Words Said in Memory of Yitzhak Rabin, by Rabbi Shmuel Reiner






Rabbi Shmuel Reiner, Rosh Yeshivat HaKibbutz HaDati Maaleh Gilboa, and Rabbi of Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi

We have a tradition to remember the soul of one who has died by studying a Mishnah. This is because we, the living, wish to attribute significance also to death, and to learn something from it. Death does not have to be a total cessation; rather we, those who continue to live, must take a lesson and thus give it meaning. It seems to me that there would be no more appropriate Mishnah to study together on this, the 30th day following the murder of our Prime Minister, than the following (Sanhedrin 4,5):

“…Know, that capital law is unlike civil law. In civil law, a man pays his debt, and he is forgiven; whereas in a capital case, the blood of the one he murdered, and the blood of all of his [would-have-been] descendants, are dependent [upon the testimony of the witnesses] until the end of the world. For this is what we have learned concerning Cain, the murderer of his brother, to whom G-d said, “The voice of the bloods of your brother are crying out to me from the earth” (Genesis 4,10); “blood” is not written, but rather “bloods,” referring to the blood of Abel and of his [would-have-been] descendants. Another explanation is that Abel’s blood was scattered over the sticks and stones. For this reason, man was created alone, to teach you that whoever sheds the blood of another is considered by the Torah as if he had destroyed an entire world; and whoever preserves the life of another is as if he had preserved the entire world.”

The Mishnah teaches us that there is no way to estimate the value of a human life, and that a murderer has not only killed one specific person, but has caused the destruction of an entire world. Only a person who has lost his “image of G-d” would be able to destroy another “image of G-d.”

A murderer is not a religious person, even if he prays, dons tefillin, and strictly observes the commandments. Even if he has all of the external signs usually attributed by society to a religious person, he is not truly religious, for in the deep and true sense, a religious person is one who sees a human life as a reflection of the divine in him; he is one who feels that it would be better to be killed than to kill. A murderer and a religious person have nothing in common except for shituf hashem bilvad!?

The Mishnah goes on to say:

“Why was man created alone?… For the sake of peace among men, so that no one may say to another, my father is greater than yours; and so that the heretics may not say, there are many divinities; and to teach the greatness of the Holy One, Blessed be He – for when a man stamps a coin, all of the coins are identical; but the King of Kings created every man in the image of Adam, and yet not one of them is similar to another. For this reason, everyone must say, the world was created for me.”

This leads us to the basis of the concept of tolerance, that no man may say that his father is greater. In a world where mankind occupies a central and pivotal position, it is important to remind ourselves that every man occupies a central position, and the opinion of one is worth no more than the opinion of another.

We have been guilty of two sins: – Not having emphasized the value of life as one that stands above any other issue on our public agenda. – Not having set an ethical order of priorities; instead, for the sake of “peace at home” amongst ourselves, we settled for vagueness and lack of decision. The motto was, “The Land of Israel, the Torah of Israel, and the Nation of Israel” – three equal values, each of which is worthy of leading the list. In this way we have formed a society of values without assigning them an order of priorities; instead, they are all the most important. The Sages determined a clear hierarchy of importance when they ruled that human life remains above all else (except for murder, idol worship, and illicit sexual relations). A society based on values that does not accept an order of priorities, a society that does not adopt the Sages’ principle that a positive commandment takes preference over a negative commandment, and that not every Torah command requires one to be killed rather than to violate it, is surprisingly similar to a society without any values at all.

Only superficiality and shallowness will allow one to demand “everything here and now,” and prevent him from building a world of values. Only superficiality and shallowness do not allow one to sense the iron walls that stand between existence and reality, on the one hand, and hope and long-term vision, on the other. When these walls break down, chaos reigns.

A large and important portion of the religious public has lived for years amidst this chaos; its philosophy is muddled, and it does not know whether to favor adam (man) or adamah (earth), for they both stem from the same source. This chaos is the ground upon which sprouts the concept that “the Land” is more important than the man who lives upon it. In this way, the land turns from a means into an end.

This obtuseness has become an accepted school of thought. Its adherents did not want to work out the conflict between halakhah and democracy; consequently, statements were made, ostensibly in the name of the halakhah, that endorsed the simple halakhah, even in cases where it itself recognizes the value of democracy or other independent values.

We, as a Torah community, who learn Torah and are committed to it, know and recognize the power of the written and spoken word. In our circles, not only can actions build up or destroy, but words, too, are imbued with the creative force. Via the spoken word we open our hearts in prayer before the Creator, with the word we vow to improve, and using words we study Torah. And the opposite can also be true. We can use spoken words to spill blood, by embarrassing another or speaking ill of him. Words have weight and power, firstly for the speaker, and secondly for the one who hears. And when one word is added – “Law!” – then the word becomes a call.

Words of Torah, with which we so strongly identify, have become words that comprise a threat – a threat to the future of the society in Israel. We must restore trust to the words of Torah. The statements that have been heard, supposedly in the name of the Torah, bring about an alienation from Torah, and diminish the status of man. The voice that is heard is not humane, not understood. We must sound the true voice of Torah, the voice that raises up the station of man. We must sound the voice of “one who pursues love” instead of “one who pursues;” in place of “informers,” we must “inform of ethics and life.”

What must we do? What can we contribute during this difficult period?

Many of the things that we said in the course of the events of the past years – when the Jewish underground was uncovered, after the Hevron murders, etc. – are becoming more and more clear to the public at large; the truth is beginning to be recognized. It appears that that which we said about this process when it began is coming true.

It is very easy to forfeit this achievement, via sweeping generalizations that push the other side into a corner and condemn all that is precious to them. We must not have even the slightest glimmer of happiness at their failing, as in “we told you so” and the like. Our way of peace must also be towards those of the religious public who differ with us on questions of policy here and now.

For the sake of peace, and the State, and the preservation of life, we are willing to concede portions of our Land. For peace amongst ourselves, we can also allow ourselves to relinquish the measure of “Let justice take its course, whatever the consequences;” we must not attempt to impose the letter of the law.

It is specifically now that we must let our opinions be heard, and proclaim our basic principles, that they may stand as an alternative to pseudo-halakhic rulings. We must establish the commitment to democracy as a halakhic commitment, even as a meta-halakhic one. For this is the only way in which the nation can exist today; this is “preservation of life” in the full sense of the term. We must labor on behalf of our principles, and not hound those who differ with us.

This terrible murder shocked the entire country, and people who were very distanced from our way of thinking now understand that the Nation of Israel can be threatened by an exclusive loyalty to the Land of Israel. We must under no circumstances lose this “hour of grace.” We must concentrate our efforts to ensure that the Torah of Israel is relevant to every single Jew.

I would like to conclude by quoting a passage from the work “Eliyahu Rabbah,” which for me is a prayer of hope:

“‘You shalt love the L-rd your G-d.’ This means that you shall cause the Name of Heaven to be loved by people. One must be conscious of how he deals in business, and walks in the street, and deals with people. If he studies Torah, people will say, “This is a fine man, for he has studied Torah. Woe unto me that my father did not teach me Torah! This man studied Torah, and look how pleasant are his ways! Let us now ourselves study Torah, and teach our children Torah.” And thus this man sanctifies the Name of Heaven.

“But if he does not carefully carry himself in the street, or deal pleasantly with his fellow men, and he studies Torah, people will say, “For what did he study Torah? How lucky am I that my father did not teach me Torah! This man studied Torah, and look how evil are his ways! Let us not learn Torah, nor teach our children Torah!” And thus this man desecrates the Name of Heaven.

“The Torah was given so that we may sanctify His great Name, as is written, “You are my servant, Israel, by whom I will be glorified” (Jes. 49,3).

“Therefore it was said: One must distance himself from robbery, whether from a Jew or non-Jew, or from anyone in the marketplace. One who steals from a non-Jew, will, in the end, steal from a Jew; one who robbed a non-Jew, will, in the end, rob a Jew; one who swore falsely to a non-Jew, will, in the end, swear falsely to a Jew; one who killed a non-Jew, will, in the end, kill a Jew; and the Torah was not given for this, but rather only to sanctify His great Name.”