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"Lo Tirtzach!"

02/12/2020 02:11:54 PM


Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

This week's parashah, Parashat Yitro, contains the first of two versions of the Ten Commandments that are found in the Torah.   For many Jews, they believe that the observance of the Ten Commandments is their totality of living a Jewish life.  But does anyone really fully observe all of the Ten Commandments?  I am sure that all of us, at one time or another in our lives, have violated keeping Shabbat properly.  And it might seem near impossible to honor our parents 100% of the time.  In the society in which we live, we are urged to covet by virtue of the constant harangue thrown at us by the advertising media.  "But, Rabbi," you say, "there is one commandment that I have never violated, and that is the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill!'"  I would tell you that the commandment in Hebrew reads "Lo Tirtzach!" and that it's literal meaning is "Do not murder!"  "All right, Rabbi" you protest, "but I still haven't murdered anyone!"  I would guide you to what our Tradition  says about this commandment before making such a claim.

  The great French Jewish commentator Chizkuni wrote this about "Lo Tirtzach!": "Hein be-yad, hein be-lashon, hein be-shtikah."  The prohibition against murder can be violated by physically killing someone, by using words against someone, and by our silence toward someone.  Simply put, we are held accountable by our Tradition if we cause someone's death through our words and/or our silence.  Over a decade ago there was a case known as "MySpace Suicide Hoax."  Perhaps you remember it.  A 13-year-old girl in Missouri committed suicide after she was emotionally manipulated by her adult neighbors.  As a "prank," the adults and kids in her neighborhood set up a fake boyfriend on social media for this girl.  They insulted her with words and played with her emotions.  Some knew about what was going on but chose to remain silent.  Others were actively involved and participated in badgering the self-esteem of this poor girl to the point that she eventually hanged herself.  As Chizkuni pointed out, those who were either actively or passively involved in this episode violated the commandment "Lo Tirtzach!"  Both hose who joined in in the act of insulting this girl on-line as well as those who stood aside and knew this was happening are morally --- if not legally --- held accountable and responsible for her murder by Halakhah (Jewish Law).

There is no doubt that the power of our words is overwhelming.  How do we know this?  We read the following in this week's parashah: "And G-d spoke all of these words, saying...."(Shemot 20:1)  Please note that our Torah tells us that G-d did not speak these commandments --- He spoke these words.  What we call the Ten  Commandments are known in Hebrew as Aseret Ha-Devarim (the Ten Utterances).  These words given by HaShem to B'nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) are the most powerful words ever given to any people on this earth.  They have both the power to make holy and the power to destroy.  We must remember that the words we speak or do not speak are just as powerful.   We must always strive to use our power of speaking or not speaking words to others wisely, for it is only then that we may claim to observing the commandment "Lo Tirtzach!"  

Fri, July 3 2020 11 Tammuz 5780