NOACH (Genesis, 6:9-11:32) — “Murdering the Murderer?”

 “Two wrongs don’t make a right!  If it is wrong to kill, it is wrong to kill!  When we execute murderers we become no better than they are!”

So goes the argument of the anti-capital punishment crowd.  When we kill a killer we become killers ourselves.

There seems to be a certain amount of merit to that argument, except for one little detail.  G-d disagrees:

“He who spills the blood of man shall have his own blood spilled by man, for G-d made man in His own image.”  (Genesis, 9:6)

G-d made this statement to Noah and his children shortly after He wiped out almost every man, woman, and child from the face of the earth.  Although every human being is created in G-d’s image, G-d had no problem eliminating all but the eight members of the Noah Family.

Why not?

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To help us find the answer, let us look at a different question and answer raised about this verse by Rabbi Elazar Shach, of Blessed Memory.

The Talmud, (Midrash Rabba) in interpreting this verse, quotes Rabbi Akiva:  “Anyone who spills blood is considered as if he has diminished (G-d’s) likeness.  ‘He who spills the blood of man shall have his own blood spilled by man…’  Why, asks Rabbi Akiva, is that so?   ‘… for G-d made man in His own image.’ ”

Rabbi Shach asks: What is Rabbi Akiva adding to this verse?  Doesn’t the Torah already say that you when a person commits murder he is destroying the life of a person who bears G-d’s image?  What is Rabbi Akiva’s point about diminishing G-d’s likeness?  Doesn’t that mean the same thing?

Rabbi Shach explains that Rabbi Akiva is not talking about the victim; he is talking about the murderer!

Every person possesses G-d’s likeness, which was put into him when G-d created man.  This likeness is supposed to propel us to be G-dly.  Just as G-d is merciful, so too, must we be merciful.  Just as G-d is gracious, so too, are we required to be gracious.

When a person does not use his innate G-dliness to treat others kindly, he diminishes the likeness of G-d in the world.  G-d created the world, expecting us to fill it with charity and benevolence.

All the nations of the world will see that the name of G-d is proclaimed over you…  (Deuteronomy, 28, 10)  We are obligated, explains Rabbi Shach, to demonstrate to others that we carry G-d’s image.  In so doing, we positively influence the world around us.

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Our G-dliness places a tremendous responsibility upon us.

Sarah was upset with her husband.  Sarah and Abraham wanted a child, so they prayed for one.  G-d answered Abraham’s prayer and sent him a child — through Abraham’s OTHER wife, Hagar.  Hagar was Sarah’s servant, and now that she was pregnant, she belittled Sarah, claiming that she, Hagar, was more righteous than Sarah.  Sarah blamed her husband for the abuse she was experiencing:

“My injustice is upon you!”  (Genesis, 16, 5)  Rashi explains that Sarah faulted Abraham for praying to G-d for a son for himself, rather than praying for Sarah as well.

Is that injustice?!  Did Abraham treat his wife unfairly by not praying for her?  What does Sarah want from her husband?  Let her pray for herself!

Rabbi Shach explains that this is part of our responsibility as carriers of G-d’s image.  Our likeness of G-d requires us to express a G-d-like concern for our fellow man.  G-d expects us to improve the lives of those around us.  One of the ways to do that is to pray for them.  If I can help you through my prayers and I don’t, I am guilty of injustice!  I have diminished my own G-dliness.

If I don’t help you, uplift you, and pray for you, I am cheating you!  If I treat you with arrogance and indifference, rather than honor and concern, I will need to confess to G-d on Yom Kippur that I have been unjust and unfair.  I have withheld from you the kindness to which you are entitled.  I was created as a reflection of G-d, and I have tarnished and dulled that divine reflection.

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And here, I believe, we can see the answer to the original question posed above.  “He who spills the blood of man shall have his own blood spilled by man, for G-d made man in His own image.”

Why is it that we don’t become murderers when society executes a murderer?  How do we justify punishing the destroyer of one image of G-d by destroying another?  Why did G-d wipe out a planet full of creatures in His own likeness?

Simple!  A murderer is a failure.  He has lost his right to exist.  His own G-dly image required him to be G-dly.  When he destroyed his fellow man, he destroyed his own holiness as well.  When a person commits physical murder, he concurrently commits spiritual suicide as well.

Noah’s generation was wicked.  It was unjust.  They killed and stole and lived lives of decadence and immorality.  G-d made it rain and washed away a world full of “dead” people.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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 Nimro-bama” (2009) 

…Society was uncomfortable with Abram’s “Inconvenient Truths.”  He said things that challenged their beliefs.  He contradicted Nimrod’s plans of absolute sovereignty.  He dared to accuse the “Great Leader” of being, well, merely mortal.  Therefore, he had to be silenced.

Last November, the people of America  displayed the “Audacity of Hope” and voted for “Change.”  As the bumper stickers ask, “How’s that ‘Hopesy-Changey’ workin’ out for you?” … 

Read more.

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“Murdering the Murderer?” (2008) 

“Two wrongs don’t make a right!  If it is wrong to kill, it is wrong to kill!  When we execute murderers we become no better than they are!”

So goes the argument of the anti-capital punishment crowd.  When we kill a killer we become killers ourselves.

There seems to be a certain amount of merit to that argument, except for one little detail.  G-d disagrees:

“He who spills the blood of man shall have his own blood spilled by man, for G-d made man in His own image.”  (Genesis, 9:6)

G-d made this statement to Noah and his children shortly after He wiped out almost every man, woman, and child from the face of the earth.  Although every human being is created in G-d’s image, G-d had no problem eliminating all but the eight members of the Noah Family.

Why not?…

Read more.

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“A Tale of Two Cities” (2007)

… G-d has limited patience with wicked people. Nineveh  was slated for destruction.  The prophet Jonah was sent to Nineveh  to warn them of their imminent doom.  They got the message.  They repented their evil ways and were spared.

As a result of their actions, the (belatedly) righteous citizens of Nineveh  serve as an annual Yom Kippur role model to teach us what we can accomplish by returning to G-d.

Now let us look at another Biblical city.  We will read in a few weeks about Eliezer’s journey to the city of Nachor…In Nachor he finds murderous, wicked people.  … “Laban, son of NACHOR”, (Genesis, 29:5) is one of the symbols of the enemies of Israel.  He is also identified with Balaam, who did everything in his power to curse and destroy Israel.

There you have it.  Two cities. Nineveh, which teaches us how to return to G-d and become better people, and Nachor, a city that teaches us treachery and unrepentant evil.

We, can, perhaps, see the roots of these cities’ differences in this week’s Torah Portion…

Read more.

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 “How to be an Orthodox Jewish Gentile” (2006)

Is it possible for a Gentile to practice Torah Judaism?  Isn’t that an oxymoron?  Not at all.  Actually, it is very much possible for a Gentile to practice Torah Judaism.  In fact, every member of the human race is obligated to do so.

We do not believe that every person is obligated to follow the 613 Commandments of the Torah.  There is nothing wrong with Gentiles eating pork chops or driving on the Sabbath.  They are, however, required by Torah Law to obey 7 key Commandments, known as the Seven Noahide Laws.  (“Noahide” = Children of Noah.)

What are they required to do?  Well, they could start off by disbanding the New Jersey Supreme Court!…

Read more.

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“No Pot of Gold…” (2005)

It’s beautiful; it’s a sign of ugliness. When you see it, you recite a prayer of thanks; when you see it, you’re not supposed to show it to anyone.  It is a sign of hope; it is a sign of frustration.  It is a sign of divine compassion; it is a sign of divine wrath.

Somewhere, over the rainbow, SomeOne is remembering a promise.  Somewhere, under the rainbow, someone has broken a promise…

Read more.

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 “Yerachmiel’s Ark” (2004) …

… As I lay on the grass in a not-very-rabbinic muddy suit contemplating my predicament, I started laughing.  Noah’s lion strikes again!…

Read more.

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 “Quoth the Raven . . .” (2003)

I hate ‘em!

My garbage pail gets knocked over by the wind, and before you know it, these big black, ugly birds are ripping open the trash bags, spreading the wealth all over my driveway!

Noah hated ‘em too…

Noah didn’t like the raven.  It was a cruel and selfish bird.  In fact, Noah didn’t mind endangering that miserable creature by sending it out of the Ark.  He didn’t understand what value there was in even allowing the raven back into the Ark.  He saw the raven as an unnecessary member of the animal kingdom. It was cruel to its own children.  It was inedible.  It could not be used as a sacrifice. AND, it was despicable…

Read more.

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 “You Can’t Climb a Grapevine” (2002)

… When Noah sobered up, he realized how his son and grandson had dishonored him, and cursed them. Noah blessed Shem and Japheth for their respect and sensitivity.

How did Noah, this great man, who is called “a man of righteousness,” descend so quickly to become “a man of the earth?” How did the savior of mankind so quickly find himself in a drunken stupor, subject to the scorn of his own son and grandson? …

Read more.

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 “Sweat the Big Stuff…and it’s ALL Big Stuff!” (2001)

… there is no such thing as “a little bit pregnant” …

Read more.

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 “A Pig by Any Other Name…” (2000)

… there are two types of laundry — clean laundry and dirty laundry. Would you reclassify these two categories as “clean laundry” and “laundry that isn’t clean?!” …

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at  TorahTalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2012 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in  Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on October 30, 2008 at 7:22 am  Leave a Comment  

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