Parashat Emor (Leviticus 21:1-24:23)

In this week’s parsha, Emor, we find out what happens when we take the Lord’s name in vain: We could be stoned to death. At least that’s what happened to “the blasphemer,” a certain fellow of the Israelite community with an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father, who was taken into custody for this crime and then executed at God’s direction to Moses.

On first reference, in Leviticus 24:11, the Torah says the problem was that he committed the blasphemy of “saying the name” (“HaShem” — literally, The Name). Then, just to make sure we are clear about what name this is referring to, in Leviticus 24:15-16 it says, “Anyone who blasphemes his God shall bear his guilt; if he also pronounces the name ‘Lord,’ he shall be put to death.” Here, the English is playing a game with us. In fact, the Hebrew doesn’t say “Lord” (Adonai); rather, it says the “Holy Name,” a word sometimes expressed using the English letters YHVH, because in Hebrew it is spelled yud hey vav hey.