Holier than Thou
Volume 5 Issue 33
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
One of the most disheartening episodes that occurred during the 40-year desert
sojourn is recorded in this week's parsha. A man quarreled with a fellow Jew
and left the dispute in a rage. He reacted by blaspheming Hashem. This
abhorrent behavior was so aberrant that no one even knew what the punishment
So Hashem reviewed the grievous penalty for the deplorable act. As in any
society, the ultimate act of treason was met with a capitol sentence. The
Torah declared a death penalty. But curiously enough, Hashem does not leave it
at that. When the Torah reveals the penalty for the heinous act of blasphemy,
"And one who blasphemes the name of Hashem shall be put to death…And if a man
inflicts a mortal wound in his fellow man, he shall be put to death. If he
inflicts damage then restitution shall be paid. The value of an eye for the
loss of an eye, the value of a break for a break the value of a tooth for the
loss of a tooth. And one who wounds an animal must be made to pay. (Leviticus
Shouldn't blasphemy be in a league of it own? Surely the act of affronting G-d
Almighty can not be equated with attacking human beings. And surely it has no
place next to the laws of injurious action towards animals! Why, then is t
Rabbi Y'honasan Eibeschutz one of Jewry's most influential leaders during the
early 1700s, was away from his home for one Yom Kippur and was forced to spend
that holy day in a small town. Without revealing his identity as Chief Rabbi
of Prague, Hamburg, and Altoona, he entered a synagogue that evening and
surveyed the room, looking for a suitable place to sit and pray.
Toward the center of the synagogue, his eyes fell upon a man who was swaying
fervently, tears swelling in his eyes. "How encouraging," thought the Rabbi,
"I will sit next to him. His prayers will surely inspire me."
It was to be. The man cried softly as he prayed, tears flowed down his face.
"I am but dust in my life, Oh Lord," wept the man. "Surely in death!" The
sincerity was indisputable. Reb Y'honasan finished the prayers that evening,
inspired. The next morning he took his seat next to the man, who, once again,
poured out his heart to G-d, declaring his insignificance and vacuity of merit.
During the congregation's reading of the Torah, something amazing happened. A
man from the front of the synagogue was called for the third aliyah, one of the
most honorable aliyos for an Israelite, and suddenly Rabbi Eibeschutz's
neighbor charged the podium!
"Him!" shouted the man. "You give him shlishi?!" The shul went silent. Reb
Y'honasan stared in disbelief. "Why I know how to learn three times as much
as he! I give more charity than he and I have a more illustrious family! Why
on earth would you give him an aliyah over me?"
With that the man stormed back from the bimah toward his seat.
Rabbi Eibeschutz could not believe what he saw and was forced to approach the
man. "I don't understand," he began. "Minutes ago you were crying about how
insignificant and unworthy you are and now you are clamoring to get the honor
of that man's aliyah?"
Disgusted the man snapped back. "What are you talking about? Compared to
Hashem I am truly a nothing." Then he pointed to the bimah and sneered,
"But not compared to him!"
Perhaps the Torah reiterates the laws of damaging mortal and animals in direct
conjunction with His directives toward blasphemy. Often people are very wary
of the honor they afford their spiritual guides, mentors and institutions. More
so are they indignant about the reverence and esteem afforded their Creator.
Mortal feelings, property and posessions are often trampled upon even harmed
even by those who seem to have utmost respect for the immortal. This week the
Torah, in the portion that declares the enormity of blasphemy, does not forget
to mention the iniquity of striking someone less than Omnipotent. It links the
anthropomorphic blaspheming of G-d to the crime of physical damage toward those
created in His image. It puts them one next to each other. Because all of
Hashem's creations deserve respect.
Even the cows.
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
Dedicated by Ohad and Yonit Rosenthal in honor of the birth of their daughter
Special Mazel Tov to the grandparents Eitan and Rachel Dombrowsky,
who spread words of Torah every week at Congregation Toras Chaim of Hewlett
A Hearty mazel Tov to the great-grandmother Mrs. Benjamin Dombrowsky. May they
all see only nachas from the new baby!
Copyright © 1999 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
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The author is the Associate Dean of the
Yeshiva of South Shore.
Drasha is the e-mail edition of FaxHomily, a weekly torah facsimile on the weekly portion
which is sponsored by The Henry and Myrtle Hirsch Foundation