SALT - Sunday, 28 Tishrei 5779 - October 7, 2019

  • Rav David Silverberg
            After Noach exited the ark following the flood, God spoke to him and presented several commands, including the prohibition against murder, warning, “One who spills his fellow’s blood…his blood shall be spilt” (9:6).  This verse is preceded by the pronouncement that God will make a reckoning for “dimkhem le-nafshoteikhem” (literally, “your blood for your souls” – 9:5).  Rashi, based on the Gemara (Bava Kama 91b), explains that this refers to suicide, and God here warns that He would punish somebody who spills his own blood.
            Rabbi Natan of Breslav, in Likutei Halakhot (Hilkhot Orla, 4:16), asserts that once the Torah equated suicide with ordinary murder, we may conclude that other offenses which are deemed equivalent to murder are forbidden to commit against oneself.  Specifically, Rabbi Natan writes, it is forbidden to humiliate oneself, just as it is forbidden to humiliate others.  Chazal (Bava Metzia 58b) famously state that publicly humiliating somebody is akin to murder, and Rabbi Natan thus concludes that just as one may not kill himself, it is likewise forbidden to put oneself to shame. 
            Practically speaking, Rabbi Natan writes, this means that we should – on some level – judge ourselves favorably just as we are to judge other people favorably.  Of course, we must honestly assess and scrutinize our conduct, take note of our faults and work towards correcting them.  However, we must distinguish between self-scrutiny and self-deprecation.  Rabbi Natan explains that we are not fully aware of the many different factors that contribute to our failings, the numerous challenges and pressures which we face that make it very difficult for us to act as we should.  While these considerations do not absolve us of accountability, they absolutely mitigate our level of guilt.  And thus while we must accept responsibility for our actions and acknowledge our guilt for our misdeeds, we must also encourage ourselves by recognizing the challenges we face which often make it difficult for us to act the right way.  Even during the process of self-scrutiny, we must temper, at least somewhat, our criticism of ourselves and retain our sense of self-respect and self-worth, so that we remain hopeful and optimistic about our capacity to change and improve, and ensure that our spirits and self-esteem remain high despite our mistakes and failures.