Self Inflicted Wounds


Rabbi Reuven Mann

Written by student


Leviticus 19:28 reads, “and cuts (on the flesh) for a soul you not shall place in your flesh…” Rashi states this refers to the Emorites who used to cut their skin as a sign of mourning for their dead. What is the corruption in such an act? Why did these Emorites mutilate their bodies?


When man leads a life driven by the physical enjoyments and his sense of self becomes attached to his temporal, Earthly stay, man is grieved at the demise of his body - he values it over his eternal soul. This is the opposite of the Torah’s philosophy. King Solomon wrote, “Better is the day of death, than the day of birth.” (Eccl. 7:1) When one is born, man knows not yet what will become of this child: “Will he be righteous or wicked?” But at one’s death, at the end of a righteous life, one has earned his eternal life, and this death is a good. (ibid; Ibn Ezra)


The Rabbis teach that today, upon hearing good news, we recite the positive blessing of “Hatove v’Hamativ”, “Who is good and does good”. Upon hearing about one’s death, we bless God’s ultimate justice with the blessing of “Dayan haEmess”, “The true Judge”. This latter blessing smacks more of acceptance than of praise, but this is because we are imperfect and view death as an evil. But in the days f the Messiah when the world sees clearly, and identifies all of God’s ways as good, man will recite the blessing “Who is good, and does good” even upon hearing that one died. Man, in that perfect state, will realize death as equally part of God’s good plan for mankind.


The Emorites, who cut their flesh upon the loss of a relative, were thereby declaring that they were grieved at death. This is why they cut themselves in response to death, and no other event. “Death” - the loss of the physical life - was so disturbing to them. In their anger that reality did not conform to their fantasy of immortality, the Emorites cut their skin as a display of disappointment in the very “body” they wished lived eternally.