Shabbat Parashat Bo| 5766
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - The Three Pillars of Judaism - Part III - From Perakim B’Machshevet Yisrael, pp. 351-355
[We have seen that there are three pillars of Judaism, which are connected with different forms of sanctity, and are mirrored by the three cardinal sins: idol worship; adultery and incest; and murder. We have discussed idol worship, which, beyond the classical hedonistic form, has modern forms that are more subtle but just as morally dangerous. Last week, we dealt with the sin of giluy arayot (adultery, incest, and other sexual sins), the intensity of which is strongly felt in the permissive times we live in. We now conclude with sh’fichut damim (murder)].
The obligation to “be killed and not violate” when a person has to choose between murdering the innocent and be murdered himself is explained by the gemara (Sanhedrin 74a) simply, as a matter of logic. In other words, this halacha does not even need to receive its basis in an explicit commandment in the Torah. The logic the gemara brings is: “what makes you think that your blood is redder, perhaps your friend’s blood is redder?” (see Rashi, ad loc.). That is to say that no person, let him be the most important, the most talented or the greatest in Torah, has a greater right to live than another person, even if the latter does not possess any of his fine qualities. For man possesses a Divine Image, and one has no right to harm one who was created by the “Hands of Hashem,” even if it means giving up his own life.
The motivation to kill is not an independent desire. However, it comes as a result of the evil inclination toward desires or jealousy, or as a result of some form of idol worship [see our discussion two weeks ago]. In other words, it can come from the warping of the mind that creates an incorrect impression that someone, some group, or an entire nation are blocking his path, and, thus, he should act to remove the blockage.
Judaism tries to cultivate a feeling of honor for a person as a person. For that reason, Chazal taught us based on the pasuk “and they shall live by them” that nothing stands up to the need to protect a human life (Yoma 85a). Not only is this the case when an actual human life is weighing in the balance, but Judaism reaches such a fine point that Chazal say that even embarrassing a person publicly is considered within the broader concept of murder (see Sota 10b and Tosafot, ad loc.).
Also in this regard there is a clear distinction and separation between Israel and the nations. Even in the most refined human society, we will not find such a far-reaching value attached to the life and honor of man. There are cases where a society will be overcome with emotion over a mass murder, but only when it reaches tremendous proportions, but society does not notice the suffering of the individual. Society looks with indifference at small wars where “only” hundreds or thousands die. It does not truly strive toward an end of days when “no nation will lift up a sword against another nation, and they will no longer learn warfare” (Yeshaya 2:4). However, even in this area, Bnei Yisrael were unsuccessful when they returned to their land. Even today the lowly phenomenon is returning to threaten Israeli society [Ed. note- this social criticism apparently refers to indifference about the plight of the individual].
There is no surprise that Chazal saw, as the cause of national destruction, these three sins: idol worship; adultery and incest; and murder. They did not search for external reasons that are related to physical weakness as the cause. It was not because of the difficulties of a small nation standing up to strong empires. They instead looked for the cause of causes. Chazal knew to look at moral corruption as the mother of all failure. In that way they charted out for us the path to survival and national reemergence. They taught us, “’I will separate you … to be for Me’- if you will be distinct, you will be Mine” (Midrash Tanchuma, Korach 5).
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