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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Re'eh(68)

This week's sedra has Moses speaking of wiping out idols once the Jews enter the Land and setting up a Sanctuary to offer sacrifices there. The laws of dealing with a false prophet are also mentioned; the kosher animals and birds are listed; a collection of other laws and the seasonal holydays are mentioned.


You are sons to Hashem your G-d; do not lacerate yourselves and do not make yourselves bald between your eyes for the dead.


Do not lacerate yourselves: Rashi: Do not inflict lacerations and gashes on your flesh over the dead, as is the custom among the Emorites, for you are G-d's children, and it is befitting for you to look pleasant, not lacerated and bald.


Rashi explains the verse's prohibition against inflicting cuttings on one's body. (Today's weird custom among the young of cuttings and metallic piercing on the body is nothing new under the sun!) There are several subtle changes that Rashi makes in this comment. I'll point out just one of them. Rashi says: "over the dead" the verse says "to the dead" ("lamais"). He is correcting a possible misunderstanding. We might have thought that the verse is telling us: One must not put cutting or a bald spot "to the dead", maybe on the corpse itself. No, says Rashi, not "to the dead" rather "over the dead" meaning in mourning the dead.

Rashi also explains the connection of the prohibition of laceration to opening the statement of the verse: "You are sons to Hashem". He says because we are G-d's sons we must look nice, not cut up.

The verse is interpreted differently by the three major Torah commentators: Rashi, Ibn Ezra & Ramban.


Rav Abraham Ibn Ezra explains the connection between "You are sons to Hashem" and the prohibition to cut oneself in mourning in this way: Do not lacerate yourselves when someone close dies because of the pain you feel. Remember we are G-d's children. A parent would not harm his children, though at times he may do things that are painful to the child. The child cannot understand that this is ultimately for his benefit. So too we must understand when tragedy strikes that although it hurts, we are G-d's children and the tragedy must be meant for our ultimate good. So don't go over board in mourning.


The Ramban differs with both Rashi & Ibn Ezra. He rejects Rashi's understanding by saying: If lacerations are wrong because they disfigure the body of G-d's children then they should be prohibited at all times and not just in mourning for the dead.

Can you answer the Ramban's question on Rashi?

Your Answer:


An Answer: The verse speaks only of lacerations over the dead because that was when they were usually done in the idolatrous countries at that time. In Hebrew we say: "Dibar hakasuv b'hoveh" the verse speaks of the usual case. (See Rashi Deut.23:11 for an instance of Rashi's use of this principle.) So Rashi's comment is appropriate because this the verse mentions the dead because that was the usual case. And Rashi gave his interpretation accordingly.


The Ramban sees this verse as connected to the next verse: "For you are a nation holy to Hashem, your G-d..." Ramban says: We are a holy nation and thus we have immortal souls. Physical death is the not the final stage of a Jew's existence. His soul continues its existence and enters the World to Come. So one should not excessively mourn the dead, they are gone from this world but not totally gone.

The Ramban adds his own psychological word. The Torah does not forbid crying over the dead because this is a natural reaction to any separation between people who love one another. Even loved ones who separate temporarily from one another may cry at parting even though they know their close one is still alive. So this isn't forbidden; but excessive mourning does not befit people of G-d's holy nation.

I might add, that living in Israel, we have unfortunately seen many tragedies. An outstanding and unforgettable occurrence is when religious Jews are subject to terror attacks (Egged Bus number 2 in Jerusalem several years ago). Their response to such tragedies even when personally involved is usually one of dignified restraint, expressing trust in Hashem. Such reactions make a strong impression on non-observant Jews; the power of trust in G-d being such that even in the most trying circumstances, man's faith in G-d helps him cope with life's vicissitudes. This is what the Torah is teaching us in this verse, according to the Ramban.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."

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