Thursday, 1 September, 2016 - 4:30 pm

A man visited a certain bar on a nightly basis, ordering two glasses of Crown Royal. When the bartender asked him why he never changed his order, the man explained that he had a friend with whom he had drank a nightly glass of Crown Royal for many years.

"My friend was drafted and died in Korea," the man sighed, "and I decided to immortalize him by drinking two glasses of Crown Royal every night. One glass I drink for him; the other for myself."

One night, after thirty years, the man entered the bar and ordered a single glass of Crown Royal.

"What happened?" asked the bartender.

"Oh," the man responded, "I quit drinking."

This is a classic case of denial, but it may also have a deeper message: Sometimes I can drink for you.

There is a fascinating verse in this week's Torah portion, Re'eh: You are children of the Lord your G-d. You shall neither cut yourselves..  for the dead. The custom of many pagans was to scratch and scrape their skin off, and cut themselves, in a demonstration of grief over the death of a loved one. The Torah prohibits us to do this. The Talmud explains that there is a second meaning to this commandment:

This is a prohibition against the Jewish people becoming disjointed and fragmented, where each group is “doing its own thing,” conflicting with one another.

The Maharal was chief Rabbi of Prague. He asked a question about this verse and the two explanations: Other verses also have multiple explanations given by Midrash or Talmud, but never are they so completely disjointed! The simple meaning of the verse is that we are not allowed to scratch our skin. What is the connection to the Talmud's explanation that it means that we may not split into separate groups?

Yet, the Maharal explains, it is here that we can gain insight into the depth of Torah wisdom. In truth, the two interpretations are not only not divergent—they are actually one and the same! They represent the same truth—one on a concrete, physical level, and the other on a deeper, spiritual level.

The Torah prohibits us from cutting and scraping off our skin as a sign of bereavement. Our bodies are holy; we must not separate even a bit of skin from our bodies. Even in difficult moments of grief we may not give up on our lives and the sacredness and beauty of our bodies.

However, that is exactly what we are doing when we allow our people to become splintered. The entire Jewish nation is essentially one single organism. We may number 15 million people, but we are one gigantic body. When I cut off a certain Jew or Jewish community from my life, when I split our people into parts and say, “you are disconnected from me,” I am cutting off part of MY OWN BODY, G-d forbid. I am creating a laceration in my sacred organism, because we are all one.

In the late 18th century, in Eastern Europe, there was a terrible conflict between the Chassidim and their opponents, the Mitnagdim, who claimed the Chassidim were heretic and blasphemous. The chief opponent was the Vilna Gaon who heard erroneous testimony and issued a tragic ban against Chassidim. This caused a terrible division which continued for decades and caused much harm and agony.

When the Mitnagdim asked one of the greatest students of the Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Chaim of Valahzin, to sign the ban, he refused. They said: But your own Rebbe, the Vilna Gaon, signed it! And your Rebbe is like an angel of G-d. So you must sign the ban.

He responded: There is a known question about the story of Abraham's  sacrificing his son. It says, "An angel of G-d called to him (Abraham)... And said: 'Do not stretch out your hand against the lad nor do anything to him.' ”

But the instruction to bring Isaac as an offering came directly from G-d Himself! He told Abraham to offer his son to Him. Why did the stop-order come from an angel and not from G-d?

If G-d wants to tell you not to touch a Jewish child, it is enough if He sends an angel. But if He wants you to “slaughter” another Jew, an angel never suffices… G-d Himself needs to come and tell you to do it. If you are going to “slaughter” another Jew, make sure you hear it from G-d Himself. If not, don’t do it! To help another Jew, however, one needs no direct Divine command. “My Rebbe is a holy angel,” Reb Chaim said. “But I will not sign a ban against another Jew, even when an angel tells me to do it." To “slaughter” a Jew you need to hear it from G-d Himself.

The lesson to us is clear: Sometimes we get in fights with people over idealistic reasons. We “slaughter” people—with words or actions—and we feel that we are acting on behalf of an angel. We feel angelic about our actions.

Be wary, says the Torah! If you are going to cut someone off from your life, you want to hear it from G-d Himself. You want to be 1,000 percent sure that this is the right path to take. If not, let it go.

We say in the Haggadah: Not only ONCE, but in every generation they try to destroy us and Hashem saves us from their hand! The Sfat Emet explains this to mean that only the fact that we are not united is what threatens to destroy us in every generation.

This message is so vital to us. We are the Jewish people, few in number and old as time. No nation in history has experienced as much or been targeted as often. No people have faced as many threats or lived as many deaths. None but the Jews have been beaten down so many times, always to rise, fewer in number yet stronger in faith.

We can’t feel that we are safe here in the US and close our eyes to our brothers and sisters in Israel and ultimately in the whole world, because we are all one.

Certainly, “the Guardian of Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” But let us stand up together to protect our planet, and let us increase our unity and love for each other.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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