``One cannot banish a life for the sake of a life''1 is a major principle of Torah law. A human life is of immeasurable, unqualifiable, infinite value. The life of an imbecile is worth no less than that of a genius, nor can the greatest villain be sacrificed for the sake of the most virtuous man on earth. As the talmudic sage Rava told a man who had been threatened to be killed unless he killed someone else, ``How do you know that your blood is redder than his? Perhaps his blood is redder than yours?''2

Torah law goes even further: not only can no life be considered less valuable than another life---it cannot even be considered less valuable than other lives, in the plural. If an entire community is threatened with extinction unless they give up a single individual, they cannot sacrifice his life to save theirs.3

This last law seems inconsistent with the halachic rule that we follow the majority view in all matters, including capital cases.4 To follow the majority is to recognize the supremacy of the many over the few, even in matters of life and death; why, then, do we not say that many lives count for more than a single life?

Supernal Mathematics

The soul of man, say our sages, is a spark of G‑dliness.5 In light of this, we can appreciate the infinite value of a life. Differences of intelligence, achievement and virtue pale to insignificance before the quintessential worth of a human being as a living expression of the divine.6

The same applies to the distinction between ``one'' and ``many.'' Viewed in the context of their source within the singular essence of G‑d, many lives are no ``more'' an expression of the divine reality than a single life. Nevertheless, ``the Torah is not in heaven''7; it was given to us to be understood and implemented on physical earth. In terms of our earthly reality, each individual possesses a distinct and unique soul. We can come to recognize (though this, too, requires an understanding that transcends the superficial, material way of seeing things) that each individual possesses a quality—his very being and aliveness—in which he is equal to all other individuals. But to us, two lives will always be twice as many as one, and one hundred lives, one hundred times as many as one.

So Torah law, interpreted and applied (as G‑d desired that it be interpreted and applied) by our earthly minds, lends greater weight to the opinion of the many over the few. But Torah desired that there be one law—a law dealing with the very issue of the value of life—that transcends our earth-bound reality to express the primordial essence of the human soul. A law that regards life stripped of all adjectives and suffixes, including even the designations of individuality and plurality.8

Editor's note: The above is based on the Rebbe's notes for an (undelivered) address, dated Tammuz 11, 5704 (July 2, 1944).9 In conclusion, the Rebbe writes: "This (the sanctity of the individual) categorizes one of the major difference between the Jewish and non-Jewish [perspectives on life]. In the non-Jewish world itself, we also see this distinction in the war10 currently being waged: [the fascist approach that] the individual is nothing and the nation everything [as opposed to free world's guardianship of the individual's rights]. In Torah law, a scholar is given precedence to a king,11 and even a king does not have the authority to impose discriminatory laws (Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Laws of Theft, 19; see also Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat, 369:8)."