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Friday, May 8

The Weekly Shtikle - Emor

This week's parsha ends off with the tragic episode of the megadeif, the blasphemer who cursed HaShem out of anger. When Moshe is taught how to proceed, he is instructed (24:14) that the man is to be brought outside of the camp where those who heard (i.e. the witnesses and judges)  place their hands on his head. He is subsequently stoned. This follows standard procedure for stoning except for one step. In no other instance do we find the placing of hands before an execution. It is unique to the case of a blasphemer.


The Da'as Zekeinim miBa'alei haTosafos cite a Midrash explaining what makes the case of the blasphemer different in this regard. The judicial process as mandated by Torah Law makes it extremely difficult to impose capital punishment. The witnesses must be able to report every minute detail. In the case of the blasphemer we are faced with a difficult dilemma. The witnesses must tell the judges what they heard. Therefore, as the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 56a) explains, the judges and witnesses would leave the courtroom for a private session and the witnesses would indeed verbalize the exact words that came out of the mouth of the blasphemer, at which point the judges would tear their clothes to signify the mournful distress at having to hear such words uttered. The placing of hands on the head of the blasphemer, a process more common to sacrifices, is symbolically transferring the burden of responsibility for one's sins. Normally, we place the hands on the animal, allowing it to be an atonement for our sins. Here, the witnesses make a clear statement absolving them of responsibility for having to repeat the curses and the judges for having heard them. Since it was all brought about by the actions of the blasphemer it is he who bears the responsibility even for the repetition.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka


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