenly fire, while the latter curses Him, requiring that all those who heard him partake in his execution.
Inevitably, we should conclude that not only does this story belong in Vayikra, but that without it – Vayikra itself might lose its place in our life. The first word of Leviticus, ויקרא, describes the calling out of Hashem to Moshe, flesh and blood. The many mitzvoth which comprise this Sefer include the most delicate requirements of the holiest person on the holiest day in the holiest place, as well as precepts regarding kashrut, shemitah, tumah, and business. Hashem can be sought after in the Holiest of Holies, where the sons of Aharon found their death, yet He is also present in the midst of the people of Israel, where everyday quarrels can occur – which is what brought the particular individual in the story to rebuke His Name. Yet while the role of the people in relation to the death of Nadav and Avihu was to mourn passively, the public was held responsible to punish the “scolder”, perhaps indicating that in the future they must take preventive measures that will ensure that Hashem be perceived amongst the people as Blessed, and not the opposite. This short event may be the short glimpse, though through the negative, of how to advance from ‘Hashem Kadosh’ to ‘Kiddush Hashem’ – from the Sanctity of Hashem to Sanctifying His Name.
For centuries we have prayed to be able to yet again witness the Holiness of Hashem as in the Tabernacle. However, we mustn’t let the anticipation to speedily see the Glory of Hashem cause us to overlook His presence around and within us. These days we celebrate the gathering of the exiles and the re-establishment of the Jewish homeland as the center of the Jewish nation. While it is possible to passively wait for the subsequent miracle to occur, it seems that the story from our parsha implies that it is our responsibility to actively create ‘Kiddush Hashem’, to go out and take charge of the public domain and make sure that Hashem is well represented and noticeable, truly everywhere.