Rabbi Yakov Haber
Rabbi Yakov Haber

Preserving the Precious

The last section of Parshat Emor recounts the tragic episode of the "m'gadeif", the disgruntled Jew (see Rashi 24:10) who cursed the Divine name. After specific Divine instruction through Moshe, he was taken out of the camp to be executed. This would remain the halacha for all generations.

At first glance, this punishment might seem difficult to understand. Our words clearly do not in any way negatively affect HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Why then cannot the m'gadeif be punished less severely? A similar question may be raised concerning the laws of kohanim presented at the beginning of the parsha. A study of even a small section of the laws of the offering of korbanot reveals that most improper thoughts or actions done in this context are punishable by heavenly death, meeta bidei shamayim. Why such a harsh punishment?

Rambam's crucial idea, stated at the end of the Laws of Me'ila (improper use of Temple property), sheds light on the questions raised above. In presenting both the Torah directive to analyze, according to one's ability, the messages inherent within the Divine commandments, but also a warning that when one does not find a satisfactory reason, one should not denigrate the Torah's laws, the Rambam writes: "Contemplate how severe the Torah is concerning me'ila. If even wood and stone, dirt and ash, once the name of the Master of the World is bestowed upon them through speech alone, become sanctified, and all who treat them in a mundane fashion betrays G-d ... all the more so concerning the commandments which HaKadosh Baruch Hu legislated for us, one should not rebel against them because he does not know the reason...." By extension, this approach can help us gain insight as to the absolutely crucial need to treat the Mikdash - and the service of G-d within its confines - with extreme reverence and certainly with regard to the name of G-d itself. True, by acting disrespectfully toward G-d and His Temple, we in no way affect G-d, but one who does so denigrates the most crucial theme of Existence and is no longer worthy of remaining in this world. With such an attitude, he would lack the necessary worldview to be spiritually productive. Furthermore, the execution of the m'gadeif serves as a lesson to all those remaining to treat these crucial ideas with the gravity they deserve.

The Rambam's words also help explain the great significance attached to respect for Torah scholars. Reverence for them instills within us the centrality of what they represent - our lifeblood, the Words of the Living G-d. Seifer Ikkarim writes that this also explains the centrality of respecting parents and why this mitzva was included in the Ten Commandments. Since our parents also represent our connection to the Revelation of G-d and His Torah at Sinai through its faithful transmission from generation to generation, only proper respect would reinforce the ability to receive these messages properly.

A similar approach can be taken explaining the enormous gravity of the sin of the spies. Their denigration of the Land of Israel, a central value in Torat Hashem, led to their death and the death of an entire generation of the Jewish people. Eretz Yisrael being the Land of connection to G-d, the Land of not only extra Divine commandments but enhanced fulfillment of the entire Torah, the Land of intense Divine Providence, the Land of Jewish Unity, and the Land of augmented success in Torah study must be held in high esteem. (See end of Masechet K'tuvot, Rambam (Hlchot M'lachim 5:9-12) and the archives of TorahWeb under Moadim - Yom Ha'atzmaut / Israel for additional material on these central themes.) The practice of the sages mentioned at the end of Masechet K'tuvot to kiss the stones and dust of Eretz Yisrael was an expression of their great love for the Land. But on second thought, perhaps this was meant to foster this love as well. Do we kiss our t'filin because we love them or to cause ourselves to love them? Seifer Chareidim (Ch. 59), after stating that each Jew should love the Land of Israel and come to it from the corners of the world with great enthusiasm as a son returning to his mother, quotes from the Midrash that Avraham Avinu was taken to Eretz Yisrael only to have to leave for five long years so that he should develop a longing for it. (See also the words of Seifer HaChinuch that mental and emotional attitudes are caused by actions.) Many Jews the world over remind themselves during the days of Yom Ha'atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim what Eretz Yisrael means to them. (Traditionally, this was and still is done as well on Tu B'Shvat.) Even those who do not celebrate these days at all clearly must reflect on Eretz Yisrael's central value to the Jewish People and its Torah. Ultimately, everything we value and express reverence for is rooted in the same source: its role in connecting us to our Creator (see T'hillim 105:44).

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