Parasha / E-Letter

Dvar Torah – Parashat “Noach”

1 Comment 02 October 2013

Noahs Ark. cc: Wikipedia

       for in the image of God made He man

                   Rabbi Jermy Milgrom

כי בצלם אלוהים עשה את האדם (Gen. 9:6, for in the image (“b’tselem”) of God man was made These six Hebrew words found in the midst of mythology, geneologies and antiquarian history (antediluvian and post-diluvian) that fill this week’s Parashah (Gen. 6-11) inspire a religious Jewish demand for human rights; thus the brilliant branding of the Israeli organization dedicated to the protection of Palestinian human rights. The notion that all human beings bear a likeness to God should indeed bring us to do our utmost to respect and protect them, their dignity and their property.

B’tselem’s logo, lifted from a traditional printing of the Massoritic text of the Bible, has a different trop (a מרכא instead of a מונח) which indicates that it was not taken from this week’s reading; when clicking on “about B’Tselem” on their website, one in fact reads that

            B’Tselem in Hebrew literally means “in the image of,” and is also used as a synonym for human                           dignity. The word is taken from Genesis 1:27 “And God created humans in his image. In the image                       of God did He create him.”

A quick glance at the full verse in our chapter brings us to guess (I don’t know for sure…) why they chose to quote from chapter 1 instead:

“He who sheds man’s blood shall have his blood shed by man, for in the image of God man was made”

Instead of being placed in the lyrical optimism of the creation narrative in chapter 1, we find the same uplifting image of man’s creation in God’s image as an appendix to a harsh lex talionis formulation. However, as in the case with “an eye for an eye”, which in rabbinic Judaism meant monetary compensation, here, too, Jewish tradition tempers justice with soft compassion:

            R. Meir said: When a person is being executed, what does God say? My head is shamed (or,         “feels heavy”), my arm is shamed (or, “feels heavy”)! If God suffers over the blood of the           wicked, how much more so over the shedding of the blood of the innocent!

                                                                                                            (Mishnah Sanhedrin chapter 6)

Yair Loberbaum’s 500+ page Tselem Elohim shows how R. Meir articulates the rabbinic tradition that opposed  capital punishment rationally as well as emotionally…I think I’ll still be plumbing its depths whe we move on to future Parashot!

Basing a human rights agenda on Gen. 9:6 is most appropriate in the tragic situation in which we find ourselves, in which blood is being shed, and we are torn between our need to deter violence against us and within us, and our desire to maintain the divine image within ourselves. R. Meir’s bold midrash asserts that we are not alone in our suffering. May we be blessed with the courage of our ancestors, whose image of a loving God empowered them to make radical statements that were true to their hearts.

Shabbat shalom!

Your Comments

1 comment

  1. Abigail says:

    Beautiful commentary on parshat Noach. But Btselem should not attend events where those who have human rights of Palestinians and others shred to pieces are the main event of the evening as they repeatedly do in Washington D.C.!

    You simply do not attend events for PR (they have a booth there) where those responsible for egregious human rights violations – the perpetrators,so to speak – also attend and are the star of the evening.


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