Double Take

(Torah Portion Ki Seitzai) Double Take

Recently, while reading a tribute to the life of Rabbi Hirsh Diskin o.b.m., a cute story caught my eye and made me chuckle.

Rabbi Diskin was a retired principal of a large Jewish religious girls’ school in Baltimore, and never passed up an opportunity to motivate others. Once, Rabbi Diskin was riding a bus in Jerusalem and began to converse with the person sitting next to him. Although he had no idea who his seatmate was, in the midst of the conversation he told him, “You look just like a certain famous Rabbi and people might confuse you with that Rabbi, therefore you carry a great responsibility and you must conduct yourself in a way that is above reproach.”

The seatmate then awkwardly told Rabbi Diskin that he was actually the son of the great Rabbi he was referring to!

After reading this story an idea came to mind:

In this week’s Parsha the Torah tells us that if a court of 23 judges found someone liable to be punished by death of stoning; for example, he blasphemed G-d; after he is stoned his corpse is momentarily hung (by his bound hands) on a wooden pole.

The Torah continues, “It is forbidden to allow his corpse to remain hanging on the pole overnight. You must bury it on the same day.” The Torah then explains: “Because it is a curse – a disgraceful reflection on the Almighty.”

Rashi explains: It is a degradation of the Almighty for this person to remain hanging in a disgraceful manner, for man is made in the likeliness of His image and the Jewish people are His sons.

Our Sages explain this disgrace to the Almighty with a parable: There were twin brothers – one who was crowned as a king and the other who became a bandit.

When the bandit was captured, he was hanged for his crime. When people saw the body hanging they exclaimed, “The king has been hanged.” “Hearing this, the king ordered the body buried immediately.”

So deep is our connection and association to the Almighty.

This law can lead to the following observation. If a corpse represents the Almighty, surely we who are talking individuals, alive, and free to make decisions, are extensions and representatives of the Almighty. We have the capacity to continually symbolize His sanctified mission. What we do or don’t do, or how we carry ourselves, reflects directly on the Almighty. This generates for us, tremendous responsibilities as well as vast opportunities.

At the conclusion of the morning service, we recite a beautiful prayer that expresses this idea: “Blessed is He our G-d, who created us for His glory separating us from those who stray, and giving us the Torah of truth, and implanting within us life eternal.”

A question is raised: Isn’t it a disgrace to G-d to have a corpse hung in the first place? Why does the Torah command us to do so?

Commentators explain that it was done to instill awe in the people, so that they take to heart that only humiliation and a negative ending will befall one who abuses the precious human gift of speech and attacks G-d through blasphemy.

After the punishment was meted out and atoned for his soul, the Torah tells us to bury him and not leave him in a disgraceful manner – unlike other nations who keep those who are hanged remaining for some time.

The pole he was hanged on is buried with him, for if the person is left hanging for a long time and the pole remains erect in the town square, the sin of the person and his misdeed will be continually remembered and recalled bringing further disgrace to G-d.

We have the awesome ability to bring sanctity, goodness and positive energy to ourselves, our acquaintances and to the world, by accepting the charge of being a reflection of the Almighty, sincerely, enthusiastically and devotedly!

Wishing you a restful, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks