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DEATH ROW

by Benyamin Cohen    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Towards the end of this week's portion which deals primarily with complex and intricate laws, the Torah returns to the narrative and tells the story of a man who blasphemed the name of Hashem throughout the camp of Israel.

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Towards the end of this week's portion which deals primarily with complex and intricate laws, the Torah returns to the narrative and tells the story of a man who blasphemed the name of Hashem throughout the camp of Israel. At the time of the incident, Hashem had not yet informed Moses and Aaron how the judicial system would deal with such a case. In the meantime, Moses placed the perpetrator in confinement (Leviticus 24:12). Rashi, a popular 11th century commentator on the Torah, reveals that this man was not the only one in prison at this moment in time. Also incarcerated was a man named Tzlaphchad who had purposely desecrated Shabbat by chopping wood in broad daylight. He was imprisoned for his sinful action while waiting for the death penalty to be carried out. (For more information regarding Tzlaphchad and his valiant rational for breaking Shabbat please see Numbers 15:32 and the explanation given by The Midrash Says on page 188.) When Moses held the blasphemer in prison until his punishment was decided, he placed him in a separate cell from that of Tzlaphchad. Why were the two inmates put in different cells? Was the warden afraid of a riot?

The Sifsei Chachamim, an early 18th century supercommentary on Rashi, explains that had the blasphemer been placed together with the desecrator of Shabbat, the one who cursed Hashem would have naturally assumed that his penalty was also death, a ruling which was not yet certain. This would have unquestionably placed a superfluous degree of anguish on the individual. Even though he had transgressed in such a serious manner, there was no reason to cause him any unnecessary suffering. He was therefore placed in a separate cell.

This is not only an interesting story, but one that should deliver a jolting message to us all. If we are required to be so concerned about the feelings of a possible death row inmate, how much more so should we take into consideration the feelings of our friends, family, and colleagues. By using this story as an example, we must concentrate our efforts into maintaining the human dignity of our fellow man and not allowing any undue pain to permeate through the walls which we ourselves have built. In the fast paced dance of life, we must be ever so careful not to step on anyone's feet.

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Benyamin Cohen, a native Atlantan and graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is currently a sophomore at Georgia State University.

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