The Torah Text
Towards the end of parshat Emor, we find the second of the only two stories in the book of Leviticus (24:10-16). The story of the half-Israelite who blasphemes, and is subsequently stoned to death, is a sad tale. We ultimately learn that it doesn’t matter how much of an insider or outsider you are, the same law of death by stoning applies if you blaspheme. But who was this half-Israelite man and why was he in the Israelite camp?
Ibn Ezra’s Teaching
בן איש מצרי. מתיהד
Leviticus 24:10 SON OF AN EGYPTIAN MAN who had converted to Judaism.
Reflections for the Path
The biblical text only indicates that the man’s mother is Israelite and his father is Egyptian. We don’t know if the father came with the Israelites or if he remained in Egypt. Rashi, drawing on midrash, identifies the Egyptian man as the very one who Moses had slain for treating an Israelite slave harshly. Chizkuni understands this phrase to imply that he was born out of wedlock, meaning there wasn’t an approved relationship between the Israelite woman and the Egyptian man. We don’t know if the relationship was consensual or not, or any other details.
Ibn Ezra, however, asserts that this Egyptian man actually converted to Judaism. He joined the Jewish people and presumably was part of the great exodus from Egypt. And yet, he apparently was not fully accepted into the community, because his son still had a quasi-stranger status.
Perhaps that very marginalization led him to blaspheme God’s name, because the people associated with God’s name were most likely excluding him in ways ranging from indifferent to cruel.
While we learn that one law applies equally to citizen and stranger alike, perhaps the deeper significance here is that whenever possible, such distinctions should be lessened so we can see more clearly our shared humanity.
For more on Abraham ibn Ezra:
1. Read my introduction.
2. Listen to ibn Ezra’s opening prayer poem for his Torah commentary.
3. Explore the five paths, ibn Ezra’s introduction to his Torah commentary.