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Living with Direction

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Now the son of an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father went out among the Israelites, and a fight broke out in the camp between him and an Israelite. — Leviticus 24:10

The Torah portion for this week is Emor, which means “speak,” from Leviticus 21:1–24:23, and the Haftorah is from Ezekiel 44:15–31.

There is a great quote from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland with a profound message. Alice has arrived at a crossroads and she doesn’t know which path to choose, so she asks advice from a Cheshire cat sitting in the trees: “Which road do I take?” she asks. “Where do you want to go?” the cat responds. “I don’t know,” Alice answers.” “Then it doesn’t matter,” says the cat.

If you don’t know where you want to go in life, then you can take any path at all, even those that may lead you to places you never intended – or wanted – to be.

This week’s Torah portion ends with the tragic story of a man who blasphemed God’s name and was punished by death. The story begins: “Now the son of an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father went out among the Israelites, and a fight broke out in the camp between him and an Israelite.” If we translate the verse, phrase by phrase, exactly as it is written in the original Hebrew, the verse is slightly different. It reads: “And he went out, the son of an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father, among the Israelites . . ..”

This slight nuance prompts the Jewish sages to ask: Where did this fellow go? The verse says “And he went out,” but it doesn’t tell us anything about where he was headed – only that he was “among the Israelites.”

The sages suggest that perhaps this ill-fated man had no idea where he was going either. They see him as a lost soul, hinted at by his mixed lineage – part Egyptian, part Israelite. Perhaps he himself didn’t know who he was or what he truly believed. This man was without direction in life.

And as often occurs in life today, when people have no direction, they sometimes end up on roads that lead them astray. If this poor soul had a destination in mind when he “went out” perhaps he would have passed by the fight that led him to curse God and he might have lived. But once he got off track and made a wrong turn, he started down a dangerous road and was ultimately lost forever.

The tale of the blasphemer is a cautionary one. It warns us of the consequences about speaking against God and also the danger of living life without direction. We need to be crystal clear about where we are headed in life if we want to ensure that we stay on the right track. Every decision we make and every step that we take ought to be guided by our desired destination. Wherever we go, let’s make sure that we are headed toward God.

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