In the Image of Hashem

His body shall not remain all night on the tree; instead you should bury him on that day; for he who is hanged is accursed by G-d. (Devarim 21:23)

Torah law prescribes death at the hands of the court for serious transgressions. One of the four different methods employed in order to carry out the death sentence is stoning. Following stoning, the dead man’s body must be hung publicly for all to see and take a lesson. However, the court must take down the body on the very same day and bury it. The verse says the reason this must be done is “ki killas Elokim taluy” that the “hanged is accursed… .”

Rashi expounds on the phrase and explains that it is a degradation of the King that a man made in His image should be displayed as a brazen wrongdoer — and the Jewish people are his children. Rashi clarifies his intent with a parable concerning twin brothers, one of whom grew up to be king and the other who became a thief. The thief was convicted of a capital crime and executed by hanging. All passersby erroneously exclaimed, “The King has been hung!” The imagery is clear. When a human being is hung on a tree it is as if the image of Our Creator is shamefully on display. The concept is frightening! When dealing with a perpetrator who brazenly, intentionally ignored witnesses’ warnings and committed a crime, the Torah says we must still be concerned about the respect paid to his image — because as bad as his behavior was, he is still created in the image of Hashem.

The parashah of Ki Tetze is always read in the middle of the month of Elul — the time of year when our hearts and minds should be focused on the processes of self-evaluation and repentance. The evil inclination is highly sensitive to our true desire to repent and return to Hashem’s Torah. In response, the yetzer hara intensifies his efforts to block our efforts and insure that we fail in our preparations for the Judgment Day of Rosh Hashanah.

One of his wiles is to make one doubt his or her worth. He reminds us of the many transgressions we have committed and asks, “Do you think it’s really possible for someone who has committed so many sins to actually succeed in practicing repentance? You can hardly be characterized as an observant Jew!” The response should be, “If the Torah protects the honor of a convicted criminal — who is confirmed to be a rasha (wicked one) — merely because he still has some semblance of the image of G-d — I — who admittedly made many mistakes, yet clearly cannot be termed a ‘wicked one,’ and whose status is still pending in the eyes of Heaven — certainly demonstrate enough of my inborn similarity to Hashem’s image to be judged with kindness and mercy should I make a sincere effort to repent!”

Three times a day we include a blessing in the Shemoneh Esrei that concentrates on repentance. We refer to Hashem as “the One who desires teshuvah.” We also describe His reaction to our repentance as “freely and greatly forgiving.” We can’t let ourselves be fooled by the wily evil inclination that due to our past there is no hope for our future. Instead, we should be confident that our sincere repentance will surely be accepted by a forgiving King — Hashem. May we all be judged for good life on this Rosh Hashanah. Amen.