Daniel Pearl, James Foley, Steven Sotloff all shared a gruesome death that has become the signature murder carried out by Islamic fanatics. It is the kind of killing that Isis and its followers promise to inflict upon Americans and all other infidels around the world.

And it is the kind of butchery that creates perhaps the most primal visceral response of disgust, of fear, and of horror.

Murder by any means is a crime beyond compare. Yet beheading seems to comprise a category all of its own. We shudder as we contemplate it. Our mind cannot absorb its reality. In the most powerful sense of all we cannot grasp a divide between the self-awareness of our heads as distinct from the responsiveness and wholeness of our bodies.

The very thought of beheading is in an ironic way almost enough to make us lose our minds.

Yet that has become the preferred method of execution by the contemporary enemies of civilization. And I believe there is a profound subconscious motive, aside from the obvious desire to create dread, which guides today’s terrorists to choose decapitation.

Human beings, we are told in the Bible, are created in the image of God. It is not in our physical appearance that we share a likeness to our Creator. It is in our minds that we share of his wisdom, intuit his greatness, and sense his sanctity. That is why our heads are given the task to direct messages to the rest of our bodies. From there come the signals that oversee all of our actions.

No wonder that Jews are commanded to daily bind tefillin – phylacteries - “for a sign upon their hands and for frontlets between their eyes.” There are two components to this mitzvah, two symbolic boxes to serve as reminders of our link with God and our need to live lives of holiness. One box is placed on our hand to symbolize that we dedicate our deeds to God. The other is on our head, over the seat of our intellectual activity. Its message is to make clear that we understand ultimate sovereignty of our actions comes from the free willed decisions of our minds, keys to our shared image with our Creator.

Head and body linked define our spiritual identity.

There is a fascinating story in the Talmud which at first glance seems almost incomprehensible. It tells us of a beheading that took place in biblical times at the time of the burial of our patriarch Jacob.

Jacob’s body was brought to Hebron, to the Cave of the Patriarchs, Me'arat Ha'machpelah. There were eight burial plots in the cave; Adam, Eve, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca and Leah were already buried there, leaving only a single available grave. Esau, Jacob’s twin and older brother, acknowledged that he had sold his birthright to Jacob but maintained that he hadn’t given up his right to be buried in the Cave and with armed force prevented his brother’s burial from proceeding. Jacob’s children sent fleet-footed Naphtali back to Egypt to bring the proof of ownership.

While all this was going on, Chushim, the deaf son of Dan, asked what the commotion was all about, and was incensed to learn that Esau had halted the funeral of his revered grandfather. With a mighty blow of his sword, Chushim severed Esau’s head, which rolled into the Cave of Machpelah and came to rest in Isaac’s lap, where it remains to this day. Thus it came to pass that “Esau’s head lies in the bosom of Isaac.”

So ends the story. And so we are told that to this day the holiest tomb of our people contains not just the remains of eight holy ancestors but the head of one other, held close to the bosom of his father.

What is the meaning of this strange tale?

Esau was a villain. Of course he knew better. He was the son of Isaac. As Jacob’s twin, he assuredly had the same potential for spiritual greatness. But Esau followed a different path. His life was that of a hunter and hedonist. Between head and body, he chose the latter as guide for his behavior.

His body did not deserve to be buried in a place of holiness. It would not be accorded this honor. But his head, his link with the image of God and blessed with the potential for greatness, was granted the gift of internment together with his father who loved him not for what he was but for all that he might have become.

Head and body together unite us in thought and deed. Separating them conveys a statement of profound meaning; its intent is to reject the power of mind. It seeks to destroy the influence of the one divine gift that is the distinctive feature of civilized mankind. Its mission is literally to make human beings mindless, barbarians motivated solely by bodily desires.

That is why today’s battle against the Islamic savages videotaping their murders by decapitation is a war that must be waged if civilization is to survive.