Parshat Re’eh: We are children of the Lord

Our ambition is that all the diverse segments of the nation will learn to acknowledge the donation of the other and learn to live together.

Eyal Yifrah, Gil-Ad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel (L-R). (photo credit: REUTERS)
Eyal Yifrah, Gil-Ad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel (L-R).
(photo credit: REUTERS)
This week, we continue to listen to Moshe Rabbeinu as he delivers his farewell speech to Am Yisrael before they enter Eretz Yisrael.
We will examine a verse with a double meaning, one personal and one national, which causes us to look far into the future, beyond the horizon to the great yearning which we hope will be fulfilled in our lifetimes.
This is what Moshe Rabbeinu says to Am Yisrael: “You are children of the Lord your G-d. You shall neither cut yourselves nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead.” (Deuteronomy 14, 1) The simple meaning of the verse deals with a person who has lost of one his relatives. This person during this painful time is in a difficult emotional state, broken and depressed. He is mourning. In this state, a person might take actions of a harmful nature. He might hurt himself, or scratch his body out of deep sorrow.
Despite the understanding that the person is in deep mourning, the Torah sees the need to prevent him from harming himself. The prohibition from cutting means that it is forbidden to cut the human body during an emotional crisis of deep feelings of loss.
The reason offered by the Torah is surprising: “You are children of the Lord your G-d.”
If man lived for himself, in a world disconnected from any outer connection, perhaps there would be an option for allowing him to harm himself. But the Jewish person merits a special Divine relationship as a father to a son, and therefore he is forbidden from taking such an action even if he is in the midst of a storm of emotions.
Likewise, we demand of a person harming himself to think of the harm that would come to his family. Even if he does not care about his own body at this time, the sorrow that would be caused to his family should prevent him from harming himself. Similarly, a Jew who harms his body is harming G-d as well. The Tanna, Rabbi Meir, expresses this in the Mishna: “And Rabbi Meir said: When a man is in sorrow, what does the Divine Presence say? Supposedly my head is heavy and my arm is heavy.” (Masechet Sanhedrin 6, Mishna 5) Ostensibly, when a man is sad, he thus causes G-d embarrassment. Your sorrow is not personal sorrow. It is sorrow that runs deep and rises to the highest level.
Take care of yourself, because any harm to you harms your loving father – G-d.
We find another meaning to the term “hitgodedut” (interpreted as “cutting” in the verse) in the words of the Talmud sages: “Lo titgodedu” – Do not create segments.” (Talmud Bavli, Masechet Yevamot, Daf 13) Just as cutting an individual’s human body is an offense to the will and love of G-d, so is “cutting” the national body through disputes, segmentation and mutual hatred which seriously harms that same fatherson relationship expressed in this verse.
Disagreements are always legitimate. People differ, cultures differ, so it is only natural that differences of opinion will occur. Our sages said: As their faces differ, so do their opinions. But despite this legitimacy, a phenomenon exists which is not legitimate in the least.
This is the phenomenon of “segments.” We face a complex but necessary mission – to live together despite disagreements. When we accept division into groups and segments, what results is strangeness, hostility and hatred.
Since these are the results of segmentation, G-d is not willing to accept them. The father is not willing to accept the fact his sons are fighting. We are sons of the Lord our G-d and therefore we are not to create segmentations.
Our job is to make sure no harm comes to us so that we do not harm our Father – G-d. And we must preserve the unity of the nation. Our ambition is that all the diverse segments of the nation will learn to acknowledge the donation of the other and learn to live together.
During these past two months, we have been privileged to witness amazing incidents of baseless love which flooded the residents of Israel and the entire Jewish world since the kidnapping of our three boys near Hebron, and even more powerfully during the fighting in the Gaza Strip. It was moving to see and sense the power of the love that broke down walls, concealed disputes and showed all the daily bickering to be minor and pathetic.
From here, from the Western Wall, the remnant of our Temple which was destroyed due to our sins, I pray that we continue to walk in the path of baseless love which erupted from within us – the path that rises to Zion.
The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites.