And what does G-d demand of you except to do kindness

and justice and to walk modestly with your G-d.

Micah (6:8)


R. H. Tawney stated that “The essence of all morality is this: to believe that every human being is of infinite importance, and therefore that no consideration of expediency can justify the oppression of one by another. But to believe this, it is necessary to believe in G-d.” [1]

Tawney is right, but he doesn’t explain why. He misses the key phrase, “The sanctity of human life.” For we can only consider the worth of man to be infinite if he was created in the image of an Infinite G-d (tzelem Elokim). [2] It is only when we contemplate the spiritual grandeur of man

that we can begin to appreciate his worth.

G-d “blew” the spirit of life into man. [3] In the words of the Kabbalists, “He who blew, blew from within Himself.” And so, man’s essence is holy and sacred. We don’t have to do anything to deserve our lives. G-d has already made our lives intrinsically worthwhile. Incredibly, we break the Shabbat to save a life even if we are certain the person will only live a few seconds longer. [4] We do not measure how much life makes it worth it. Every second of life is of infinite worth. Life itself is holy.

From this idea emerged universal human rights — that every human has certain rights just by virtue of being human. All democratic countries adhere to this idea today, as if it is something that should be obvious to all. (And, in fact, the idea of democracy itself is dependent on this assumption.) But, for thousands of years the Jews stood alone on this, proclaiming their truth until the rest of the world was ready to hear it. [5] For they were dealing in a strange currency — the currency of holiness.

Continue reading Inner vs. Outer Directedness.


[1] See Michael Perry, The Idea of Human Rights.

[2] Genesis 1:27. 

[3] Ibid., 2:7.

[4] Talmud, Tractate Yoma, 84b; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 329:4.

[5] The Universal Declaration of Human Rights dates back only to the UN General Assembly on

December 10, 1948. 

Read the previous essay, The Unity Theme of the Universe

Purchase a copy of The Human Challenge.

Olami Resources is happy to present a series of free installments featuring Rabbi Avraham Edelstein’s important new book, The Human Challenge. This week’s essay is from Section Two – Holiness

Rabbi Avraham Edelstein serves as the Education Director of Neve Yerushalayim College for Women and a senior advisor to Olami. Many of Rabbi Edelstein’s foundational publications addressing the world of Kiruv appear on

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