Emor – Gadlus Ha’adam: Realizing You are a Whole Miniature World

At the end of this week’s Torah portion of Emor we find the story of the “Mekalel,” the one who cursed Hashem: “The son of an Israelite woman went out, and he was the son of an Egyptian man, among the Children of Israel; they fought in the camp, the son of the Israelite woman and an Israelite man. The son of the Israelite woman pronounced the Name and blasphemed, so they brought him to Moshe; the name of his mother was Shelomis bas Divri, of the tribe of Dan. They placed him in custody to clarify for themselves through Hashem. Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: Remove the blasphemer to the outside of the camp, and all those who heard shall lean their hands upon his head: the entire assembly shall stone him” (Vayikra 24:10-13). 
Why did Mekalel do this despicable act? We have to first understand the background of what happened. Rabbeinu Bachye has a pasuk-by-pasuk explanation of what took place. Quoting a Medrish Tanchuma (parshas Emor, paragraph 23) he explains why the Torah at this portion begins, “The son of the Israelite woman went out;” where did he go? Rebbe Levi said he went out from his world. (The Etz Yosef quoting the Yefeh Toar on this Medrish Tanchuma said that not only did he lose his life in this world, but he lost his share in the World To Come because he died without repenting). Rabbeinu Bachye points out that the word before the beginning of this sentence is “world,” and what it means is that “he left his world” is that a person is a miniature world.

A few lines later Rabbeinu Bachye explains the pasuk, “He was a son of an Egyptian man whom Moshe had killed.” This man was the taskmaster who was in charge of Shlomis’s husband. This son of Shlomis had converted [and was living amongst the converts]. (There is an opinion, which we don’t hold like nowadays, that the son of a non-Jewish man to a Jewish woman is in the category of a convert and must do something to complete his conversion to a full-status Jew). There is another Chaza”l that says he left the court of Moshe guilty, for he had wanted to set up camp in the tribe of Dan. They asked him what’s your place here? He said to them, I am from the daughter of Dan. They quoted a pasuk (Bamidbar 2:2) back to him, “a man according to his flag, with signs from the house of his father” but not from the house of his mother. He entered the court of Moshe, was found guilty (meaning he lost the case), and he then left the courtroom and cursed Hashem. Rabbeinu Bachye, upon discussing the argument between the son of the Israelite woman and the Israelite man, asks: if they were arguing with each other, why did he choose to curse Hashem; he should have spoken out against Moshe or gone to hit or kill the person he was arguing with? However, it makes sense that he cursed Hashem for the Israelite man must have reminded this person that his father had been killed and how he was killed, for Moshe had used Hashem’s Holy Name, therefore this son of the Israelite woman said out that Holy Name and cursed it.

Rabbeinu Bachye then proposed a question: What forced the Torah to tell over this story? It should have been hidden for the sake of Hashem’s honor, and not revealed it at all. Rather, the Torah should have just mentioned the law to the Jews and said any person who curses Hashem and carries out this sin and spells out Hashem’s Holy Name shall surely die. For we already know that even non-Jews have the mitzva of not cursing Hashem as one of the seven Noahide laws, and of course Jews would have the same mitzva? Rabbeinu Bachye has two answers to this question. Number one, the intent of the Torah in telling over this story was first to inform everyone that no one else in the generation of the desert had the audacity to commit this despicable sin. Only this decisively evil indignant who was bad to the core due to his conception coming from an adulterous act (his mother consented to an Egyptian taskmaster, who Moshe found beating her husband the next day, and murdered).

At first glance one might ask what he did wrong? Isn’t he a victim of societal oppression? The poor guy was born into a dysfunctional situation; why is he blamed for his mother’s adulterous act? He just wanted to be integrated into society; why can’t he rely on his mother’s side to do that? Just because the Torah excludes that option and Moshe’s court reinforced the decision to be true (that one’s portion in a tribe is based on the father’s side), why should that be fair? Furthermore, he let out all his anger on Hashem because it was through His Holy Name that his father was murdered by Moshe; so why was he so severely punished and ostracized by society?

The truth is that he is responsible for his actions and decisions; there are no excuses. This is because of what Rabbeinu Bachye said earlier, that when the Torah says he went out, it was referring to leaving himself, that he is a miniature world which he abandoned. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

What does this mean? The Etz Yosef quotes a Matnas Kehuna explaining Rabbeinu Bachye saying that by the time he decided to curse out Hashem he was already compared to an animal, or even worse than an animal. To the point that he had no connection to mankind who are small worlds equivalent to the World in Heaven. (Click here for Hebrew text.) What the Matnos Kehuna is saying is that this person lost his human identity; he chose to leave it and lower himself even lower than an animal. If he would have sat down and realized how valuable he was, gadlus ha’adam, he is a precious world, a complete illustrative world with greatness built-in inside him, which can emulate and spark greatness as incredible as the Celestial Heavens. If he would have realized that he has his own unique purpose in the world and can be great at doing and being what he was created to be then he would not have sunken so low as giving up on himself and His Creator.

 A person who focuses on gadlus ha’adam, the greatness of man, in general and the potential heights he can personally achieve, will feel encouraged to strive for greatness in whatever situation he is put into.

In this manner we can understand the second reason why Rabbeinu Bachye says this episode was recorded in the Torah: “for from here it’s understandable to us a major tenant and a deep cornerstone in the concept of blessings and how a person is obligated to bless Hashem. For this blasphemer first said out Hashem’s name then went on to curse Him, as it says ‘the son of the Israelite woman pronounced Hashem[‘s Holy Name and then] he cursed’ and he was liable capital punishment for this. But the opposite is true regarding blessing Hashem and the reward for doing so, that one needs, when he is blessing Hashem, to focus in his heart the meaning of His Holy Name, each letter, what they reflect and have proper intent in one’s mind [when pronouncing His name] and then bless Hashem and verbalize it. With this one will receive reward and live long. A hint to this is what we say [in Ashrei every day] ‘ארוממך אלוקי המלך ואברכה שמך לעולם ועד’ ‘I will exalt You, My G-D the King and I will bless Your name forever and ever’ (Tehillim 145:1). It says ‘I will exalt You’ first and afterwards ‘I will bless…’ Just as they (Chaza”l) say: One should always enter [the shul] the amount of two doorways inside and then start praying.”

The message here is that if one actively puts effort into focusing himself and thinking about what he stands for, and what his role in life is, and how he can be the greatest servant of the King Of All Kings, then he can overlook all his frailties and disappointments which are worthless in the grand scheme of things, and he can then be quite successful in life.