Seeing the pictures of violence from all over the world and especially from Israel, I feel frustrated and helpless. I often ask myself if others can’t see the beauty of this world and of God’s creation. Why can’t they see God’s image in other humans, as I do?
Our Torah reading for this week, Parashah Bereshit, recounts for us this marvelous creation I am talking about, but addresses also a downside of that creation, the violence and cruelty of which human beings are capable.The tenth-century Babylonian scholar, Sa’adia ben Josef Ha-Gaon commented that “the human being is the purpose of creation.” How could he have stated something like this? He must have been aware of the evil potential of all human beings that also led to God’s frustration and the great flood?
His teaching is based on the understanding that human beings were created in “the image of God” and, therefore, represent the highest expression of God’s power and love. Every human life is sacred, because God is sacred. But unfortunately we also have the power to take lives and to destroy, as God has.
Therefore, biblical and rabbinic teaching emphasis is on the precious and unique character of life. Not only does each person possess special talents, thoughts, and abilities, but from each person others are born or influenced. “Each person is a world,” the rabbis commented. Therefore, individuals contain within themselves future worlds.
That is what made the murder of Abel by Cain, and any other homicide, such a serious offence. When the rabbis discussed the first murder in the biblical narrative, they pointed out an unusual phrasing of God’s statement to Abel: “Behold, your brother’s bloods cries out to Me from the ground!” (Gen 4.10), underlining the plural of the word “bloods” in the Hebrew. According to the rabbis the phrase “bloods cry out” is an indication that Cain murdered more than just Abel. He also destroyed Abel’s future generations.
In killing Abel, Cain destroyed a whole line of humanity. The great tragedy was not only the death of Abel but also of all the thousands of future lives cut off with this murder. Because Jewish tradition counteracts our evil inclination by teaching that each human life is sacred, we are commanded to be the guardians or caretakers of one another.
Our duty is to protect one another both physically and spiritually. We are obligated to be concerned about one another’s safety, health, and welfare. Especially in times of war, violence and destruction we need to remind us and others about it, and about the beauty of our world and of God’s creation.
Shabbat Shalom – Rabbi Schell (Source Fields, Torah Commentary)
Torah Reading for Shabbat Bereshit
Haftarah: Isaiah 42:5-43:10
NEW: The Prayers of our Siddur
Starting on 22 October, Bet David offers an additional weekly learning opportunity for adults. Rabbi Schell will be leading Shiurim every Thursday evening (18h00-19h30) discussing the Prayers of our Siddur. He will explore with you the history of the prayers, their context and meaning, including the Hebrew original. This Shiur; is open for everyone; no background or Hebrew knowledge is needed.
The Torah Study Breakfast Shiur with Rabbi Schell continues Shabbat, 17 October at 08.45.
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