by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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Parshas NoachGenesis 9:5, 6
6) He who sheds the blood of man, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of G-d He made man.
By man shall his blood be shed: Rashi: If there are witnesses you shall kill him. And why? " For in the image of G-d He made man."
Verse 5 tells us that G-d will "demand it" meaning that the murderer's punishment will come from G-d, not from an earthly court of law (Sanhedrin). This is because the murder was not witnessed by any one who could come and testify, so there is no valid evidence against the murderer. But he is not totally innocent; G-d will exact punishment from him.
Verse 6 on the other hand, speaks of murder and that man will execute justice, as it says "By man shall his (the murderer's) blood be shed.
This is what Rashi is inferring when he comments on verse 5, "If there are witnesses you shall kill him." He knows there were witnesses since the verse goes on to say that the murderer's blood will be shed by man (the earthly court) meaning there is evidence to present to the court.
Then he ads the words: "And why?" and he answers by quoting the last part of the verse - "For in the image of G-d He made man."
A Question: Why does Rashi ad these words? They are part of the verse, does he say anything that the verse itself did not say?
And if the Torah ads them to tell us why man is to be killed if he kills another person, (because he killed man who is made in the image of G-d) then why weren't these words attached to verse 5? There too it talks of murder and G-d's punishment for murder?
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
An Answer: There is a something unclear in this verse. The verse teaches us two things: 1) Man will be killed if he murder's another man, and 2) He will be killed by a human court of law. (Not from G-d as in the previous verse).
The words: "For in the image of G-d He made man" is the reason for the words in this verse. But what isn't clear is which words is the phrase explaining? Does it say man who murders must be killed because he murdered a man who is made the image of G-d?
Or do the words explain why man (the court) has the right to kill another person - because the men on the court are made in the image of G-d and therefore they are to do G-d's will in this world. In this case that means they are to execute justice even if it means killing another human being.
So it is not clear what the words "For in the image of G-d He made him" refer to.
How does Rashi's comment clarify matters?
An Answer: As we said these words appear only in our verse and not in the previous verse but that verse also speaks of murder. If the reason we kill a murder is because he killed someone "made in the image of G-d." Then why weren't these words placed in verse 5 which also speaks of murdering a human being? So it would seem that the explanation "that in image of G-d he made" explains why a human court can execute a man in the name of justice. It is a statement made to justify taking another man's life. I might say, even the man is a murderer - he is still a human being. This is the opinion of those who appose capital punishment.
And if we look carefully a Rashi's words we see this. He says: If there are witnesses you shall kill him. And why? " For in the image of G-d He made man." Rashi connects his question "and why?" right after he says "and you shall kill him." We understand that this way: Why should you kill him? (and not leave it to G-d) because the judges are made in the image of G-d.
This is what Rashi clarifies.
THE MORAL MESSAGE
There are many advocates for banning capital punishment. Their reasoning is: Why kill another man; one has already been killed - killing another won't bring the dead back to life and you will be taking another man's life. The Torah's stand is clear: Human judges have the power, the right and the responsibility to exact justice in order to have society function more smoothly, more justly. This includes having the death penalty for those who have murdered.
But we can again ask: What good does killing a second person, even if he is a murderer, the dead will not be brought back to life?
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
Avigdor Bonchek has published a new book on Rashi called "Rashi: The Magic and the Mystery" published by Gefen. Look for it at Jewish book stores.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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