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Rabbi's Blog: Flattery of the Land

07/14/2023 09:49:43 AM



Dear OZ family,

The fourth book of the Torah draws to a close with instructions for preparations to enter the promised land. Prominently listed among these instructions, are the laws of the inadvertent taking of life, and the cities of refuge.

The Torah warns not to allow murder to go unpunished. The murderer may not buy off the family of the victim, nor may an inadvertent killer buy off his obligation to be exiled to the city of refuge. Doing so, the Torah says, would cause the land to be in a state of “Chanifa”.

Rav Moshe Feinstein, in his commentary, Derash Moshe, wonders about this word, which means “Flattery”. How does attempting to buy off a charge of homicide flatter the land?

Rav Moshe answers, that in the Ancient Near East, every country had a clause for buying off a homicide charge. In some societies if a higher member would kill a lower member the murderer wouldn’t face the death penalty at all. The Torah warns us as we’re about to enter the Holy Land, that we must never quantify life in this way.

The reason for this has to do with a profound difference between the Torah, and ancient societies, about why homicide is forbidden in the first place. Every nation looked down upon murder, because it disrupts the social fabric of society, and it also diminishes the amount of those who serve their gods who maintain their success.

Those who consider murder wrong and unlawful for these reasons will turn to justify the taking of life if doing so contributes to the world order they mean to maintain. Killing people who are deemed unworthy will not be considered sinful, but an expedient element of what that land needs.

Nazi ideology turned on the Jews for a reason that is clearly mapped out in the cursed writings of the son of Amalek, called Mein Kempf. The book was written to explain its cursed author’s struggle with presenting his arguments in creating a master race in a master land.

The first thing to be done would be to rid the perfect land of all the undesirables, and those who take more from society than they contribute.

This would require a special battle against those who inflicted upon the world, according to the words of the author, a conscience. He knew that those burdened by a conscience would never go along with his plan, so every single person who might stand up against creating such a master society would have to be eliminated.

The Torah warns us at the end of Sefer B’midbar that putting amounts on human life is a slippery slope whose end is disastrous for humanity. Since we are all created in the image of God, we can understand the Mishna that likens saving a life, or God- forbid, taking a life, is tantamount to doing so to the entire world.

Our land is indeed holy, and we are bidden to create a holy society in its borders, but it would be an immoral perversion of that land to buy a murderer from moral justice. It would in the hands of evil ideology, “flatter” the land to do so. The end of Sefer Vayikra says that our land would regurgitate such evil, and it did twice. Human life is infinitely more valuable than land, and this is Rav Moshe Feinstein’s message.

Tomorrow would be the birthday of a dear friend of Ohab Zedek for many years. Her name was Rivka Goli and she was a Jew by choice. She fiercely loved her people and defended them in a way unique to her. She was born in Ivory Coast and worked for the UN. She was often sent around the world on peace-keeping missions, and found very common anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment. When she protested and was asked why she cared to defend the Jews, she would open her eyes wide and say “Because I am Jewish and I love the Jews”.

As the nine days approach let us commit to Ahavas Yisrael, and to fortifying the dignity of humanity as Rivka strove to do. May her memory be a blessing.

Stay well and healthy.

We are visiting Carly and Ellie in Florida and we’ll be back I”YH on Sunday.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Allen Schwartz


Fri, June 21 2024 15 Sivan 5784