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Birchat HaShem:
The Prohibition Against Blasphemy and the Commandment to Bless the Name of HaShem
By Shlomo Phillips © January 26, 2017


Birchat HaShem is the prohibition against blasphemy and the concurrent commandment to bless the Name of HaShem.
Inherent in this universal law is the prohibition against blaspheming, cursing and dishonoring the Name of G-d in any way. The Name of G-d is the most sacred sound in all of existence. For this reason we typically say/write HaShem ("The Name") rather than uttering or writing the Holy Name itself. The Sacred Name is most holy and there are detailed rabbinic rules governing its utterance or writing. For more information on the Sacred Name see my study HERE.

Birchat HaShem literally translates as "blessing [a euphemism for cursing] the Name [of G-d]." This euphemism is used because the very idea of cursing the Name of the Holy One is so offensive that the Jewish sages did not even wish to utter the idea. Think of the term as having "air quotes" around it.

One who is guilty of this offence is called a megaddef (or blasphemer). Biblically the penalty for this offence is stoning to death (for instance Leviticus 24: 10-23 and I Kings 21: 8-13). The requirements for inflicting this extreme punishment, it should be noted, are so complex that it is never enacted. The severity of this recommended punishment however demonstrates how seriously this prohibition should be taken.

    And to the children of Israel, you shall speak, saying: Any man who blasphemes his God shall bear his sin. And one who blasphemously pronounces the Name of the Lord, shall be put to death; the entire community shall stone him; convert and resident alike if he pronounces the [Divine] Name, he shall be put to death -- Leviticus 24:15, 16:.
Rashi notes:
    [Anyone who blasphemes his God] shall bear his sin: [He shall be punished] by excision, if there was no warning - [Torath Kohanim 24:243]. And one who blasphemously pronounces the Name: [This teaches us that] one is not liable [to the death penalty] unless he pronounces the [four-letter Divine] Name. However, one who curses using an ancillary Name [for G-d, rather than the explicit, four-letter Name], is not [liable to the death penalty]. — [Torath Kohanim 24:243]
As is so often the case, our sages debate the precise meaning of "birchat" (birkat) and what it entails. It is generally accepted however that the term refers to insulting or cursing G-d in any way. The potententially vast number of related offenses are obvious. We are never to dishonor HaShem or His works in any way. Anything that brings dishonor to the Holy One is forbidden as Birchat HaShem.

Hence there is a special emphasis placed on how one handles the Sacred Name. The Mishnah (Sanhedrin 7:5) prescribes stoning for the megaddef (blasphemer) who uses the Four Letter Name of G-d (AKA the Tetragrammeton disrespectfully, or to "curse G-d by using this Name." Those who argue that this command refers to things other than misusing the Name are correct, however it also clearly includes this offence. Today, especailly in Social Media, this grave sin is rampant by non-Jews and yet, again, anyone who commits this sin, "...convert and resident alike, if he pronounces the [Divine] Name, he shall be put to death....". How will this be carried out?

"Let the Tetragrammeton curse the Tetragrammeton."

A 30 Minute Presentation

In other words, one who misuses the Tetragrammeton will be cursed by the Tetragrammeton Itself. So the megaddef is cursed by his own lips, by his own pen or keyboard. Those who claim that publically posting and using the Sacred Name is a virtue are seriously mistaken!

Recall that in the Book of Job his wife advised him to "curse G-d and die" (Job 2:9). Job insisted that he was not violating the laws of G-d and did not deserve the curses that were being leveled against him. Job was a Noahide, a non-Jew who worshipped the G-d of Israel or, as the above quote referes to this, he was a "foreigner" to Klal Y'israel. Job's wife advised that since he believed himself to be righteous, he should commit Birchat HaShem. Then, by his own lips, he would be deserving of death and hence he would stop blaspheming the Holy One with his false claims of innocence.

The point: G-d is never unjust! 'Commit this grave sin and let it lead you to humility' she was advising. If a person did not deserve such terrible things they would not be happening. G-d is just! Always. For more on Job see my video class HERE.

Life can be very hard sometimes. No one knows this better than the Jews! And yet while we may at times become angry or frustrated with the realities of our lives, it is vital that we never curse HaShem nor blame Him for our hardships. Certainly we should earnestly go to Him seeking restitution through Hitbodedut, but never with a haughty spirit of self justification.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches us:

"In my distress you relieved me." (Psalms 4:2)

Even in times of trouble, whatever G-d sends, He sends in such a way that the trouble itself contains the salvation. Keep your eyes open for G-d's love and mercy! If you look carefully you will see that even when G-d sends you trouble, He is still helping you. He actually helps you by means of the very trouble itself, treating you with tremendous kindness all along.

Thus King David said: "In my distress you relieved me" (Psalms 4:2). You have helped me by means of the very trouble itself!

Of course we want our troubles to be over and we hope and trust that God will quickly save us from all of them and bring us great good. Yet even now, while our troubles are still tormenting us, God is helping us.

     Likutey Moharan I, 195

Those Gentiles who are now coming to HaShem, as our prophets foretold, must NEVER use the Sacred Name in dishonorable ways! Please, do not post the Sacred Name on banners or websites etc. in any form, whether in Hebrew or in English, nor in translation. Honor the "hedge" that our sages have established around the Sacred Name.

Remember:

    He who watches his mouth and his tongue guards his soul from troubles.
    A malevolent, haughty man-scorner is his name; he acts with malevolent anger -- Proverbs 21:23.
On this Rashi notes:
    Haughty: Heb. יהיר, one who is haughty; he will ultimately become a scorner, for he does not care to hear reproof.
Again:
    Death and life are in the hand of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its produce -- Proverbs 18:21.
Rashis adds that:
    "those who love it will eat its produce" tells us that: one who loves his tongue and accustoms it to [speaking words of] Torah, partakes of its reward in this world.
And other sages add:
Wild beast [ie bloodshed] come into the world because of the false swearing and on account of the profanation of G-d's name -- Mishna, Sabgedrin 7; HaMotzvot 2:7
Please, you who seek to live godly lives, at least respect the Sacred Name of G-d and do not toss it out into the public market place as if it were something common and profane. To do this is haughty and will drive you away from the One you say seek to know.

Again, for more on the proper (and improper) use of the Sacred Name see my study HERE.

The Seven Universal Laws: One by One: 2. Birchat HaShem

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