Torah Fax
Friday, May 4, 2007 - 16 Iyar, 5767

Torah Reading: Emor (Leviticus 21:1 - 24:23)
Candle Lighting: 7:36 PM
Shabbat ends: 8:42 PM
Pirkei Avot Chapter 4

Wonder Bread

The end of this week's parsha of Emor tells the story of a Jewish person who blasphemed G‑d and the harsh punishment meted out to him for this crime.
 
The Torah introduces this sad episode with the words "The son of Israelite woman-who was the son an Egyptian man among the children of Israel-went out and quarreled in the camp with an Israelite man. The son of the Israelite woman pronounced the Divine Name and cursed."
 
The Midrash (cited by Rashi) asks: "From where did he go out?" One answer provided by the Midrash says that he came from the focus of the preceding section of the Torah that discusses the special bread placed on the table in the Sanctuary. This bread called Lechem HaPanim, Showbread, was placed on the table on the Sabbath and would remain there until the next Sabbath when it would be eaten by the Kohanim-priests. He mocked this and said: "A king should eat warm bread every day. Would he eat a nine day old, cold loaf of bread? (How then could G‑d ordain in His Tabernacle, that there should be a weekly ceremony where the Kohanim eat such old, apparently stale bread?)"  It should be noted that miraculously, the Showbread stayed fresh for that entire time and when The Kohanim finally ate it, it tasted as if it had just come out of the oven.
 
But why would the blasphemer doubt G‑d's ability to keep the bread warm for nine days?. Furthermore, while he might have had a good question about G‑d's instructions concerning this bread, why would he go to the extreme of cursing G‑d?
 
One answer to this question is that the Torah in the preceding section discusses two parallel functions of the Sanctuary: the lighting of the Menorah and the placing of the Showbread on the Table.
 
In the mind of the blasphemer, these two rituals represented two distinct ways G‑d relates to us. G‑d is our source of light and spiritual inspiration and G‑d is our breadwinner, who provides for all of our material needs.
 
In the mind of the blasphemer these two functions of the Temple should have manifested themselves in totally different ways.
 
When G‑d revealed His presence through the Menorah, it was expected that it would me miraculous. After all, the Menorah was an expression of G‑d's infinite power and light. The Menorah was the symbol of G‑d's spiritual energy that obviously transcends nature.
 
However, when G‑d expressed Himself through the Showbread , in the blasphemer's mind, it had to be a completely natural process. To override the laws of nature and to have the Showbread remain hot for 9 days was, in his mind, not a physical impossibility but a theological impossibility. Of course he recognized G‑d's ability to do miracles, but he also felt that it was theologically untenable that miracles would encroach on natural territory.
 
To be sure, he had witnessed many of the miracles that G‑d wrought in Egypt and even the Manna from heaven, but those miracles were the exceptions that prove the rule. They were needed to save the Jewish nation from being killed or enslaved by the Egyptians and providing them with their sustenance in the desolate desert so they do not die of starvation. But as general rule, he reasoned, since the Table of Showbread was the symbol of the routine way G‑d provides us with our needs, it ought not be unduly influenced by supernatural forces. And barring Divine intervention, he reasoned, the bread would be cold, and that would be disrespectful.
 
When he saw that G‑d "violated" his preconceived conception of how He should relate to the natural processes of the world, he was irate because it went against his theology. So he cursed the name of G‑d.
 
The name that he cursed is known in Hebrew as Havaye, also known as the Tetragrammaton. This Name combines the terms past, present and future and is therefore identified as G‑d's essential name that transcends the natural order that is limited by time and space. Hence, he cursed this name specifically because he felt that it was "wrong" for G‑d to override what he felt were the inviolate norms of nature.
 
Judaism is filled with notions that we can easily relate to. But there are an equal number of items that go against our intuitive feelings.
 
The lesson from the blasphemer is that when we come to a theological impasse, we do not express anger at G‑d because He does not fit into our frame of reference, but we humbly accept the fact that G‑d transcends us and does not always act the way we would expect Him to. Indeed, we should be surprised and grateful that we can have some small measure of understanding G‑d and His ways.
 
There is a partial exception to the rule. When we see suffering, we have a right, nay an obligation, to come before G‑d and demand: why? Why have you not yet brought Moshiach to usher in the promised and long overdue Messianic Age of peace? But even when we make these demands they are always predicated on the notion that G‑d wants us to make those demands of Him and not that we have a right to G‑d forbid lose our respect for and faith in Him.
 
The blasphemer would have been standing on solid ground if he had humbly asked G‑d to provide him with greater knowledge and understanding of His ways as did Moses, for which he was not rebuked. When he crossed the line, "left his world," and started to blaspheme G‑d because G‑d did not conform to him, it was then that he lost his world.
 
When we cry out to G‑d, " ad masai-how much longer do we have to endure exile," we must not just pay lip-service to it, but say it with all our heart and soul. But simultaneously, we surrender ourselves to G‑d's will by even greater dedication to His Torah and Mitzvot.  

Moshiach Matters

The wondrous events and conditions of the Messianic Era will completely overshadow all and any miracles that happened before then, even those associated with the Exodus from Egypt. (Talmud Berachos)
Moshiach - It’s a Jewish issue. For more info, visit www.moshiach.com

 

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