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August 31, 2015 / 16 Elul, 5775
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Jewish Blood Is Not Cheap

Although the Torah often points out the infinite value of every human life, this week’s parshah gives a clear message about the value of Jewish life. We are told that no one will be permitted to murder Jews with impunity.

In the Shirat Hayam (Song at the Sea), Moses and the Jewish people use three expressions to describe the downfall of the Egyptians. The Egyptians drowning in the sea are described as “they descended in the depths like stone” (Exodus 15:5). In a second expression, Moses describes the defeat of the Egyptians in the following manner: “You sent forth Your wrath it consumes them like straw” (Exodus 15:7). There is one other image used to portray the drowning: The Jews sing out that “they sank as lead in the mighty waters” (Exodus 15:10).

One could claim these phrases seem contradictory. Did the Egyptians sink like stone, like straw or like lead? Which was it?

Rashi notes that these variant similes are descriptive of different Egyptians who were punished in accordance with what they deserved. The most wicked were tossed around like weightless straw – they were allowed to brutally suffer. The best of the group drowned like lead, which of course sinks immediately, so they suffered the least. Those who did not fall into any clear category sank like stones.

What emerges from Rashi is the precision of punishment; moreover, the clear statement that those who were guilty of oppressing and murdering Jews would receive their due.

In 1956 Rabbi Yosef B. Soloveitchik wrote that with the establishment of the State of Israel, “God…suddenly manifested Himself.” One such manifestation was that “Jewish blood is not free for taking, is not hefker” (Kol Dodi Dofek).

With the establishment of the state, Rav Soloveitchik declared, one could sense God’s presence in that Jews would be protected. No one would be able to spill blood in Israel without a strong response. The Jewish community in Israel was sending a message to Jews in the exile who felt more vulnerable: “Don’t be afraid.”

Even as we seek peace, Jewish life is precious. One can only hope that Israel will find peace while keeping true to the principle of “Jewish blood is not cheap.”

About the Author: Rabbi Avi Weiss is founding president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. His memoir of the Soviet Jewry movement, “Open Up the Iron Door,” was recently published by Toby Press.


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5 Responses to “Jewish Blood Is Not Cheap”

  1. Hayim Curiel says:

    yes theJjewish blood is not cheap so we pray for Israel will find peace and keeping and by gloey of the lord God ofIsrael

  2. Ronny Mol says:

    Why didn't you talk about the fact that there are NO palestinians. Before TV, where is the history of the palestinians. There is NONE. No palestinian kings, no ancient cities, zero. This is the BIG lie of the generation. Who are you supposed to have peace with? As a Rabbi, you should be the first one to speak out about this BIG lie.

  3. Cody Flecker says:

    What planet do you live on Rabbi Weiss? Israel is releasing numerous murderers in an attempt to appease a people that are set to destroy you and you state that Jewish blood is not cheap? If you were not a Rabbi I would call you an*******

  4. He's a Rabbi, people. He's not in charge of Israeli defenses or as a fact-checker for every untruth out there. He's simply stating that Jewish blood is not cheap and there will be retribution. You guys seriously expect a Rabbi to balance the scales for us? You want him to come out calling for war against all who've drawn Jewish blood? Even if he did that and Israel defeated all enemies, it would only cover a few drops of the billions upon billions that have fallen. If you expect redemption to happen solely through fiery words and bloodied swords, you should spend more time listening to a Rabbi and less time criticizing one.

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