Thou Shalt Not Murder
Is this injunction limited to the actual act of terminating a human life? or is this commandment a heading for a general concept?
The nation to whom this commandment was addressed understands that both are true. There is one specific action that is directly addressed in this commandment, and there is also an additional layer of meaning that lies beneath the surface. And we do not need to wander far to find this additional meaning.
The commandments are a reflection of the conscience that we as human beings are blessed with and by using this understanding we can easily see a much broader application to this commandment, an application that goes far beyond restraining ourselves from murder.
If murder is terrible, then wouldn’t it follow that saving a life is wonderful? And why stop at “saving” a life which is threatened with death? Supporting life, cultivating life, helping life flourish, develop and grow are all actions that stand in opposition to murder. And cultivating life includes education, emotional support, financial help and so much more.
Violating this commandment most directly would involve a brutal act of murder. But shouldn’t carelessness that might lead to other people’s death, not be an extension of this commandment? Murder would mean snuffing out the complete continuation of someone’s life, but limiting someone’s life is also a branch of this commandment. There are so many ways of harming people that fall short of actual murder but point in the same direction of destroying other people.
There is physical harm which would involve wounding the other person. There is the example of limiting a person’s freedom by locking them up. There is harming other people by affecting their livelihood or by ruining their social standing. And then there is emotional harm. There are so many things we can do, or words we can say that hurt other people.
But let me go back to the act of murder itself. This act is not limited to the person that actually pulled the trigger or the one that swung the knife. What kind of respect for human life was this murderer exposed to? What kind of respect for law and order did this murderer see in the hearts of his fellow citizens?
Distancing ourselves from murder means cultivating and developing a respect for the nobility of man and sharing that respect with the way we speak, the way we act and the way we live our lives. Distancing ourselves from murder involves building a respect toward the concept of justice and toward those who try to maintain law and order in our society.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much to learn and there is so much that we can yet grow.
The commandment: “Thou Shalt Not Murder” is not just an arrow pointing to one particular action. It is an arrow that should guide us throughout our journey of life; an arrow that points away from cruelty and evil and towards goodness and love.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal