by Rabbi David Hanania Pinto Shlita

It is written, “You are children to Hashem your G-d – you shall not cut yourselves and you shall not make a bald spot between your eyes for a dead person. For you are a holy people to Hashem your G-d, and Hashem has chosen you for Himself to be a treasured people from among all the peoples on the face of the earth” (Devarim 14:1-2). From the fact that it says, “You are children,” followed by “you shall not cut yourselves,” we learn that if they had not been children, they would not have been given this order. However we need to understand the connection between these two concepts. Furthermore, what connection is there between not eating abominable things and the prohibition against cutting oneself for the dead? Why does the Torah juxtapose both things? The Sages have taught in the Mishnah, “Beloved is man, for he was created in the image [of G-d]. It is even a greater love that it was made known to him that he was created in the image [of G-d], as it is stated: ‘For in the image of G-d he made man’ [Bereshith 9:6]. Beloved are the people Israel, for they are called children of G-d, as it is said: ‘You are the children of Hashem your G-d’ [Devarim 14:1]” (Pirkei Avoth 3:14). The Tanna chose these two things for the glory of man, since they are equal. In fact the image of the king is like the king himself, and a person who scorns the image of the king is not only scorning his image, but the king himself! If that person had no intention of denigrating the king, he would not have scorned his image. Hence it follows that one who scorns and denigrates the son of the king has harmed the king himself, which is why the Tanna repeated these two things for the love of man. From the fact that the Children of Israel were created in the image of G-d, it is forbidden for them to harm themselves. This is because when a person cuts himself, he is damaging and scorning the image of the king. Since they are His children, Hashem forbid them from cutting themselves. This is because one who harms the son of the king is as if he has harmed the king himself. It is therefore written, “You are children,” as well as “Hashem your G-d” in the prohibition against cutting oneself. In other words: Be it because I am your Father, or because I am your King and your G-d, I forbid you from doing these things.

Furthermore, Hashem commanded His children not to make themselves abhorrent by eating forbidden foods. Because He is their father, He distances His children from things that harm body and soul, and there are no foods forbidden by the Torah that do not contain something harmful for body or soul. Rabbeinu Bechaye wrote that the distinction which the Torah established between permitted and forbidden foods is meant to purify the soul, for mitzvot are the life of the body and soul, as King Solomon said: “They are life to one who finds them, and healing for all his flesh” (Mishlei 4:22). “They are life to one who finds them” – this is the life of the soul; “and healing for all his flesh” – this is the life of the body. Food forbidden by the Torah damages the body and leads to cruel traits and other faults in the soul, for by nature such foods are coarse and contain moisture. Doctors are well aware of this. It is fitting for those who received the Torah to purify their minds through pure food and to guard themselves from cruelty. This is the meaning of the teaching, “What does the Holy One, blessed be He, care whether a man slaughters an animal by the throat or by the nape of its neck?” (Bereshith Rabba 44:1). The mitzvot were given solely to purify man!

Hashem paid so much attention to the honor of His children that He also prohibited them from eating blood, insects, and similar things, everything that makes the body abhorrent. This is because a person who respects the children of the king is respecting the king himself. Since they avoid food that renders the body contemptible, Scripture regards them as if they had honored the king himself, which is why He rewards them for this.

The Mishnah in Makkot notes that it is written, “Only be strong not to eat the blood, for blood is the life” (Devarim 12:23). The Sages add, “If in the case of blood – which man’s soul loathes – anyone who refrains from it receives a reward, how much more in regards to theft and debauchery – which man’s soul craves and longs for – shall one who refrains from them acquire merit for himself and for generations and generations to come, to the end of all generations! Rabbi Hanania ben Akashia says: ‘The Holy One, blessed be He, desired to make Israel worthy, and so He gave them the Torah and many mitzvot, for it is said: “Hashem desired, for the sake of his righteousness, to make the Torah great and glorious” [Isaiah 42:21].’ ” The Rivan explains: This was done in order for us to receive a reward by avoiding sin, which is why He multiplied the mitzvot, for there was no need to give numerous mitzvot and warnings concerning crawling creatures and corpses, given that there is no one who is not disgusted by them. Rather, it was meant for us to receive a reward by avoiding them.

The Sages say in the Aggadah: “If you want to know the difference between the actions of our G-d and the actions of the nations, [consider that] when a king enacts decrees, even evil ones, nobody can contest them. One who fulfills them receives no reward, but one who transgresses them is put to death. Yet when the Holy One, blessed be He, enacts decrees for the Children of Israel, they are rewarded if they observe them. Now it is written, ‘you shall not cut yourselves…for a dead person,’ whereas the nations cut themselves for the dead and harm themselves, as it is written: ‘You have cut yourselves as they do.’ What does the Holy One, blessed be He, say to the Children of Israel? ‘I am Hashem’ – Who rewards faithfully. He says to them, ‘Do not hurt yourselves, and I will give you a reward.’ ”

Furthermore, the Torah has also sanctified the Children of Israel in what is permitted, as it is written: “Sanctify yourselves in what is permitted to you.” G-d desired to separate the Children of Israel from animals, in order for them not to resemble beasts, as the Sages have said: “In three ways are humans like the ministering angels: They possess understanding like the ministering angels, they walk erect like the ministering angels, and they can speak in the holy tongue like the ministering angels. And in three ways are they like animals: They eat and drink like animals, they procreate like animals, and they relieve themselves like animals” (Chagigah 16a).

Since the areas in which humans are similar to animals are equal in number to the areas in which they are similar to the ministering angels, we do not know what humans resemble more. However when they distance themselves from forbidden foods and sanctify themselves in what is permitted, their food no longer resembles that of the animals, for animals eat whatever they find, and it does not matter to them if their food will give them harmful characteristics or not. We may therefore say that man resembles the ministering angels in four things and animals in two things. Hence he resembles angels more than animals.

The Aggadah says, “You save both man and animal, O Hashem” (Tehillim 36:7) – by the merit of the animal, You save man (Bereshith Rabba 33:1). How so? If we say that men are more precious in G-d’s eyes than animals, why is the merit of an animal required to save man? When a man does evil, he becomes less than an animal, and he can only be saved by the merit of an animal, for animals do not commit evil. As for man, since he received Torah and mitzvot, he can ascend new spiritual levels if he is deserving, and he can resemble the ministering angels, as the Sages have said. If he is not deserving, however, he will lower himself and resemble an animal, at which point he can only be saved by the merit of an animal, which does not engage in wrongdoing.

The Greatness of Eretz Israel
Book ofDevarim Index
For Justice Belongs to G d: The Importance of Teshuvah During the Month of Elul, Before the Days of Judgment


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