Mishna, Sanhedrin 4:5 - Part 2

 

משנה, סנהדרין ד:ה

Original Text:

לפיכך נברא אדם יחידי ללמדך שכל המאבד נפש אחת [מישראל] מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו איבד עולם מלא וכל המקיים נפש אחת מישראל מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו קיים עולם מלא ומפני שלום הבריות שלא יאמר אדם לחבירו אבא גדול מאביך ושלא יהו מינין אומרים הרבה רשויות בשמים ולהגיד גדולתו של הקדוש ברוך הוא שאדם טובע כמה מטבעות בחותם אחד וכולן דומין זה לזה ומלך מלכי המלכים הקדוש ברוך הוא טבע כל אדם בחותמו של אדם הראשון ואין אחד מהן דומה לחבירו לפיכך כל אחד ואחד חייב לומר בשבילי נברא העולם ושמא תאמרו מה לנו ולצרה הזאת והלא כבר נאמר (ויקרא ה) והוא עד או ראה או ידע אם לא יגיד וגומר ושמא תאמרו מה לנו לחוב בדמו של זה והלא כבר נאמר (משלי יא) באבוד רשעים רנה:

Translation:

Therefore, humans were created singly, to teach you that whoever destroys a single soul [of Israel], Scripture accounts it as if he had destroyed a full world; and whoever saves one soul of Israel, Scripture accounts it as if she had saved a full world. And for the sake of peace among people, that one should not say to his or her fellow, "My parent is greater than yours;" and that heretics should not say, "There are many powers in Heaven." Again, to declare the greatness of the Holy One, blessed be God, for one stamps out many coins with one die, and they are all alike, but the King, the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be God, stamped each person with the seal of Adam, and not one of them is like his or her fellow. Therefore each and every one is obliged to say, "For my sake the world was created." And lest you say, "What do we need with this trouble?" Has it not already been said, "He being a witness, whether he has seen or known, if he does not utter it..." (Leviticus 5:1). And should you say, "What need is there for us to be responsible for the blood of this one?" Surely it is said, "And when the wicked perish, there is joy" (Proverbs 11:10). [Moreshet translation. Edited for gender neutrality]

(This text has parallels in Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:22, Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 37a, Psikta Zutra Bereshit 1)

Suggested Discussion Questions:

1. What lessons can we learn from the fact that people were created individually?
2. What is the value in each of us reminding ourselves that for our sake the world was created? How does this realization affect the way we interact with the world?
3. How do we reconcile the first half of the text that reminds us of the sanctity of human life, with the second half that encourages us to punish the wicked appropriately in order to derive joy?

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Related Sourcesheets:The Imperative to Act, Yom Kippur 5770, Jewish Perspectives on HIV/AIDS, Pikuach Nefesh: Saving a Life- Discussion Questions, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights with Jewish Source, Rabbis for Human Rights (http://tiny.cc/mCJW4), Jewish Core Principles of Human Rights, The Ethical Dilemma of Legalizing Marijuana

Comments on this Text

Giving blood can save a world. When was the last time you rolled up your sleeve?

How does the fact that many scholars believe the phrase "of Israel" is a later addition impact our understanding of the text?

What are the rabbis of the Mishna learning from the Biblical story of
Adam? Why do you think they are focused on the character of Adam?

What do you understand from the image of “the mold”?

What do you think the rabbis are trying to say about the value of the
individual?

This excerpt contains one of the strongest statements in Jewish literature
about the infinite value of a human being. Every person is a microcosm of
the whole world. If a person dies, it is as if a whole world has ended.

The rabbis chose to learn this value from the character of Adam because
he is the symbol of humankind (being the first human being, not the first
Jew). When Adam was created he was, of course, completely unique, and
the rabbis are claiming that every subsequent person is equally as unique
and valuable as the first.

The image of the mold is a very powerful metaphor. One might imagine
the “stamping” of human beings. But, of course, the text is claiming that
God is much more powerful than human beings. People create coins from
a single mold, and all the coins are the same. God manages to create
people that are all the same, and who share all the basic elements of
humanity, but who are also each unique. There is an equality of all humanity,
and there is also a uniqueness. Each individual is valuable because he
or she is the same as all others, and no one person is inherently more
important than another. Each individual is also valuable because he or
she is completely distinct from everyone else and so when one dies, that
person’s distinct nature is lost.

The idea that a single human life is equivalent to a world is powerful.
But how useful is it? Are there instances when would you not want to
apply this principle? How might we act differently if we took this idea
seriously?

This text points to both the similarities as well as the differences
between people. In your experience, when has being with people
with similar backgrounds to yourself been a strength? A weakness?

How might the idea that "the world was created for my sake" affect our behaviour?

What are the limits of protecting k'vod habriot, human dignity?

What can we learn about the use of torture from the idea that humiliating someone is like killing them?