Who was his Egyptian father? Rashi? The son of an Egyptian man – This was the Egyptian that Moses killed.
Back in Exodus (Ch. 2), we saw Moses go out to see the conditions of slavery in Egypt and: He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsman. He looked this way and that and, seeing there was no one around, he struck down the Egyptian and buried him in the sand. (2:11-12) So now, Rashi, picking up on the specific reference to “The Egyptian” here and there, makes a connection and tells us that the Egyptian who was beating the slave in Exodus must be the same nameless Egyptian who fathered our poor tribeless fellow in Leviticus. But what does that mean? It means that when this man went into court, seeking his place amongst the Children of Israel – seeking, essentially, a family – the man who ruled that that he could have none of that… was the same man who had killed his father. This is beyond trauma. This borders on psychological torture. He must have been out of his mind, trembling with bitterness and rage. So yes, I see how the curse could form in his heart. I see how it could erupt from his lips. Rejected by all, finally condemned by your father’s killer – how could anyone endure this fate? Could this story be any more tragic?
So how did this Egyptian come to father an Israelite boy, anyway? One more Rashi, this one from back in the Exodus story where Moses saw: An Egyptian man beating a Hebrew – … This Hebrew was the husband of Shlomit bat Divri. The Egyptian took a liking to her, and one night, he came and woke up the Hebrew and dragged him out of his house. Then the Egyptian came back to the house and had relations with [Shlomit], while [in the darkness] she thought it was her husband. The Hebrew returned and understood what had happened. And when the Egyptian realized that the Hebrew knew, he began to beat him and torture him all day long. So it turns out our homeless, fatherless, tribeless wanderer was actually the product of a rape. His own ambiguous status was not only a fact of his existence, beyond his control; it was also the consequence of a terrible, terrible crime. Here then, stands before you a man whose mother was raped, whose adoptive father was humiliated, whose biological father was killed, who had no tribe, no place to lay his head, no recourse in court and, seemingly, no mercy from his God – the God whom he had left everything for and followed into the desert. So yes, It is understandable how he could have come to curse God. But sympathy is no help. This understanding cannot save him. His fate is sealed. He is to die. For God will tolerate no desecration of God’s Holy Name. Take him out of the camp – the very place in which he sought to dwell – and stone him.
The one glimmer of meaning, however, that perhaps points us toward a way out of this darkness, is a curious detail back in the text of the Torah itself. Remember that when God has the blasphemer taken out to be stoned, God specifically required that: …everyone who heard him should place their hands upon his head…
This is unusual. Certainly it is not required of every capital punishment. And standing where we are in the Torah, in the midst of Leviticus, the laying of hands cannot help but make us think of a scene from two parshot ago, in the Yom Kippur ceremony. Remember: Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat and confess over it all the sins and crimes of the Children of Israel, whatever their transgressions…Thus shall the goat carry on it all of their sins to an inaccessible region, and the goat shall be sent out into the wilderness. (Leviticus 16:21-22) Over there, at least, the symbolism of the priests laying his hands upon the goat is a transference of the sins of the community onto this “scapegoat.” Could it be, then, that when God asks “everyone who heard him” to lay their hands upon this cursing sinner before he is put to death, God is forcing them to acknowledge their own sins, their own part in his damnation? Because sure, by the strict letter of the law, he is guilty of a crime that merits the death penalty. Just as by the strict letter of the law, no tribe had to allow him to camp with them. But why didn’t they? How could they have turned him away? The law was on their side – but where was their compassion? And where were we when his mother was raped? Did we do everything we could to support him and his family in the aftermath of that tragedy? And where were we that day when he wandered from camp to camp, weary, seeking refuge? Did we open our tents and offer him some shade and a meal? And where were we when he received the ruling from Moses’ court? Did we rush to console him and offer him alternatives? No. “Everyone heard him,” but no one listened. If he had no home, it is because we gave him none. If he cursed, it is because we allowed him to feel cursed. If he is guilty, then we are guilty. Perhaps, then, despite the bleak final judgment that ends this tale, somewhere in it lies an injunction also for us. When we see someone go this far astray, so that he is ready to curse everything we believe in, and to destroy himself in the process, then our responsibility is not simply to condemn him, but also to turn and painfully ask of ourselves what we could’ve done to help that person.
By: Shayna Boymelgreen (11th Grade)