This week’s Torah portion, Emor (Lev. 21:1-24:23) sets out with a series of laws governing the priests, continues with a calendar of the festivals and concludes with a brief compendium of laws and with the recounting of one odd incident.
The book of Leviticus does not contain a lot of narrative, but in chapter 24:10-16, we are told of a man whose mother was an Israelite and whose father was an Egyptian. This man got into a fight with an Israelite in the camp and the son of the Israelite woman and Egyptian man blasphemed by pronouncing God’s unspeakable Name. The blasphemer’s name is not given but his mother was Shlomit the daughter of Dibri of the tribe of Dan. He is taken into custody and Moses inquires of God what to do with him. God tells Moses that the punishment for pronouncing the Holy Name is death by stoning, and ends with these words: “You shall have one standard for stranger and citizen alike; for I the Lord am your God.” (Lev. 24:22) Moses relays God’s decree to the people of Israel and they take the blasphemer out of the camp and stone him to death.
What is the point of this story? If it is simply that a blasphemer is to be punished by death, why accentuate this offender’s mixed heritage? If it is that the same law applies to the citizen and sojourner, why mention the fight between the blasphemer and the other Israelite? Is this man considered an Israelite, or a foreigner? And isn’t it interesting that he utters the Holy Name, but his own name is not given, only his mother’s and grandfather’s?