by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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Parashas Noah 5767This week's sedra tells of the Flood, which destroyed civilization because it had become totally corrupted. Noah and his family were saved to make a new beginning. G-d gave Noah His commandments for dealing with injustices in the world.
Whoever spills man's blood, by (with) man shall his blood be spilled. Because in the image of G-d he was made.
By (with) man shall his blood be spilled: Rashi: If there were witnesses , you shall kill him and why is that ? Because in the image of G-d he was made.
A Question: Why does Rashi mention witnesses and what does he mean to tell us when he adds the words "and why is that?"
What's bothering him?
The verse is deceptively simple. Read it carefully.
What is unclear?
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
An Answer: The additional phrase "Because in the image of G-d, he was made" is unclear. What does the "Because" refer to? It could be interpreted in several ways.
1) Punish the murderer because he destroyed someone made in G-d's image.
2) Man may punish the murderer by taking his life - because he, - the court judge - is made in the image of G-d and thus has G-dly powers.
Which seems more reasonable to you?
WHAT SEEMS REASONABLE?
An Answer: It would seem that we are commanded to exact capital punishment (killing the murderer) because he destroyed a person who is made in the image of G-d. But that is a problematic interpretation, because being made in the image of G-d is a powerful reason for abolishing capital punishment and not killing the murderer. As if to say: What do we gain by killing another human being, even if he is guilty? Will this bring the dead victim back to life? Do two wrongs (killing a human being) make a right?
This argument is quite acceptable today and there are countries that prohibit capital punishment.
Rashi is dealing with this question. How?
WHAT IS RASHI'S UNDERSTANDING AND WHY?
An Answer: Rashi does not accept that reasoning. We know the Torah accepts and even commands the use of capital punishment. So this cannot be the meaning of the verse.
Rashi understands the verse in the following way.
"Whoever spills man's blood, by (with) man" the prefix Hebrew letter "b" in the Hebrew word b'adam" means not only "by man" it also can mean "with man" meaning with men being present and witnessing the murder. This is why Rashi mentions witnesses.
Now the connection with "Because in the image of G-d he was made" is clear. Why can you punish him, what right do you have to kill another human being? Because the witnesses and the judge are also made in the image of G-d and they are His agents to implement justice in this world.
A DEEPER LOOK
Let us look deeper and understand why reason #1 above is not the Torah's view. How can killing another human be justified? The dead man won't be brought back to life; and another life will be extinguished ?
What do you think?
A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING
An Answer: The second killing - the punishment for the murderer - is done to prevent future killings. Society protects it citizens by reducing the chances of murder. This is done by the threat of punishment, the deterrent to lawlessness. It is relevant to mention New York city's experiment with crime reduction. It succeeded to a remarkable degree . Crime was brought down by over 60% within several years. This was accomplished by consistently and immediately enforcing the law. From being a dangerous place to live, New York became a city low down on the list of lawless cities in the United States.
So punishment can have a deterrent effect and capital punishment can as well.
The Torah may seem "old fashioned" to some, but the proof of its wisdom is not in the halls of academia but in the byways and highways of life itself.
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi." The 5 Volume set is available at all Jewish bookstores.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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