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REALM OF POSSIBILITY

by Michael Alterman    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Towards the end of this week's Torah portion, we read about the heinous cursing of Hashem perpetrated by a Jew in the Israelite camp. What follows is a series of laws - blasphemy is punishable by death through stoning, a murderer shall be put to death, and damage of property must be repaid through monetary compensation.

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Towards the end of this week's Torah portion, we read about the heinous cursing of Hashem perpetrated by a Jew in the Israelite camp. What follows is a series of laws - blasphemy is punishable by death through stoning, a murderer shall be put to death, and damage of property must be repaid through monetary compensation. Finally, in the last verse of the portion, the blasphemer is taken outside the camp and stoned to death, as Hashem had commanded in the aforementioned series of punishments. Analyzing this passage, it seems strange that the punishments for murder and property damage were included at this point in the Torah. If the subject of this section is the felony of blasphemy, why were the seemingly irrelevant punishments for these other crimes thrown in?

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of the greatest leaders and Torah scholars in America of the past generation, answers that the Torah is highlighting for us the dangerous depths to which a person devoid of fear of Hashem can fall. When a person has slipped to the level that he can physically bring himself to utter a curse of Hashem, the ultimate sign of disrespect for divine rule, murder is no longer beyond his realm of possibilities. And if, for whatever reason, the circumstances are that he cannot commit murder (because of public opinion or fear of punishment from the government), he is prone to cause damage in any way that he can. To whom will such a person be held responsible? Who will keep him in check? Without fear and belief in a living G-d who will hold us accountable for everything that we do, there is nothing that a person cannot and will not rationalize. Unfortunately, we don't have to search back too far in history to find the ultimate catastrophic results of this mindset.

The Torah, therefore, places the punishments for murder and property damage immediately after the punishment for blasphemy, to convey to us that without maintaining a strong belief in Hashem, anything is possible. The welfare of society is dependent upon it.

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Michael Alterman, who hails from Atlanta, is enrolled in a joint program with Ner Israel Rabbinical College and Johns Hopkins University, both in Baltimore.

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