Beit Midrash

  • Sections
  • Parashat Hashavua
קטגוריה משנית
  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Ki Tetze
To dedicate this lesson
Our parasha is full of halachic topics. We will deal with one which seems to not be applicable in our times, but a significant part of themitzva is extremely relevant now as always.
If one is condemned for death by beit din, his corpse is to be hung, but thereafter he must be buried. The Torah warns about failure to do so with the words "and you shall not defile your Land that Hashem, your G-d, has given to you" (Devarim 21:22-23). This is referring to having the body hang for a short time (apparently as part of a process of atonement or warning to others). Even one who is convicted of the most severe crimes is due protection for his human dignity (in fact this is the source for the mitzva to bury the deceased, in general). The Torah teaches us that even such a person retains rights to respect that go along with being created in the image of Hashem.
The warning not to defile the Land arises only twice in the Torah. The other place is at the end of Sefer Bamidbar (Bamidbar 35:31-34). We are warned not to receive a bribe to spare a murderer of his punishment of death or even to switch his punishment to that of exile. The murderer’s remaining alive is a situation that spoils the Land. In some ways this counterweighs the commandment in our parasha. While one should not overdo the punishment to the murderer or other serious sinner and go as far as to disgrace him unnecessarily, we are also not to be overly forgiving. A murderer’s presence in society is a serious matter, and, of course, the murder itself certainly defiles the Land. Obviously, "lo tirtzach" is in the Ten Commandments, and it is one of the cardinal prohibitions for which one is to give his life rather than violate. Care in these matters is one of the foundation stones of the Torah of Israel. The Torah’s instructions go in both directions and form a balance of how to deal with the perpetration and the perpetrators of serious aveirot.
Another time when it is necessary to take a life is when the nation is involved in a just war. Here too, if one does not act forcefully when it is necessary, he is violating Torah law. On the other hand, this does not open the way to disgracing even unavoidable victims, and this too can potentially defile the Land. Specifically in these days, when the Middle East is full of groups of murderers who also grab corpses in order to use them for their purposes or defile them, we should remember that which we were commanded. While Hezbollah, ISIS, Hamas and others have no grasp of the idea of preserving human dignity, we should remember that we believe in it even in regard to our enemies. Baruch Hashem, the IDF is careful on these matters, even if there are cynical attempts to stain its and our reputation in these regards.

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