‘And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of a man’
The hassidic master Rabbi Yitzhak Eizek Yehuda Yechiel Safrin of Komarno (1806-1874) had a unique writing style that was densely infused with references to Kabbala. Among his many works, the Komarno rebbe wrote a monumental commentary to the Pentateuch, called Heichal Habracha (The Palace of Blessing). This commentary was based on the masora – the 10th-century annotations to the Bible that were part of the effort to canonize the biblical text.
Regarding the verse ‘And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of a man’ (Genesis 9:5), the masora points out that the phrase “every man’s brother” (“ish ahiv”) appears three times in the Bible; once with the additional letter “vav.” At first blush, this seems to be nothing more than a scribal annotation. It may be a note to remind the scribe that while we have here a noun with a definite article, the connecting word, “et,” does not appear in the text. Either way, this annotation does not appear to have interpretive value and it does not claim to enhance our understanding of the Bible.
The Komarno rebbe, however, suggested that the masoretic note had interpretative significance. He explained that the three occurrences of “ish ahiv” are intrinsically connected to one another. The first case – cited above – refers to the crime of murder. This is the lead case, and the Komarno rebbe opined that the other two instances followed this theme.
The second occurrence appears in the Book of Zechariah: “And do not oppress the widow, or the fatherless, the stranger, or the poor; and let none of you devise evil against his brother in your heart” (7:10). The Komarno rebbe explained that this refers to a person who thinks in his heart about evil ends for his fellow; constantly looking at his peer as one looks at a wicked person rather than judging the person for the good.
This person, says the Komarno rebbe, arouses harsh heavenly judgment against his fellow and he is “truly like a murderer.”
The third instance of the phrase “ish ahiv” appears in the Book of Joel: “And one does not push another; each person walks in his path: and they burst through the weapons; they are not wounded” (2:8). Focusing on the term “push” (“yidhakun”), the Komarno rebbe explained that this refers to someone who deprives his fellow of his livelihood, causing him hardship (dohak). The Komarno rebbe summarizes the three cases – the killer, the one who judges his friend harshly and the one who deprives another of his livelihood – with a severe assessment: “All such people are murderers.
And this is murder, and they are judged in heaven like a murderer. They will surely die and will never arise; not in this world or in the world to come.”
The Komarno rebbe then added a specific application of the third case by mentioning an arenda. “Arenda” is a Polish term that describes leasing fixed assets (such as land, inns, mills, breweries or distilleries), or particular rights (such as the collection of customs duties and taxes).
The arenda system was common in the Polish economy from the late Middle Ages. As the term entered Jewish parlance, both the economic right and the specific small-scale lessee came to be known as the “arenda,” depending on the context. According to the Komarno rebbe, if someone leased the arenda that belonged to another person and thus harmed his livelihood, that person would die an unnatural death. The Komarno rebbe concluded his explanation by adding that to “push” a fellow is not limited to matters of livelihood; someone who humiliates or degrades another person is, in fact, shoving him. The Komarno rebbe stopped short and left the implication of this statement to the reader: Even denigrating a peer is as heinous as murder.