Moshe Kempinski
Moshe Kempinski Courtesy

We read the following in the Torah portion we read recently, Re'eh (Deuteronomy 11:26–16:17);

You are children of Hashem, your G-d. ( Deuteronomy 14:1)

A very powerful and comforting declaration and thought.

The verse continues with the following words; “You shall neither cut yourselves nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead."( ibid)

That seems a bit unusual in its relationship to the declaration of being Hashem's children.

It would have seemed more appropriate to the role of being a "Kingdom of Priests"."And you shall be to Me a kingdom of Priests and a Holy nation"( Exodus 19:6).

Regarding the Kohanim/Priests we are informed of a long list of physical impairments that would disqualify the priest from Temple service. The “Sefer Hachinuch “vexplains that great effort was made to make the temple a place of great beauty . a beauty that elicited amazement and awe. All this to inspire the visitor to the Temple to be moved into repentance before the wondrous beauty of Hashem's creation .A less than physically perfect Kohen , or a less than perfect place of awe and worship , would diminish that impact.

As a result we would expect the words "You shall neither cut yourselves nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead" to be connected to the “national role “ of Priesthood rather than to the fact that Hashem sees us as His children.

In fact we actually see those prohibitions resulting from the simple fact that Hashem is G-d."You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves: I am Hashem." ( Leviticus 19:28)

In order to understand this, we need to understand the implications of the encounter with death in Torah thinking.

The Torah spends much effort to describe the concepts of Tahara (Purity) and Tuma (Impurity ). These are especially relevant after the encounter with a dead body and coping with the implications of death.

These concepts do not relate to what their English translations wrongly portray. These concepts have nothing to do with hygiene and personal cleanliness (Clean and Unclean). They also have nothing to do with powers of goodness as opposed to powers of evil (pure and impure). They also can not be seen as some type of blot or physical manifestation that needs to be removed or cleansed.

They are concepts that can only be explained in picture form. Being Tahor is about being a potential vessel for the sacred and the holy, while being Tameh is about losing that potential. They represent a state of being.

We see that Tumah is connected with death and decay. Such death and decay represents the opposite of holiness, potential and spiritual growth.

The most extreme example of this and therefore the most potent source of Tumah is the human corpse. That is also why various types of animal carcasses and certain types of insects that are connected to death and decay can transmit such spiritual impurity. In a similar fashion, certain diseases of the reproductive tract that cause decay are also sources of this state.

When an individual encounters death his or her soul is scarred. The state of Impurity or Tumah is the result of our confrontation with the fact of our own mortality, and of our physicality. It is the result our dealing with specter of losing potential and ending the power to grow.

It is the curtailment of "hope".

That then is the connection to being Children of Hashem!

In the midst of all that would befall this people. Throughout their years of exile and persecution, Hashem is declaring "You are children of Hashem, your G-d."

What greater anchor of hope can there be than that declaration? What greater life preserver can we find growing up than that sense that in spite of our failures and tension of maturation our parents declare to us that they are and will remain our loving parents?

As a result Hashem warns against getting caught up with the rituals of self harm due the encounter with death.

The essence of the long walk of all who yearn to walk with Hashem is based on that simple declaration;

“You are children of Hashem, your G-d. “.

Lerefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved ve kol hacholim

Rabbi Moshe Kempinski, author of "The Teacher and the Preacher", is the editor of the Jerusalem Insights weekly email journal and co-owner of Shorashim, a Biblical shop and learning center in the Old City of Jerusalem, www,shorashimshop.com

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