‘You are children of the Lord, your God. You shall neither cut yourselves nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead.’ (14; 1)
Rashi on this pasuk comments, ‘You shall neither cut yourselves: Do not make cuts and incisions in your flesh [to mourn] for the dead, in the manner that the Amorites do, because you are the children of Hashem and it is appropriate for you to be handsome and not to be cut or have your hair torn out.’
The gemara in Sanhedrin (68a) says, ‘when Reb Eliezer passed away and they were carrying his Aron towards burying him, Rabbi Akiva approached it. Upon seeing the casket he began to whack himself and rip at his flesh until blood let out from his skin; he yelled: ‘father, father, wagon of Israel and its chariot- I have so much money yet no money changer in which to bring it to.’
Rashi on this comments, ‘what he means to say is that he has so many questions in learning to ask, and now he has no one to ask them to.’
Tosfos asks the obvious question: What about this pasuk of Lo Sisgodidu, of not cutting yourself? He answers, that he did it for Torah.
What seems to be the explanation on this episode? How can one transgress a certain aveira for the sake of Torah? How can we explain this tosfos?
R’ Chaim Shmuelovitz, Zt’L, answers as follows.
In the Da’as Z’keinim-on this pasuk-it says, ‘therefore, if a person’s father-of flesh and blood-dies, do not make cuts because you are not an orphan; you still have your father in heaven, Hashem.’ With this we can say p’shat in the pasuk. When it says ‘You are children of the Lord, your God…’ the Torah is teaching us that you are considered children of Hashem, therefore there is no reason for you to cut yourself. Says Rav Chaim Shmuelovitz, that this is p’shat in tosfos: this that the Torah says do not cut and make gashes to yourself is referring to a person that is in pain over the loss of a relative. The reason that one should t cut himself is because we still have Hashem as a father. But here, when Reb Eliezer died, it wasn’t because he felt he lost a relative but rather because he felt his Torah was being shattered! He felt he wasn’t able to accomplish and grow anymore. On the contrary, he felt even more distant to Hashem now, because he felt more removed from his Torah without Reb Eliezer. The whole concept was that one shouldn’t feel distant from Hashem, but here that is exactly what he felt.
When a person learns Torah it’s not simply to gain some extra knowledge. In essence, he is binding himself and getting closer-through relationship-to Hashem. If someone doesn’t have anyone to help them grow they will automatically become more distant from Hashem. In order to keep on moving forward one must have the help of an ‘intermediary’, such as a rebbi or a rov; someone that can guide them and assist them in their journey to becoming closer to Hashem and being a better person-through Torah.
As we begin chodesh Elul, a period of time when trepidation, fear and simcha begin to circulate in the air, it’s a most opportune time to strengthen our connection with Hashem, especially with the help of one’s ‘intermediary’, and become closer to Hashem by showing our commitment to Him is still strong and perhaps dedicating some extra time for Torah. Then, He will surely realize that we are befitting of the ultimate closeness, the final redemption, where we will bask in His glory and unite as one people, once again.