Extermination, Embarrassment and Existentialism

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Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

In Parshat Noach, the world begins anew. After the flood, Noach and his family will leave the ark that had been the amniotic sac protecting them from the raging waters surrounding them and be reborn. They will be now granted the privilege of eating animal food in addition to all vegetation. They will again be commanded to be fruitful and multiply. But they will also be commanded to observe seven universal laws that have become known as the Noachide Laws governing all humanity.

One of these laws, in its most universal sense, is the prohibition of murder. In an absolute literal translation, the edict reads: “Whoever spills the blood of man in manhashofech dam ha’adam bo’adam, his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man.” This convoluted although accurate translation is therefore usually rendered as, “… by man shall his blood be shed.” Where else would the man’s blood be if not in man? Nevertheless, difficulties and unnecessarily included words demand our examination for hidden meaning. Further, why does the Torah insist on juxtaposing the prohibition of murder with man being formed in God’s image?

On the simplest level, the Torah does not rely on mankind to make rational decisions. Every murderer can find emotional or twisted philosophical, logical ways to rationalize his act. Yet every murder diminishes the image of God on earth. The only powerful enough deterrent is one’s yirat shomayim/fear of Heaven.

Zohar tells us that when Hashem said, “Let us make Man,” Hashem asked all of previous creation to contribute to this new being. In this way, Man is a microcosm of all creation, from angelic to vegetative to animal. So, in addition to the spiritual soul Hashem Himself breathed into Man, each animal contributed some characteristic, whether it was the courage of a lion, the boorishness of a donkey, or the slyness of the fox. These wild animals need to be caged to keep us safe. Rabbi Scheinerman in Ohel Moshe now extrapolates that these wild, animal tendencies that naturally exist in man must also be metaphorically caged through the chains provided by Awe/Fear of Heaven. Those parts ba’adam/within Adam, within mankind, that come from the same adamah/earth that also formed the animals can only be reined in with the knowledge that there is a Judge Who created this human being, and there will be judgment. Only that restraint will let a person’s spiritual aspect overpower the material, earth-like aspect within him.

Rabbi Zweig in Infinity of Torah cites Rashi who equates a person who does not engage in procreation with one who spills blood. Rabbi Zweig explains that although the acts may be different, the result is the same. In both cases the perpetrator is depriving the world of the unique contributions that a particular individual would have given the world, rendering the world incomplete, both in the contributions of the immediate individual whose life is cut short and also of the contributions of future generations. How far have current societal norms now replaced eternal truths. Now abortion and same sex marriage that cannot produce children are perfectly acceptable, while those who oppose these views are shunned and vilified. Life is not disposable based on its convenience. The Torah view values all life, whether it is that of the unborn baby or of the “no longer productive” elderly. None is disposable.

In addition to spilling the blood of another so that physical death occurs through blood loss outside the body, our Sages understand that indeed blood can be spilled from one area within the body to another. When one is shamed, especially publicly, the blood literally rushes out of one part of the body to another, either causing blushing or a face drained of all color. The Torah bears witness to the severity of shaming someone publicly, leading to the Sages declaring that it is better to be burnt at the stake than to shame another publicly. Tamar, whom Yehudah had impregnated believing she was a prostitute, was ready to to burned as a harlot/adulteress (She was still technically a widowed wife awaiting a levirate marriage.) rather than reveal the name of the father and thereby embarrass Yehudah. Joseph, anticipating the embarrassment of his brothers, emptied the room of all his Egyptian ministers before revealing his identity to his brothers. In fact, the Marasha suggests that embarrassing someone is actually more severe than murdering him, for murder is immediate while embarrassment is continuous (and sometimes lifelong). [How many of us have heard someone say,”I was so embarrassed, I wished the earth would swallow me up, bury me alive.” CKS]

Unfortunately, most of us have become desensitized to the effect our casual words may have on others. We must teach our children from an early age that verbal insults and bullying are unacceptable and, when they are old enough, to explain to them how those interactions can be equated to actual murder.

The nuances against embarrassing someone is too often overlooked. Whether we are in public or in private; actually, in the other’s presence or behind his back; written, oral, or technological media can all become vehicles for disparaging and embarrassing another. So can disparaging nicknames or “jokes” and “grammen/lyrics” at another’s expense. If it were said about you “only as a joke,” would you laugh? Can you feel good about yourself only when you make someone else feel inferior? Killing someone’s soul, his tzelem Elokhim, is worse than killing his physical body. We must be careful to honor Hashem’s image in all human beings created in His image, reminds us Rabbi Gamliel Rabinowitz in Tiv Hatorah.

Rabbi Wolbe, citing the Nefesh Hachaim, tries to explain the tzelem Elokhim/Godly image in terms we as humans can try to understand. Hashem has imbued each human with two forms of light, an inner light and an outer, supernal light that surrounds him as a shadow, enabling the soul of Godly energy to enter the physical body and keeping it connected to its Source.

One can see the Godly light within another only if he can access the Godly soul within himself. When a person drains the color from his friend, he has killed his friend’s honor and dignity because he does not recognize in the other the mirrored dignity of his own worth, of his own soul. The consequence, not the punishment, is that he loses olam habo/life in the next world, the world of souls, a reality he does not recognize in himself.

Therefore, when you diminish the image of another, whether in his own eyes or in the eyes of others, you are diminishing the image of God Himself, writes Chochmat Hamatzpun. We often don’t recognize this greatness within ourselves, continues the Chochmat Hamatzpun. It was the realization of his own anochi, of his own unique image of Hashem, that Yaakov suddenly realized upon awakening from his dream. What an awesome realization! Hashem exists in each of us in every place. When we recognize that same tzelem Elokhim within the other, we not only become sensitive to their feelings, but we grow to love him and all human beings created in His image, adds Rabbi Lopian.

Now let us reverse the idea. We must also be careful to respect and value God’s image within ourselves, writes Rabbi Birnbaum in Bekorei Shemo. Are we nurturing the potential within ourselves, or are we slowly killing our true selves? As Chochmat Hamatzpun elaborates, Hashem has invested a bit of Himself in each of us. He has faith in us and in our Godly attributes, and has given us time to develop our potential. We may not squander the gifts Hashem has given us; we may not kill ourselves, our essence, our Godly qualities.

Just as a person believes in Hashem, so must he also believe in himself teaches Rav Tzadok Hachohen,. He must believe that Hashem cares about him and is invested in him. The well-known verse “Ani leDodi ve Dodi li/I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me” begins with the understanding and love of Ani/I. Only when one knows himself and values himself can he then form a relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu Whom he resembles. Rabbi Brazile emphasizes this point by referencing the very first failure of humanity, Chava eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. When Hashem confronts her after her fall, her excuse is, “Hanachash hisiani vaochal/the serpent deceived me and I ate.” How did the serpent deceive her? Rabbi Brazile quotes the idea, that the word hisiyani as an anagram for hayes(h) ani/Do I have something special within me or not. The serpent got Chava to question her own worth. We know it is a sin not to recognize your own shortcomings, but, insists Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz, it is an even greater sin not to recognize your strengths.

Truly the blood of man inside man is the actual soul of man, hadam hu hanefesh. We must value its physical, spiritual and emotional components within every human being, within others and within ourselves as well, for it signifies the shadow and image of God within us.