Re’eh: Family pride

“You are children of the Lord your God. You shall not gash yourselves or shave the front of your heads because of the dead.” (Deuteronomy 14:1)

The connection between these two sentences is not spelled out, but I think Rashi has it right: the high station of the Israelites demands a dignified appearance. I have long been struck by the appeal to family pride in this verse, the idea that Israel’s relation to God imparts a nobility that they themselves should respect.

This verse is timely for me because this week my mussar reading and self-examination focuses on the trait of humility and its relation to honor.   The readings have run the gamut from “Honor destroys both the body and soul” to the exhortation to take “pride in the awareness of the greatness and elevation of your soul, [which] is not only proper, but an obligation.”  The reading I found most helpful was from a  forward-looking 19th century rabbi,  Menachem Mendel Leffin.  In his seminal Cheshbon HaNefesh (Accounting of the Soul), he states that the way to acquire the trait of humility is to “always seek to learn wisdom from everyone.”  I love this.  It avoids entirely the self-deprecation that keeps the focus on self.  Rather it turns to the other and looks to see how he or she can become a teacher.

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