Another of the few narratives in Leviticus occurs in Parsha Emor. It is an odd episode that involves blaspheming God’s name, leading to the sinner being stoned to death. The famous Biblical statement of “An eye for an eye,” occurs in this passage, although it seems to have little to do with the event. No one loses a tooth, or an eye, or their life. Instead, God’s name is vilified — why then does using God’s name improperly lead to death in this formula? God’s name is equivalent to a human life? Another strange element in this passage is that a woman is named — a rare occurrence in the Torah and usually signifying something of significance. In this case, the named woman is the mother of the blasphemer. All of this strangeness points to Biblical unconscious — can we find out what it is saying?
Vayikra 24:10- (Robert Alter, trans.)
And the son of22 an Israelite woman, he being the son of an Egyptian man, went out among the Israelites, and the son of the Israelite woman and an Israelite man brawled in the camp. And the son of the Israelite woman invoked the Name, vilifying it. And they brought him to Moses. And his mother’s name was Shelomith daughter of Dibri of the tribe of Dan. … And should a man maim his fellow, as he has done so shall it be done to him. A fracture for a fracture, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth … but he who strikes down a human being shall be put to death.
Rashi, based on midrash, argues that the blasphemer was no less than the bastard son of the Egyptian whom Moses had slain! The Egyptian, in this telling, had raped Shelomith and was beating her husband.
Midrash Rabbah Vayikra 32:2
Also with your intelligence do not curse a king (Kohelet 10:20). R. Avin said: God says, Do not curse and blaspheme before Me using the intelligence that I gave you beyond beyond what I gave the beast, animal, and bird. … R. Levi said: There is sound of people’s voices that goes forth for good, and there is sound of people’s voices that goes forth for evil.
Midrash Rabbah Vayikra 32:4
When the [Egyptian] taskmaster realized that [Shelomith’s husband] has seen him, he went out toward him and was striking him the entire day and saying to him, “Work well, work well!” The taskmaster was intending to kill [Shelomith’s husband], in order to prevent him from revealing what he had done. At that time, the Divine Spirit became enkindled in Moses. … R. Yehudah says Moses saw that “there was no man” present to stand up and be jealous on behalf of the Name of the Holy One, blessed is He, and kill the Egyptian. R. Nechemyah says Moses saw that there was no one present who was wise and righteous enough to stand up and utter God’s ineffable Name against the Egyptian and kill him. And the Rabbis say: Moses saw that there was no hope destined to emerge from the Egyptian or his children or his grandchildren until the end of all generations. Thereupon Moses struck down the Egyptian.
Midrash Rabbah Vayikra 32:8
The son of an Israelite woman went out. Thus it is written, I returned and contemplated all the acts of oppression that are committed beneath the sun (Kohelet 4:1). Daniel the tailor explained the verse as speaking about mamzerim: Behold, tears of the oppressed. The fathers of them are transgressors , and these ill-fated children of theirs, what did they have do with it? … How did this child sin, and what did he have to do with it? … with none to comfort them. From this phrase we may infer that the Holy One, blessed is He, said: It is incumbent upon Me to comfort them in the World to Come, since in this world they [are seen] to contain impurities, but in the World to Come, the prophet Zechariah has said, “I have seen all of the house of Israel as pure gold.”