ראה

This parsha is a continuation of Moshe’s end-of-life speech to the Israelites, containing a number of disparate laws relating to life in Canaan.  It also includes a repetition of the explicit prohibition on self-mutilation of any kind, used to justify why Jews should not get tattoosSforno has a very interesting explanation of the verse and the underlying rationale.  The Torah says: “You are sons to Hashem your god; do not cut yourselves and do not place a bald spot between your eyes for a dead one” (Deuteronomy / Dvarim 14:1).  What is the connection between cutting oneself in mourning and the concept of being Hashem’s children?  Sforno answers: “Because it is not fitting to show total sorrow and worry over a dead relative while a closer and more honoured relative remains [alive], Above and hoping for good.  Therefore ‘you are sons to Hashem‘ because He is your Eternal Father, and it is therefore not fitting that you should worry and mourn in such an absolute fashion for any death” (Sforno on 14:1, all translations mine).  This strikes me as a real insight into how the Torah sought to both comfort Israelite mourners and require them not to follow the abiding mourning rituals that surrounded them.  The premise is that, for a non-Israelite mourner, it is perfectly reasonable for the closest living relative of the deceased to mark their own body in mourning.  As an Israelite, however, it would be disgraceful, to the deceased and to the closest ‘living relative’ – namely Hashem – to mourn in such a fashion, as you are never the closest relation to the deceased.  Notice that Sforno is not arguing that this hold only for the most righteous Jews, about whom it might be said that their closest relationship was with Hashem, but rather for every single Jew.

We are to refrain

From cutting our bodies

Out of love for God

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