Then, at Emor’s conclusion, we encounter a curious piece of narrative. The son of a mixed marriage—an unnamed Egyptian father and a Jewish mother from the tribe of Dan—gets into an argument with an anonymous Israelite, during which the son blasphemously pronounces the Name of G-d. He is removed from the camp and stoned to death by those who heard the curse. We do not know the subject of the argument, nor why it got so out of hand that capital punishment was indicated. But we can speculate. Some say that the son was critical or dismissive of the Tabernacle ritual. Others suggest that the argument was personal, and that a hot-headed young man took what should have been a rational debate and allowed it, being unschooled in self-control, to escalate one step too far. Rashi infers from the text that the issue concerned the tribal identity of the son, who had been denied residence among Dan since, while Jewish due to his mother, he had no tribal lineage since his father was not Jewish. Several Midrashim even suggest that the man’s father was none other than the Egyptian officer killed by Moses, given a parallel anomaly in the language with which each is described. Despite the Israelite son’s unique status as a tribeless Jew, G-d reminds us that the same laws apply to a resident stranger, proselyte, or native. The well-known litany of legal tit-for-tat (life for a life…eye for an eye…tooth for a tooth…etc.) follows; in other words, you do the crime, you do the time, regardless of who you are.
Why does Emor bookend the parsha with these two pieces of text? The common thread between the two is that the responsibility for moral and ethical education begins at home, in a broad sense. At Emor’s opening, the Kohanim learn that their elevated status does not preclude them from the responsibilities they must undertake, even to their own detriment or defilement. At the Parsha’s closing, we learn that not even having a child who is a product of a mixed marriage, a broken home, a single parent, or having a tribal identity problem absolves their parents and society from offering proper instruction in spiritual and societal values. Sadly, it’s when there is an ethical imbalance in a home, community, or society, that spiritual impurity or moral degradation are most likely to occur. We have become too used to simply accepting it as reality. It does not, however, need to be so. If the same rules apply both to the most privileged in society and to its most disadvantaged, why isn’t it yet in our nature to take responsibility for each other? Why do we habitually segregate ourselves, physically and idealistically, when we can all help each other achieve the sense of hegemony the Torah describes and G-d desires? The text even makes the connection through parallelism in its language. Emor’s opening, in discussing the Kohanim who represent and sanctify G-d, invokes the prohibition against blaspheming His Name. The parsha’s conclusion, in describing the man who is killed for blasphemy, connects to the sanctification of the Divine. Where can we get the inspiration to make the connection ourselves and change the world? The Masoretic mnemonic for the 124 verses in Emor spells the Hebrew word “Uziel.” It's translation?
“My strength is G-d’s.”Rabbi/Hazzan David B. Sislen