Emor (Diaspora) - Mourning

What are the prohibited practices when in mourning - and why.

HaRav Avigdor Miller zts"l

Judaism HaRav Avigdor Miller zts"l
HaRav Avigdor Miller zts"l
INN:Toras Avigdor

And in their flesh they should scratch no cutting. (Vayikra 21:5)

Although this admonition refers to acts of grief for a death, it is particularly said to Cohanim because the gentile priests practiced such cuttings.

When some wealthy or powerful person lost a relative, the priests demonstrated public grief by acts of self-mutilation in order to find favor.

Likewise they advertised their loyalty to their idols this way: “They cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out” (I Kings 18:28).

In this prohibition we can discern at least five principles:

1) To avoid practices followed by the nations.

2) Not to mutilate the body in any manner.

3) The only mark on the body is the Sign of the Covenant.

4) Not to make any permanent reminder of the dead, who are to be forgotten in order that men should not grieve excessively.

5) Because you are the children of Hashem (Dvarim 14:1) you must be handsome, and not lacerated or with hair plucked out (RSHI, ibid.). This applies to all Israel, and most emphatically to the Cohanim.

Yet, despite the importance of these prohibitions which apply to all Israelites, they are even more obligatory upon the Cohanim, in order not to exhibit excessive grief, which contradicts their joyous service of Hashem (see 21:4).

These prohibitions are originally intended for the Cohanim, and as an emulation of their example the Israelites also are similarly commanded (Dvarim 14:1).

Therefore, following the example which the Torah supplies in the case of Cohanim, we learn that also “the kingdom of Cohanim” (Shmos 19:6) must refrain from excessive grief and they must always be mindful of their happy lot as the chosen of Hashem to serve Him.

This, therefore, is the most important reason that all the prohibitions stated in this verse are incumbent also upon every Israelite (“You shall not cut yourselves or make baldness between your eyes for a dead person” — Dvarim 14:1).

In addition, the exhibition of excessive grief creates among the people the attitude of dissatisfaction with Hashem’s world, which was created for kindliness (Tehillim 89:3) and which Hashem desires that men see to be very good (Breshis 1:31). By advertising excessive sadness through lasting marks on the body, the public becomes morbid and unhappy and acquires the attitude that chaos prevails in the world.