(Torah Portion Re’eh) Expression of Grief
The Torah prohibits certain expressions of mourning such as making a cut in one’s body as a sign of mourning, as it says, “You are children of G-d, do not cut yourselves, nor tear out the hair between your eyes over a death.” Yet in contrast, there is a positive commandment to tear one’s clothing at the death of a close relative (kriah).
It is striking how two similar actions of tearing over a death are regarded differently in Jewish law – cutting one’s flesh is forbidden, yet, tearing one’s clothing is obligatory. Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen of Jerusalem analyzes the difference between the two.
The Torah tells us that before Adam and Eve sinned they did not wear clothing and had no feeling of shame. However, after they ate from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge, they realized they were naked and donned clothing to cover their shame.
What change and transformation took place as a result of the sin? We know that man is made of two components, a physical body and a spiritual soul. Apparently, it is inappropriate for one’s essence to be exposed, and therefore it was always necessary to have some kind of ‘covering’. Before the sin, Adam primarily identified himself with his spiritual soul. Thus, his body took on the role of ‘clothing’ for the soul, and there was no need for external garments to clothe the body, because the body was serving as the clothing for the soul.
However, after the sin, Adam’s physical body became primary and his identity shifted to his physical body. Once he viewed his body as being his essence, he felt embarrassed that it was uncovered. Accordingly he needed to cover himself with clothing.
With this insight into the relationship between body and soul, we can gain a deeper understanding of the significance of tearing one’s clothing and not cutting one’s body over a death.
Since the sin of Adam, man lives his life primarily focused on his body. When a person dies, one could mistakenly think that the deceased’s whole essence and being is gone forever, however, the Torah teaches us the contrary. The deceased has only lost his body, while his soul remains and exists forever.
We remind ourselves of this at the time of our greatest grief by tearing our clothing that covers our physical body, to reinforce within us that only the deceased’s body, which was the clothing for his soul has been lost, while his soul remains intact forever. Were one to make a cut or tear in one’s flesh, the ‘clothing’ of one’s soul, he would indicate that he believes that the soul also ceased to exist; therefore it is forbidden to do so.
The Torah laws of kriah teach us the appropriate and proper way to express our feelings of loss at the time of death of a loved one and the correct attitude towards such a significant event.
We acknowledge the pain of losing someone close to us, and express ourselves by rending our clothing thus sharing in the pain they may experience as their soul leaves their body. And as the mourning process unfolds, we bear in mind that the soul of our loved one has moved on to a higher plane of existence, and we therefore are compelled to involve ourselves in spiritual functions, such as, attending synagogue, reciting the mourners Kaddish, distributing charity, studying Torah and embracing Mitzvos in memory of and for the merit of our loved ones.
US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro visited Kaplan Hospital in Rechovot to meet with victims of Hamas rocket attacks, where he conveyed good wishes to the victims on behalf of US President Barak Obama.
The ambassador visited victims admitted to the surgical and orthopedic wards, hearing their stories and receiving a briefing on their conditions. At the bedside of one of the victims of the rocket attack at the Gur Synagogue in Ashkelon, Shmuel Breuner (US citizen); Shmuel’s father took out his son’s tefillin, showing the ambassador the Tefillin box worn on the head, where a sizable piece of rocket shrapnel penetrated it, saving his son’s head from a possible fatal injury.
The ambassador was moved by the story and expressed delight over Shmuel’s rapid recovery.
Wishing you a restful, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks