By Rabbi Menachem M. Blum, Ottawa Torah Centre Chabad
I write these lines as violent protests rage across the United States as a reaction to George Floyd’s death. What should our reaction be? How should we look at this particular situation? As Jews, we were always taught to turn to the Torah, God’s instruction, for guidance and enlightenment.
Let’s travel back in time to our ancestor Noah, who rebuilt humanity after the flood. When Noah comes out of the Ark after the flood, he is commanded by God to observe what is known as The Seven Noahide Laws. These are commandments that the descendants of Noah, all of humanity, have to abide by, to ensure that the world is a civilized place where we can all live in harmony.
The first two deal with respect for God, belief in one God and the prohibition to curse God. Next comes the prohibition of murder. Driven by the recognition that every human life is invaluable and that every human being is created in the image of God, this commandment enjoins us to respect every human being regardless of race and colour. Following, is the importance of respecting other people's property. Not to steal, not to destroy or damage what belongs to someone else. The next few include bringing sanctity into our sexual relationships, respecting all of God’s creatures including animals, and finally, the obligation to establish a justice system to ensure that law and order is maintained.
Looking at The Seven Noahide Laws we can find the guidance for our current situation. Firstly, every human has infinite value and consequently the murder of George Floyd is a tremendous tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends. Having been created in the image of God, every human life is the reflection of God’s presence in this world. Accordingly, every human life that is taken from us means that there is less Godly presence in the world. Since all of humanity are descendants of Noah, we need to adopt this outlook and treat every single human being with dignity and respect. Human life has to be cherished for it is created in the image of God and has inherent sanctity.
Together with that, we also come to the realization that as tragic as the loss of life is, our response has to be expressed in a respectful manner. The prohibition to destroy or steal somebody else’s property reminds us that destructive behaviour and looting is not the way we ought to express our outrage. The commandment to establish a justice system reminds us that the police force plays an important role in maintaining law and order. It goes without saying that they, too, have to recognize the sanctity of human life and respect it as such.
Finally, the first two Noahide laws have to do with believing in God. That is because when our morals and values are left to be determined by our finite minds and our subjective judgement, we can justify any behaviour and reaction. The foundation of The Seven Noahide Laws is that these instructions were given to us by God who created the world and they are therefore absolute and apply to all times and places for all people. Just like any machine, a computer comes with a manual written by its creator as to how to use it to the fullest, the Creator of the world also issued His universal manual for the world in the form of The Seven Noahide Laws. Publicizing these teachings is more important now than ever to calm the raging storm and infuse the world with peace and harmony.