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On the surface this is the most straight forward of the Seven Universal Laws. The murder of human beings is forbidden. Period.Shefichat Damim is the prohibition of murder. Its one of the Seven Universal Laws.
However as we look into this commandment a bit deeper we find that it is not quite as obvious as it seems at first glance. Like all seven of the laws it shares the foundation presented by Rabbi Hillel: That would you find repugnant to yourself do not do to another. You do not wish to be murdered, so do not murder another.
Note that the word here is murder, not kill. There is a difference that needs to be understood. To murder, ratsach (רָצַח), is specifically to take a human life. To kill, shachat ̣(שָׁחַט), is permissible under biblical law. One may "kill" an animal for food, clothing, etc. as long as one does not violate the rules of Ever Min HaChay (animal cruelty). One may also kill a human being under certain conditions, such as to defend an innocent person(s) or oneself, or to fight in a just war. One must never commit murder.
This is the prohibition of Shefichat Damim. As we've stated previously, every prohibition has a positive opposite. In the Talmud there is a relevant discussion on this one. According to the Genesis creation account, the animals were created in large groups while man, Adam, was created singularly. Why didn't HaShem create the human race the same way, why begin with a single man, and then add a single female? Today people often debate but this is how the Torah says it went down.
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The rabbis concluded from this that HaShem is teaching us that just as Adam was created as a unique individual, and yet he was the entire human race at that time, so too with each individual person. Each individual is imminently important to the whole. One person, any person, could make the deference between life and death, between freedom and slavery, between hope and despair. And when just one individual arises to unite with one other individual and so on the results can be truly amazing. The present and future of our little planet resides in the hands of each individual person living here. YOU my friend are the human race!
Therefore, when a person saves ones single life it is as if he/she had saved the life of the world entire. The commission of Shefichat Damim is therefore the gravest of sins. It robs the life not on only the murdered person, but of their family and potential family for untold generations to come. Ultimately it is as though the offender had murdered the entire human race, just as if she/had murdered Adam or Chava.
The Talmud, Sanhedrin 37a, states:
"For this reason was man created alone, to teach you that whoever destroys a single soul... Scripture imputes [guilt] to him as though he had destroyed a complete world; and whosoever preserves a singe soul ... Scripture ascribes [merit] to him as though he had preserved a complete world."
In our modern culture where babies are murdered in their mother's womb by the millions, where innocent people are gunned down and stabbed on the streets by religious terrorists in the name of their gods or by lawless thugs, where doctors, who too often consider themselves to be gods, routinely "pull the plug" on the sick and elderly, where our entertainment consists largely of watching creatively contrived methods of murder, is it any wonder that the value being placed on human life continues to be diminished?
And yet HaShem's admonition remains the same:This day, I call upon the heaven and the earth as witnesses [that I have warned] you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. You shall choose life, so that you and your offspring will live; To love the Lord your God, to listen to His voice, and to cleave to Him. For that is your life and the length of your days, to dwell on the land which the Lord swore to your forefathers to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob to give to them -- Devarim/Deuteronomy 30:19
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