Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Image of God

In our Parasha, Ki Tetze - we read:

"If a man is guilty of a capital offence and is put to death, and you hang him, you must not let his corpse hang overnight. You must certainly bury him the same day. For a hanging body is an affront to God; you shall not defile the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess." (Devarim 21:22-3)

In this rather strange situation, we hear the instruction that a corpse not be left haniging overnight, but should be buried[1]. The suggested reason is: "For a hanging body is an affront to God"

Why is it an "affront to God?" Rashi's explanation is quite radical:

"For an insult to God is a hanging person" - this is an insult to the king, for man was created in the mold of his image and Israel are his children. This may be compared to two brothers who resembled each other, one became king, and the other was apprehended in robbery and hung; all who see him say 'The king is hanging.'

There are times when Rashi takes an unusual approach. On the page of the Mikraot Gedolot, no commentator[2] accepts Rashi's reading. I have studied this Rashi ever since I was a child and the corporeal imagery her is startling. After all, when Rashi suggests that God and man are "twins" as we are created in God's image, is he saying that we "look like" God? That there is an external connection?

Another comment from Rashi seems to swing in this direction. In the creation of man "in God' image" – see Bereshit 1:27, Rashi comments:

"In our image: In the mold that we were formed in."

Rashi quotes the phrase "Israel are his children," which reminds us of the passuk that we read in Parashat Re'eh:

"You are children to Hashem your God. Do not gash yourselves nor shave the front of your heads because of the dead, because you are a holy people to Hashem your God…"(14:1)

Once again, is there something PHYSICAL here?

Obviously my Maimonidean, philosophical brain instructs me that "He has no form of a body, and no matter at all –אין לו דמות הגוף ואין לו גוף" and yet Rashi's notion that someone sees a human corpse and suddenly confuses it with God is amazing. Are we so obviously Godly?

I will end this with a great excerpt from Rav Immanuael Jakobovitz z"l, the Chief Rabbi of England, who I so respected and admired. In 1982 in York, England, an ancient cemetery was cleared in order to make way for the construction of a new supermarket. It was widely believed that the cemetery was a Jewish one, dating back to the 13th Century, before Jews were massacred in York and expelled from England. The skeletal material, the bones, were transferred to the University of York for scientific examination.

When this had been proceeding for some time, the nature of the research was reported to the press and Rav Jakobovitz protested the scientific research. His pronouncement became a classic statement regarding the conflict of science with the reverence for the dead:

"Whatever the scientific and historical loss, I hope that you and the general public will appreciate our paramount concern for the reverence due to the mortal remains which once bore the incomparable hallmark of the Divine image, and which, we believe, have an inalienable right to rest undisturbed. We are convinced that the dignity shown to humans even centuries after their death can contribute more than any scientific enquiry to the advancement of human civilization and the enhancement of the respect in which humans hold each other."


[1] There is some debate as to the Halakhic scope of this parsha (Who is hung – R. Eliezer argues with the Chachamim in Sanhedrin 45b. See the debate between Rashi and Ramban here,) but the Gemara, and afterwards, the Chinuch and the Rambam agree that this is the source of the Mitzva of burying the dead. This is rather a prominent Mitzva.

[2] The Ramban says that Rashi misunderstood the idea here and that it must be understood in a Kabbalistic sense!

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