Throughout the past several parshios – especially in this week’s Parsha – there are several sins whose punishment is the death penalty. Yet, we find different wording by those sins. For some of the sins, the Torah states “And you will destroy the evil from your midst.” For other sins, the Torah states “And you will destroy the evil from the Jewish people.” There are no extra words or phrases in the Torah. Every word and phrase has meaning. So, why does the Torah change its language for the different sins, saying that some sins should be destroyed from your midst and others from the Jewish people.
Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l explains that there are different types of sins. There are certain sins that are so disgraceful that there is no reason to suspect that the Jewish people in general are guilty of them. It is as though they are already removed from the people as a whole. In those cases the Torah states, “And you will destroy the evil from your midst” because it is not a sin in the “midst of the Jewish people.” On those rare occasions when they do occur, we suspect it might be something in the immediate surroundings.
The very last discussion in the Gemara Sukka deals with penalties that the Rabbis enacted against the family of Bilga. In the Bais Hamikdash, the Kohanim were divided into 24 groups or families. Each group would conduct the service in the Bais Hamikdash for two weeks of the year. The weeks of Sukkos and Pesach were divided among all of the Kohanim. Also in the Bais Hamikdash, each family of Kohanim had their own storage area and shechita area. Bilga was one of the families of Kohanim. The Rabbis punished them that they did not have their own storage or shechita areas. The reason for this was that at the time of the Greek occupation of the Land of Israel, life was difficult for the Jews. A young woman named Miriam bas Bilga – who was from the Bilga family of Kohanim – became a follower of the Greeks and married a Greek officer.
When the Greeks ransacked the Bais Hamikdash, she entered the Temple area, kicked the Altar and said, “wolf, wolf – until when will you devour the money of the Jewish people and not protect them in an urgent situation.” Because she acted and talked in such a manner, the Rabbis punished her family.
The Gemara asks, “Why do you punish the entire family just because one woman acted disgracefully?” The Gemara responds that a child speaks in the market what he hears at home – in his immediate surroundings. If Miriam bas Bilga could make such derogatory remarks about the Bais Hamikdash at such a young age, it must have been because that is what she heard at home. If that is the attitude in the house, it will be reflected in the conduct of the child. The entire family of Bilga was guilty of this attitude towards the Bais Hamikdash.
On the other hand, there are sins – even though they are disgraceful - that are more likely to occur across a broader segment of the population. For those sins, the Torah states, “And you will destroy the evil from the Jewish people” because it is a sin that must be wiped out from among the nation as a whole.
This idea does not only apply to matters where the Torah decrees a death penalty. There are destructive matters and ideas that affect the Jewish people and unfortunately, are widespread amongst us.
Rosh Hashana is less than three weeks away and we must make an accounting of our behaviors. What we do well, we should keep up. What we can do better, we should try to improve. We must strengthen ourselves both personally - from our midst – and as a nation – “from the Jewish people” - thereby demonstrating that the Torah is “and you shall live by them.”