A Team Without Cuts
this week’s portion we find the verse: “You are children to G-d, you shall
not cut yourselves (it was a prevalent custom for people to gash their own skin
when a close relative died)” (Deut. 14:1).
is the connection between being the children of G-d and the prohibition against
a Jew making incisions into himself?
a person suffers a loss, they feel pain and a need to express it physically
because of the loss. As Jews, however, we need never feel such pain. This is so
for two reasons. The Ohr Hachayim explains this from the vantage point of the
deceased. Since the person who has passed away is now reunited with His father,
i.e., G-d, the loss is not so acute. The Seforno explains this from the vantage
point of the survivors.
The survivors may feel alone due to the loss, as bad as it may seem, but
the survivors still have a relationship with their Father — G-d — and should
not feel so alone.
implications of this are enormous. We are told at different times to love and
fear G-d. This verse is adding a new dimension to those feelings. This is not
merely the love due a benefactor, or the awe and fear due a King, but the
closeness between a father and a child. It is so much so that it removes some of
the pain during the mourning process.
Talmud (Kiddushin 36a) debates (Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda) whether we are
unconditional sons to G-d.
Rabbi Meir says that whether we do the will of G-d or not, we are still
His children, while Rabbi Judah holds that we are His children only when we are
deserving. In Ethics of the Fathers, only the point of view that we are His
children, regardless of our actions, is mentioned (in the name of Rabbi Akiva).
Midrash explains that the prohibition of “do not cut yourself” also refers
to the idea that there should not be divisions between Jews, that is,
Jews should not cut themselves off from one another.
this is so, then why are there class distinctions in Judaism? Why are there
differences between men and women, priests, levites, and the different tribes,
kings and commoners?
answer to this also relates to the juxtaposition of this law (“do not cut
yourself” referring to not having divisions between Jews) and the concept that
we see ourselves as children of G-d.
we are all unified towards the common goal, i.e., achieving closeness with G-d,
it is only natural that there be distinct roles, not equal in responsibility,
but equally important before G-d.
many people today have been influenced by cultural mores and feel that the Torah
discriminates. We must look beyond the dictates of society and allow our
perceptions to be shaped by the fact that we are children of G-d, and we have
His Torah as guide.
Rabbi Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo.