The Blasphemer

Rabbi Moshe ben-Chaim

“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 the son of the Israelite woman and an Israelite man. The son of the Israelite woman pronounced the Name in blasphemy…” (Lev. 24:10,11)

Rashi comments:

Rav Berachya said, “He set forth (started his argument) from the above section addressing the showbread. He said sneeringly, “Every Sabbath he shall set the showbread in order? Surely it is the way of a king to eat fresh (warm) bread every day; is it perhaps His way to eat bread nine days old?!”

A braisa states an alternative explanation for the blasphemer’s motivation. “Went out” refers to out of the judicial court of Moses where he had been pronounced to be in the wrong in the following matter. Although his father was an Egyptian, he had gone to pitch his tent in the camp of the tribe of Dan to whom his mother belonged. The men of Dan said to him, “What have you to do here?” He replied, “I am one of the children of the tribe of Dan.” Thereupon they said to him that tribal lineage follows the father, not the mother. He went in to the court of Moses to have the matter decided and he was declared to be wrong. He then stood up and blasphemed. (Rashi, ibid)

Rashi presents us with two reasons for this blasphemer’s curse. What is the distinction between Rav Berachya and the braisa? Rav Berachya focusses on the blasphemer’s view of God: “Does God want cold and stale bread?”  The braisa describes this blasphemer’s motivation to be personal: he was frustrated with treatment as a lower-class individual. The Torah’s spotlight of the blasphemer’s Egyptian lineage, and his argument with another person must be crucial to either view.

I believe Rashi conveys the two categorical motivations for man’s aggression against God. One type is a denial of God. This can take the form of cursing or atheism. If one is raised with idolatrous (Egyptian in this case) or false views of God, he will rebel against the true Torah idea of God, for it opposes his emotions. False views of God project on Him human qualities, such as eating. Idolaters wish to curry favor with God by “pleasing” him with delicacies. This blasphemer could not tolerate the Torah law where God would be presented with cold and stale bread. To the idolater, this law presents God in a distasteful manner. But he doesn’t simply curse God, he first argues with a Jew on this matter. Why? Perhaps it is the aspect of human worship that mostly disturbed this blasphemer. Therefore, he took issue with a worshipper, another Jew.

A second type of aggression towards God is born of what man views is a terminally negative situation. A curse is a response to this frustration directed against its cause, i.e., God.  Job’s wife told him to curse God to end his pain (Job 2:9). The blasphemer could not change his lineage. It had terminal personal consequences; Moses said he could not live within Dan. He cursed God. 

Rav Berachya presents us with one type of aggression against God: a qualitative view based on what God is. The braisa offers a second basis which is quantitative: God’s measures or laws. Thus, blasphemy may be born of an intolerance of God’s nature or against His system of justice. Rashi encapsulates both reasons.