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{Originally posted to Rabbi Weinberg’s website, The Foundation Stone}

He gave them exactly what they wanted. This anonymous man, the son of Shlomit bat Divri, wanted to camp with his mother’s tribe, Dan. His father was not a member of a tribe. He wasn’t Jewish. He was an Egyptian. He was the Egyptian slain by Moses. The man, born in scandal, wanted to live among the people of Dan, but they refused him on the grounds that he was not a true Danite. He brought his claim to Moses, but the great leader of all Israel, ruled against him. He was Jewish, but he had no place in the camp. Devastated, enraged, he left Moses’ court, blasphemed God, and was stoned to death (Leviticus 24:23).

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The members of Dan were smugly satisfied with his execution, more so than with their victory in court, “I always knew there was something wrong with the guy. We couldn’t let someone like that be part of our tribe. What can you expect from someone born in those circumstances!”

The Midrash Tanchumah (23) adds to our scene: “This son of an Israelite woman (and an Egyptian man) went about in the camp scoffing about the Show-Bread, ‘A king normally eats warm, freshly baked bread. Why should God have week-old, cold bread in the Tabernacle?'” When we consider that there were twelve loaves of Show-Bread, each representing a tribe, we understand that the scene outside of Moses’ court and that of his ridiculing the stale loaves are related.

The man prevented from identifying with a tribe, is misplaced in the camp; he has no place in the Tabernacle Sanctuary. God seems focused on the old, stale definitions of Israel based on Jacob’s sons, and to not offer a place for the freshly baked, warm souls; people who choose to join the nation.

This forlorn man leaves Moses’ court alone. Yes, there are other people all around. After all, there were witnesses to his blasphemy, but they stood at a distance from this lost soul, this child of scandal, this angry man. No one paid attention to his argument about the Show-Bread. They focused on the scandal of his words. No one heard the pain of his angry words. Was there no one to accompany him from court and offer the hand of friendship?

Was that the reason he blasphemed?

Perhaps it wasn’t because of his Egyptian father, because of his loose mother, a result of a damaged soul. Perhaps the most serious damage was caused because there was no one listening, and from his perspective, not even Moses or God.

Maimonides (Laws of Idol Worship 2:8) describes the legal procedures in a case of a blasphemer as quite painful for the witnesses and judges: “Each day when the witnesses are questioned, they use other terms for God’s Name (so that the curse against God’s Name need not be constantly repeated). At the conclusion of the judgment, all bystanders are removed from the courtroom. The judges question the witness of greatest stature and tell him, ‘Tell us what you heard explicitly!’ He relates the curse. The judges stand upright and rend their garments in mourning.” We understand the reason for the witnesses and judges tearing their clothes as a form of mourning (Halacha 10). I wonder.

I imagine that the witnesses to his blasphemy were the same smug people who wanted him to disappear. They had to repeat his curse and tear their clothes. Moses had to listen and tear his clothes. The people who had not heard his pain were compelled to experience pain and mourn their failure to extend the hand of friendship to a lost soul.

Was the man correct about the twelve loaves of Show-Bread? He didn’t realize that those fresh and warm souls, not represented by a loaf, form the Pure Table that held the Show-Bread. They were the ones who kept the twelve loaves fresh and warm. It is the guest, the stranger to our Shabbat Table, who adds freshness and warmth to the meal.

We see this lonely man in the faces of strangers who come to synagogue and classes and are not greeted with warmth. We watch this man walk out of Moses’ court in the lonely walk of people leaving services without an invitation to come and add fresh warmth to a Shabbat meal. We observe the face of this troubled man in the faces of children sitting alone in a classroom, not chosen for any team in a ball game, never invited to parties. We hear his angry cry in the bitter words of children who attack religious observance – the same children about whom we say as did the Danites, “I always knew there was something wrong with the guy. We couldn’t let someone like that be part of our tribe/school/community. What can you expect from someone born in those circumstances!”

Maimonides teaches us that the people who had not heard his pain were compelled to experience pain and mourn their failure to extend the hand of friendship to a lost soul.

Today is Lag Ba’Omer when we remember to respect others. The traditional period of mourning our failure to treat others with love is over. It is the final stage of the Omer, when we approach Sinai, the place we can approach only in unity and love.

I wish you a Shabbat Table filled with the warm freshness of new friendships, compassion, and fresh baked listening skills.

Shabbat Shalom

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