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Ki Seitzei

by Rabbi Yaakov Menken

This week's Dvar Torah is from a class by Rabbi Asher Z. Rubenstein, one of my teachers and Dean of a Yeshiva in Jerusalem. The notes, and any errata, are mine.

The Parsha this week teaches us a number of lessons in interpersonal relations - and just as informative as the commandments themselves, are the contexts in which they are given.

For example, this week the Torah teaches us that every person must be treated with respect, because he or she is made in the image of G-d. This is a grand concept, and one might expect it to be taught in relation to Moshe, or Aharon, or any other great and holy figure who exemplifies the G-dliness that humans alone can achieve. So, is this indeed the case?

Not quite: "If a man commits a sin worthy of death, and is put to death, and you hang him on a tree; you must not leave his body overnight on the tree, but rather you must certainly bury him on that day, for a curse to G-d is the one who is hanged, and you shall not defile your land that Hashem your G-d gives you for an inheritance." [Dev. 21:22-23]

Why is it a "curse to G-d?" Explains Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki: "It is a denigration of the King, for man is made in His image, and Israel are His children." And who is this man "in His image" that is hanged after being put to death? "Our Rabbis said that all those who are killed by stoning are hanged..."

The punishment of stoning (although administered in a merciful way) was reserved for those who, for example, cursed G-d, or worshipped idols, and did so after being warned not to do it and of the potential punishment. So the one who is hanged is one who quite deliberately attempted to break the bonds between Israel and G-d - a person in the absolute lowest echelon of evil! Nonetheless, the Torah tells us that he was made in the very image of G-d, and even his dead body must be treated with respect.

It's mind-boggling. Rabbi Rubenstein asked the obvious question: Why? Why does the Torah choose to emphasize this concept in relation to a lowlife, rather than Moshe or Aharon?

His answer: the Torah knows us too well. We're thoughtful, analytical... and all too often, mean-spirited. "Who was the Torah talking about? Moshe! Moshe, who went up on Mt. Sinai and lived in the Higher realms for forty days. Moshe, who was G-d's messenger. But Frank, my neighbor (roommate)? That no-good thief? I don't have to respect him!"

So the lesson is pretty obvious. However bad he is, Frank doesn't deserve to be stoned. And even if he does, the Torah still emphasizes that he was created in the image of the Divine... and it's our responsibility to remain cognizant of that fact, and to behave accordingly.


Text Copyright © 1995 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Project Genesis, Inc.

The author is the Director of Project Genesis.


 

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