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TAKE TWO TABLETS

by Daniel Lasar    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

At the end of this week's portion, the Torah narrates the episode of the person who committed blasphemy against Hashem (Leviticus 24:10-23). This man was held in custody pending the determination of his punishment.

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At the end of this week's portion, the Torah narrates the episode of the person who committed blasphemy against Hashem (Leviticus 24:10-23). This man was held in custody pending the determination of his punishment. Hashem commanded that the blasphemer was to be stoned. Interestingly, in the middle of this instruction, the laws for dealing with people who murder and damage are given. Why here? What is the relevance of these other crimes to the passage dealing with the blasphemer?

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of the preeminent rabbinical figures of the past generation, explains that those who were to be involved in putting the blasphemer to death, must first be made aware of how beloved the life of a person is to Hashem. Thus, the injunction against murder. Moreover, G-d is concerned about even small monetary damages incurred by Man. Hence, the strictures involving torts. These laws teach that Hashem is not only exacting for His honor, but also for wrongs done against another human being. Don't think that Hashem is only concerned with how we act with respect to Him. He also expects us to act properly towards each other. Only after being made sensitive to the innate preciousness of Man can the death penalty be carried out.

The Yalkut Lekach Tov, a contemporary compilation of insights on the Torah, provides an alternative analysis of this episode. Some people only accept upon themselves Torah "morality" as it relates to interpersonal relationships. They would never dare to steal, maim, or embarrass another person. Yet, they wholly ignore the Torah mandates applying to their obligations to G-d. When it comes to proper etiquette they are so careful, so tactful; but not so when it comes to their behavior vis-à-vis Hashem. Shabbat, kashruth, prayer - why bother? The apparently incongruous insertion of laws concerning offenses against Man speaks to such a person: The blasphemer doesn't only sin against G-d. Such a person, bereft of ordering his conduct to an objective truth, a Higher Authority, will come to harm others when the going gets tough. Once he himself stands to lose, he may rationalize that a contemplated indiscretion is actually warranted. As pressure on him mounts, he will conveniently stretch the boundaries of what he defines as acceptable conduct. One without faith in Hashem, when faced with adversity, can turn into an animal. We need only look back a few decades to see how a nation that epitomized advancement and acculturation took the most serious of deviations from civilized behavior in a pathological thirst to kill Jews.

What emerges from the interjection of seemingly unrelated laws against harming another person, amidst the section admonishing against blaspheming G-d, is a cohesive directive governing our lives. There are two relationships that are incumbent upon us to develop: One is our relationship with Hashem - bein adam l'Makom, and the other is our dealings with our fellow Man - bein adam l'chaveiro. Our Torah-mandated behavior is two-tiered. One cannot ignore G-d; secular humanism is a flimsy standard of morality that is easily subject to relativistic perversion. One cannot ignore others; we must treat each other with the respect and honor due someone created in the image of G-d.

This theme is visually expressed in the layout of the Ten Commandments. This encapsulation of our Torah obligations was given to us in the form of two tablets. The first tablet enumerates laws that develop our relationship with Hashem, while the second tablet contains laws that shape our responsibilities to society.

As we are now counting the days leading up to the festival of Shavuot, the time of the giving of our Torah, let us remember that we were given two tablets - one embodying our obligations to Hashem; the other, those to Man. We need to dutifully follow them both. These two relationships are part and parcel of one package deal. To put it succinctly, always try to get to synagogue on time to pray to your Creator, just make sure to hold the door for the person behind you.

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Daniel Lasar, a graduate of Emory Law School in Atlanta, is currently studying at the Center for Torah Studies at Ohr Somayach Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

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