Rabbi Zvi Teichman
Eight years ago, in October of 2015, our brothers and sisters in Israel were under attack by Hamas in a spate of terrorist attacks and fatalities. I penned this essay at that time. History unfortunately repeats itself. The message remains ever truer. Hashem is still waiting for us.
The holy soil of our land has once again been stained with innocent and pure blood. Our enemy’s insatiable thirst for our blood has ignited an explosion of hatred and a frenzy of wanton murder.
Yet from the moment Noach and his family stepped off the ark the reality of man’s capacity for bloodshed is addressed.
After permitting humanity, after the deluge, to now consume animal life the Torah asserts:
However, your blood which belongs to your souls I will demand, of every beast I will demand it; and of man, of every man for that of his brother I will demand the soul of man. (Bereishis 9, 5)
The simple reading of this verse seems to be implying that G-d will personally hold accountable every ‘beast’ who snatches a person’s life, every ‘man’ who murders his fellow human, and even a ‘brother’ who extinguishes his siblings life force.
If this is so then the order in the verse seems odd. Shouldn’t G-d first establish that He will attend to brothers who kill each other? Then the Torah should have gone on to assert that any man and even the non-free-willed beast will be taken to task for violating man’s right to live.
The early commentaries are also perplexed by the implication that animals are ‘guilty’ for following their reflexive instinct to kill.
Although I have scoured the texts and have not found a clear source, I would like to suggest the following approach.
The Torah concludes that whoever sheds the blood of man shall have his blood shed ‘for in the image of G-d He made man’.
Is that the sole reason for forbidding murder? Isn’t man’s entitlement to live sufficient to hold his fellow man responsible for taking that inherent right away?
The actual term for ‘image of G-d’ is צֶלֶם, tzelem. This is rooted in the word צל, shade or shadow. Being created in the ‘shadow’ of G-d means that just as a shadow is an outlined representation of the item that it is cast off of, so too are we, in a manner, a replica of G-d’s presence. The way we act and emulate His ways in our interactions in this world is a projection, albeit feint, of His greatness. Conversely we are endowed with the power to have G-d, so to speak, act in the capacity as our ‘shadow’ insofar as a result of our healthy choices and noble deeds, G-d directs proportionately His cornucopia of blessing from on high unto this earth.
So perhaps what the Torah is informing us is not simply that G-d will take to task those who shed blood, but rather that all bloodshed on earth is a byproduct of Man’s deficient projection of that inherent greatness.
The murderous beast and man can only operate in an environment that is not infused with His presence embodied within man. Precisely because we were created with this power to ‘shadow’, in the absence of our illuminating the world it allows it to become darkened by the baser instincts of man.
The Torah therefore correctly begins to assert the most obvious, that nature and the animal kingdom’s reaction are determined by our actions. It then goes on to assert that even free-willed creatures perverse actions can only be cultivated and grow in a world bereft of His presence.
Perhaps the final emphasis on ‘every man for that of his brother’ is G-d telling his beloved children that it is ultimately incumbent upon them to set the standard that will ultimately influence an entire world.
G-d’s ‘demand’ in the verse, is His assertion that He will ultimately hold us liable for animals and man turning against man for at the end of day it is how ‘brother treats brother’ that sets the stage for the possibility of murder in the world. The ripple effect of our actions can indeed be fatal.
This is not to exonerate those demons who have cast off their cloak of humanity for the beastly blood thirst of the jungle, but it does certainly place a heightened level of sensitivity, empathy and devotion to one another in these most difficult days.
In a similar vein, the Gaon and Tzaddik, HaRav Mordechai Yehuda Lubart, a great scholar who was one of the illustrious students of Rav Meir Shapiro in Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin prior to World War II, who escaped the fires of Europe and survived the war years in Shanghai, China, studying with great diligence in the most difficult of circumstances, and eventually settling in New York where he was a renowned teacher of Torah and a celebrated Sofer, expressed the following sentiments evidently during those trying times:
The Torah alludes to the responsibility placed on every Jew towards his fellow man and brother who are in danger, and certainly when large numbers of our people are exposed to danger and extinction, may G-d save us, at a time when the enemies of Israel are threatening Jewish communities with killings and destruction, it is incumbent on every individual in communities that are not suffering to carry the burden of responsibility for their brothers who find themselves under venomous attack, it must penetrate their hearts and they must bear the pain of their brothers suffering whose blood is being spilled like water, for only then, will they not rest for a moment spending days and nights arousing the world to the plight, doing whatever they can, and even beyond, to save them. It goes without saying that in these difficult times it is impossible to go about their daily lives normally, they must don sack and ash over the plight of their brethren.
To this the verse alludes when it states that, ‘your blood which belongs to your souls I will demand’, the blood of the communities of Israel which is being spilled like blood, ‘of every beast I will demand it, and of man’, if he is man or a beast in human form, as we have seen, much to our sorrow, in our generation of the frightful Holocaust at the hands of the Nazis, may their name be erased, who exhibited behavior more cruel then the most violent animals of prey.
And the verse concludes, ‘of every man for that of his brother I will demand the soul of man’, implying also from our brethren, the Children of Israel, we must seek and determine if they have fulfilled the responsibility placed on them, and they can’t justify their inaction by claiming they were helpless and unable, for every Jew has unlimited spiritual strengths, and these powers can bring to fruition their goals, when their brethren are facing annihilation, G-d forbid, either through efforts of rescue or at the very least by sharing in their pain, to stop for a moment during one’s daily routine to contemplate and join in their suffering.
And this is what the following verse gives as the reason for all of the above, ‘for in the image of G-d He made man’, for after all, the image of G-d that man was made in is invested with vast supernal abilities, and is therefore held accountable for the blood of his brother that was spilled.
We are living in frightening times. We must do whatever we can to support any effort that serves to protect our brothers and sisters in Israel. We must share in their pain and anxiety. We must support one another in whatever way we can. It is in these actions that the restoral of G-d’s presence to the world is contingent on.
ישמחו השמים — ותגל הארץ (תהלים צו יא), The heavens will be glad and the earth will rejoice.
The first letters of the four words in this sentiment spell out ‘The Name’ of G-d — י-ה-ו-ה —and the last letters — צלמו — in His image. We can only deserve the joy of His presence if we live ‘in His image’!
May we be worthy in the merit of enhancing ‘His image’ by elevating our consciousness and actions, emulating G-d’s ways in all that we do, so that G-d will quickly send us the Moshiach, so we may rejoice once again in the return of the Divine Presence to the Temple, this time for all of eternity.