This Mishnah in Pirkei Avot reverberates to all who value the sanctity of human life. This may appear to be a statement that needs little commentary. It is declarative, the message of which is clear and simple; but the prooftext bears some scrutiny. There are caveats that may bring offense to those who consider that being a human is merely a biological description.
The quotaion “…for in His image God made the human.” (Bereshith 9:6) is the second half of the verse which opens with “Whoever sheds the blood of man, By man shall his blood be shed.” The verse distinguishes between humans and the rest of creation. Monkeys are not created in the image, but humans are. If that’s the case why is the punishment for taking a human life fulfilled by killing the perpetrator? What happened to his Divine image? The intentional murder of another human, the verse teaches, and by extension, the Mishnah, causes that person to forfeit his place among the human family.
Challengers of this interpretation could claim that the reason the first part of the verse was omitted is significant, and the intention of Rabbi Akiva is a midrashic move that is meant to ignore the first half of the verse. Those familiar with how prooftexts are cited in the Talmud, know that the general presumption of citations is that they cover also parts of the verse that are not directly quoted. Here, that would seem to be the case because Rabbi Akiva could have quoted from the creation story which makes the unqualified declaration “for God created the human in His image, in the image of Him, He created him…” (Genesis 1:27) The use of this particular verse that justifies capital punishment for murder must be intentional.
A murderer loses his right to live, but more importantly, is the fact that this makes him “other”–objectively other. He is missing a fundamental element of what it means to be human.
Certainly, the cynical abuse of human life by the criminal Hamas regime would fall in this category, but the shameful declarations of “Death to the Arabs” by Jews meant only to terrorize the Arabs who live among us violates and degrades the Divine image. The consequences of ignoring this incitement are too great. I believe the struggle against this behavior is as important as the destruction of Gaza’s tunnels. In this struggle, we dare not become like our enemies, and we must remember who are our foes, and more importantly, who aren’t.
Being born human does not guarantee that he will remain so. To hate the enemy is a horrific accessory of war, and certainly, the nihilistic and cynical modus operandi of Hamas needs to be despised. Everyone needs to be aware that in the chaos of battle tragic accidents will inevitably occur and innocent life will be lost. I don’t know what goes through the heads of each and every soldier as they invade Gaza, but I do know that the racist and bigoted statements of incitement as evidenced by the hundreds of nasty comments on social networks have the sole purpose of defiling the Divine image. And it is irrefutable that some of these people must be soldiers.
It is unfair, and upsetting to have the world focus on the asymmetry of losses conveniently forgetting the asymmetry of values between Israel and the Islamo-fascists of Gaza. But in the end, we not only have to look at ourselves in the mirror, but we need to be proud of what we see. It cannot be considered cool to normalize defamatory statements against those with who will still be our neighbors. There is so much nobility that I’ve witnessed during these trying times, let us not tarnish our “image” by such subhuman ugliness.