This week’s parasha is Emor, speak specifically to Aaron, the kohanim and the levites, Leviticus 21:1 to 24:23 (TLV). The haftarah reading is Ezekiel 44:15-31 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 10:22-42. Leviticus chapters 21 and 22 are known at Torat Kohanim as they deal specifically with numerous aspects of ritual cleanliness and holiness that the kohanim and levites had to maintain in order to properly serve HaShem and Bnei Yisrael. Chapter 23 appears to be a rabbit trail in the Torat Kohanimas it includes a yearly calendar of the moadim, the appointed times, that HaShem gave to Israel to meet with Him throughout the year. I stress that these meeting times were between HaShem and Israel as He clearly states,
Speak to Bnei Yisrael and tell them: These are the appointed moadim of ADONAI, which you are to proclaim to be holy convocations – My moadim. (23:1)
There is no need to address the subject of whether non-Jews should celebrate these moadim as we have already seen in earlier parashot that many of HaShem’s commands to Bnei Yisrael included the outsider or sojourner. How the non-Jewish Yeshua believers celebrate the moadim, the festivals, is a topic for a different study.
As we continue reading, chapter 24 seems to return briefly to the Torat Kohanim with instructions concerning the ner tamid and the bread of presence that was to be placed outside the parochet (veil) in the Miskan. Then suddenly and strangely, we read the narrative of an altercation between an Israelite and the son of an Israelite mother and Egyptian father. In the course of the altercation, the son of the mixed marriage blasphemed the Name, and cursed (24:11).
Blasphemy consists of cursing God (see Exod. 22.27; 1 Kings 21.10-13), that is, uttering an imprecation against Him in which His name is included (“May such-and-such befall YHVH”). (Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, ed. Jewish Study Bible. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004, Leviticus 24:11 fn., p 268.) Then commenting on Leviticus 5:20-26 it is stated that “The misuse of the divine name is probably the most common form of desecration of the sacred, since every Israelite has immediate access to it at all times,” (Ibid. p 217). It may well be that the concern for blasphemy or misuse of the Name is what prompted Yaacov to write,
But above all, my dear brothers and sisters, do not swear by heaven, or by earth, or by any other oath. But let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’ – so that you may not fall under judgment. (James 5:12)
The outcome of the man’s blasphemy and cursing was his death by stoning by all those who heard his blasphemy (cf. Leviticus 24:23).
Here, as we will see again in Numbers 15:32-36, the community of Bnei Yisrael is required to apply “capital punishment” in the form of stoning. Stoning, as a communal form of execution, is the most commonly mentioned form of execution in the Bible. It is used to punish crimes against the entire community (idolatry in Leviticus 20:2; sorcery in 20:27). It is said that blasphemy, like leshon hara brought guilt not only on the speaker but the hearer as well. Therefore, everyone who heard the man blaspheme were required to lay their hands on his head, whether as a witness against him or to rid themselves of any guilt incurred in merely hearing the blasphemy. Then, by the whole community performing the stoning, it was impossible to determine whose stone actually brought about the death of the guilty person.
In this narrative, we are not told the condition of the blasphemer’s heart. Was he an evil individual who did not fear HaShem, or did he simply get caught up in the moment and allow his anger to control his mouth? Whatever the cause of his words, we are reminded once again of the importance of keeping a guard over our mouth (cf. Psalms 141:3). In one of his numerous encounters with the Torah scholars, Yeshua warned them as well as the crowd listening to him,
… I tell you, all things will be forgiven the sons of men, the sins and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever slanders the Ruach haKodesh, never has release, but is guilty of eternal sin” (Mark 3:28-29)! The ESV translation states, “never has forgiveness.”
One has to wonder if this isn’t the same thing that happened to Ananias and Sapphira in Acts when Kefa charged them with lying to the Ruach Kodesh (Acts 5:3-20). The judgment was swift and decisive in accordance with Leviticus 24:16, “Whoever blasphemes the Name of ADONAI must surely be put to death.”
The Life Application Bible, commenting on the death penalty required in verse 14 for blasphemy, explains the reason for such a dire punishment,
This punishment for blasphemy (cursing God) seems extreme by modern standards. But it shows how seriously God expects us to take our relationship with him. Often, we use his name in swearing, or we act as though he doesn’t exist. We should be careful how we speak and act, treating God with reverence. Eventually, he will have the last word.
The opening words of Mishlei (Proverbs) and the closing words of Kohelet(Ecclesiastes) hold the key to our words. These verses exhort us to begin and end with the fear of HaShem, “The fear of ADONAI is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline,” (Proverbs 1:7) and “A final word, when all has been heard: Fear God and keep His mitzvot! For this applies to all mankind,” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). If all that we are and all that we do and say are bookended by fear of ADONAI, then with the help of the Ruach Kodesh, we will be able to control the words of our mouth and thus not fall into sin and transgression. May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts begin and end with the fear of ADONAI.