Shabbat Emor 5779

At the end of this week’s Torah portion, Emor, we find a curious episode of blasphemy. A rare moment of narrative in a sea of ritual detail, the story goes like this: “There came out among the Israelites one whose mother was Israelite and whose father was Egyptian. And a fight broke out in the camp between that half-Israelite and a certain Israelite. The son of the Israelite woman pronounced the Name in blasphemy, and he was brought to Moses–now his mother’s name was Shelomith daughter of Dibri of the tribe of Dan–and he was placed in custody, until the decision of the LORD should be made clear to them” (Leviticus 24:10-12).
Spoiler alert–it doesn’t turn out well for the blasphemer. The uncertainty is not about whether he is to be executed for his capital crime, but how the execution is to be carried out.
Here’s what interests the rabbis of the midrash: We are told the blasphemer’s mother’s name, and we know the ethnic identity of both of his parents. So why don’t we learn his name, or his father’s? One of the character traits of midrash is that it can’t tolerate anonymity, so it will often seek to identify unnamed Biblical “extras.” On Shabbat morning, we’ll reveal the tradition’s back story about the blasphemer, whose situation raises some questions about contemporary moral (and political) debates. You won’t want to miss it!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise