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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Ki Tetze

Honor of the Honorable

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After hanging those executed by beit din, the Torah requires that the executed be promptly removed and buried (Devarim 21:22-23). The Torah explains: "... for the curse of Hashem is being hung, and you shall not defile the Land..." These p’sukim are a source of the obligation to respect our fellow human as one created in Hashem’s image. As Rashi explains: "It is a disgrace for the King, for man is made in His image, and Israel are His children. There is a parable of two identical twin brothers. One became king, and one was arrested for robbery and hung. Whoever sees the hung brother thinks the king is being hung."
The Rashbam understands the matter differently. It is the judges (called here and elsewhere "elohim") who are being protected, as the deceased’s relatives may curse them for their judgment. He does not see it as having to do with a connection between man and Hashem. The Ibn Ezra says that "the curse of Hashem" refers to the reason that the person was hung, which is either because he cursed Hashem or committed idolatry. Leaving him there too long for people to talk is also an affront to Hashem.
The Ramban relates the matter to human dignity, even of the rightfully executed. However, he stresses that having the hung taken down applies only in Eretz Yisrael. The Holy Land should not be defiled by this unsightly matter, "for it is the place where He commanded the blessing, life forever."
At the end of Shmuel, an event that seems to violate human dignity in the Land appears. Hashem commanded David to hand over to the Givonites seven of Shaul’s descendants to avenge the atrocity against them in which Shaul was involved. After their execution, Shaul’s family was left hanging for months. The Ramban says that, in fact, the Givonites had acted against the practice of a Jewish court. The Ramban says that Hashem didn’t forgive Shaul’s family right away and gave the sign of forgiveness only after time. This was done to teach the importance of the honor of the convert (the Givonites), which is a very prominent in our hierarchy of values.
Let us return to Rashi’s approach, regarding the connection between honor of mankind and of Hashem. The famous Holocaust writer, Elie Weisel, tells a haunting story. After a beastly Nazi hanging ceremony in Auschwitz, one Jew asked another: "Where is G-d?" His friend responded: "He is here, hanging." This answer contains an awesome lesson. Whoever treats people the way the Nazis did, not only loses his human dignity and removes himself from the family of mankind, but also tries to hurt Hashem and, Heaven forbid, remove Him from the world.
Specifically in these times, let us internalize the Torah’s lesson that we can help the Divine Presence dwell among us by safeguarding the honor of the Creator, of judges, of mankind, of the Land, and of the convert.
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