Partially Orphaned (Re’eh)
Grief is the agony of an instant, the indulgence of grief the blunder of a life. –Benjamin Disraeli
In Moses’ ongoing discourse that comprises the Book of Deuteronomy, at the beginning of Chapter 14, Moses gives a brief statement, before launching into the longer discussion of dietary laws. He states as follows:
“You are children of the Lord your God. You shall not gash yourselves or shave the front of your heads because of the dead. For you are a people consecrated to the Lord your God.”
It seems it was common practice in the idolatrous ancient Near East for mourners to cut or tear out their hair, gauge and bloody themselves, and otherwise do themselves bodily harm as a form of grief. God commands the Jewish people not to emulate such pagan practices.
The Bechor Shor on Deuteronomy 14:1 provides additional rationale and comfort for the mourner and explains why such excessive displays of grief are prohibited. It relates to the introductory phrase: “You are children of the Lord your God.”
The Bechor Shor explains that it is not merely a nice opening idiom, but rather a statement of fact which directly informs the next sentence. We are children of God. Because we are children of God, even when one’s parents pass away, God remains there for us; God, who in essence is even more protective, nourishing and caring than the most loving parent can ever be. Therefore, we are never completely orphaned. As such, extreme displays of grief for a parent would be unwarranted and even disrespectful of God. Furthermore, our consecration as a holy people makes such repulsive behavior even more inappropriate.
The Bechor Shor continues, that on the flip side, for idolatrous people who truly believe that their gods are inanimate objects, it is entirely reasonable for them to be completely devastated by the death of a loved one and demonstrate such violent and extreme mourning. He quotes the prophet Jeremiah who paraphrases the idolatrous mentality of “they say to the tree – you are my father, and to the stone – you birthed me.” Their reality is one of being completely orphaned. They have lost their parents and they don’t have a connection to an eternal, living, caring deity.
May we be spared from further grief in our lives and may we be consoled of past griefs.
To the memory of Emmanuel Moreno z”l. He was a warrior and a scholar who died in the 2nd Lebanon War, 15 years ago, this week.