on blasphemy

by rabbilimmer

this week’s torah portion tells the tale of the crime and punishment of the blasphemer.  in a world where people lampoon other’s gods for sport, and those offended take up arms to kill, it seems necessary to return to the lessons of Leviticus 24

What is the boundary which our blasphemer has crossed?
He has committed two offenses: Pronouncing a קללה, or curse against God,
and performing an act of נקיבת שם, of piercing God’s name.

In Sanhedrin, God proclaims: אל קללני, “Do not curse Me!”
Cursing God is serious:
the one who curses God is a קופר בעיקר, denies the principle of faith.

However, cursing is only half the crime of blasphemy; its complement is נקיבת שם,
Piercing the Divine Name.
נקיבה: boring a hole, gouging, piercing, doing damage
The crime of the blasphemer is not only that he curses God, but also that he does damage to God’s name: he pierces it.

The Talmud makes it clear that “piercing” is an act of destruction
The rabbis compare it to the shredding of a Torah scroll,
hearing blasphemy is likened to hearing of the death of one’s parents,
the tear caused by blasphemy is as irreparable as the rent garments of the mourner.
Blasphemy is analogous to death.
Talmudic law claims that when people hear blasphemy, they must tear their garments: it is as if someone has died.

But God is not dead.  Is God damaged? What could it mean to do damage to God?

We read on the High Holy Days:

שמך נאה לך ואתה נאה לשמך

ושמנו קראת בשמך

Your Name is worthy of You, and You are worthy of Your Name.

and our name is pronounced through Your Name.

When Sanhedrin reports the line, “I am God, do not curse me,”
We should understand we are not to curse, to deface, to deride or devalue
That which represents God, that which is Divine.

Just as we should not blaspheme against God’s holiness, so should we not blaspheme against the fundamental holiness of every created being.

Blasphemy is failing to recognize the holiness which resides in every human being.
Blasphemy is using God’s name—or religion, that which is done in God’s name—towards the unholy end of devaluing human beings.
It is not blasphemy to utter, when the hammer comes down upon the thumb, “Goddammit!”
It is blasphemy, however, to stare with piercing hate into the eyes of another human being and say: god damn you.