THE BLOG
12/05/2014 05:11 pm ET Updated Feb 04, 2015

The Breath of Dignity

Being Jewish is a way of being human. Our story does not begin with Abraham, but with the creation of Adam, described at first as male and female and bearing the stamp that would be found upon every one of Adam's descendants throughout all time: the image of G*d, tzelem elohim. And that image, according to the deep wisdom of the Jewish tradition is remarkable because unlike every other image that renders everything with which it is stamped identical, this image creates individuals who are all unique. At the very same time the tzelem elohim binds humanity together as one, it ensures that each one of us is created with infinite worth, one of a kind, irreplaceable. With dignity.

Pushback against a grand jury's decision not to indict a Staten Island police officer for the homicide of Eric Garner, captured on video, has added to the outrage expressed by many and has come from many quarters in American society across political and racial lines. The last words of Eric Garner, "I can't breathe," have now become famous as a rallying cry for protests, in the streets, on social media and beyond. It is easy for slogans to become cliche, for the vivid imagery of a particular incident to overwhelm the individual facts or the complexities of issues, However, these words go deeper than questions of policy or even justice. They go to the heart of human dignity.

The Book of Ecclesiastes opens with a phrase that is often translated "vanity of vanities, all is vanity." The Hebrew phrase however is better understood "Breath of breath all is just breath." The breath of life is fragile, all that makes the difference between a living being and an inanimate corpse is a wisp of air. The breath is the nexus point between the body and the spirit. Each morning upon awakening, we traditionally intone the blessing "G*d the breath you instill in me is pure... I will praise you as long as it is within me."

According to our earliest stories it is by breathing that G*d transformed clay into the first human being, the first to bear the seal of the Divine image that confers upon each and every person a unique soul of immeasurable worth and inalienable dignity.

May we be conscious with every breath of the sanctity of life, be inspired to make the most of our own life, and dedicated to treating every life with dignity.