At this time of year, there is lots of talk about keeping unity within the community. The Talmud states explicitly that G-d’s House was destroyed due to societal divisions and needless hatred. The Parshah this week, Reeh, includes a specific verse and commandment not to be divisive.

Deuternomy 14:1-2

בָּנִ֣ים אַתֶּ֔ם לַיוָ֖ה אֱלֹיכֶ֑ם לֹ֣א תִתְגֹּֽדְד֗וּ וְלֹֽא־תָשִׂ֧ימוּ קׇרְחָ֛ה בֵּ֥ין עֵינֵיכֶ֖ם לָמֵֽת׃ כִּ֣י עַ֤ם קָדוֹשׁ֙ אַתָּ֔ה לַיוָ֖ה אֱלֶ֑יךָ וּבְךָ֞ בָּחַ֣ר יְהָֹ֗ה לִֽהְי֥וֹת לוֹ֙ לְעַ֣ם סְגֻלָּ֔ה מִכֹּל֙ הָֽעַמִּ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֖ר עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הָאֲדָמָֽה׃ {ס}         

You are children of your God. You shall not cut yourselves or cut from the front of your heads because of the dead. For you are a people consecrated to your God, your God chose you from among all other peoples on earth to be a treasured people. 

The Babylonian Talmud Yevamos 13b advances two seemingly unrelated interpretations of this commandment:

  1. (Simply Understood) - Don’t injure yourself upon learning of the death of a loved one. In certain cultures even today when a relative dies, family members cut themselves as a demonstration of love and loss.

  2. Do not divide the community with multiple Jewish Courts, because it will lead to different understandings and practices of Judaism.

One may ask, 

  1. Is there any connection between the two interpretations, they seem completely unrelated?

  2. What’s wrong with multiple Jewish courts; don’t we celebrate diversity as a strength? So what if there are different practices?

The answer is that although different customs may emerge from different lands at different times,  and they should all be respected, at its core, and in its fundamental underpinnings Judaism is one.

The Maharal, Rabbi Yehudah Loew ben Bezalel (1526 – 1609- Prague) explains that just as G-d is one (as in the Shema), so too His people are one, and His teachings and commandments are one. Once there is division, it literally cuts up Jews and Judaism into unbridgeable parts. Our task is to remain as united and unified as possible in thought, deed, and practice. 

Unfortunately, the state of Israel has been at war with itself regarding Judicial Reform over the last many months. The words of the Parsha have unfortunately jumped into our newsfeed. May it be G-d’s will that we see good will and a calm emerge in order that peace, tranquility, and functionality return to our Homeland.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Epstein
Community Scholar in Residence