Soul Piercing

The US Coastguard 7th District, covering Florida, periodically reports on ritualistic suspensions. Apparently, some people spend their weekends suspended from meat hooks carefully inserted into different parts of their bodies. They dangle from a large tripod apparatus erected on sandbars in Biscayne Bay.

Many Moslems bloodily celebrate Ashura, the anniversary of the death of Mohammad’s grandson, by cutting their heads and bodies with sharp knives.  Most major American hospitals are familiar with the adolescent practice of cutting, and treat large numbers of young patients who have cut their flesh with no suicidal intent.

Finally, most coffee shop patrons have seen enough grotesque body piercings to outfit all but the choosiest anthropological museums.  And that is my point. All I have described imitates and celebrates the primitive.  From the early Mississippi Valley Indians who practiced similar meat hook suspension to the Aztecs with their more bizarre piercings, to African and New Guinea tribesmen with their own versions of flesh-stretching adornment, mutilating one’s body in one way or another clearly holds a strongly-felt attraction for many.

I can’t say that I viscerally understand this, but I do recognize that the desire exists and is real.  It lays dormant in certain periods and places, but repeatedly raises its head. Were this not the case, God’s Message to Mankind would hardly bother to prohibit it. Verses that might have seemed odd to our grandparents resonate with us.

You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead…
(Leviticus 19:28)

They shall not make…any gashes in their flesh.
(Leviticus 21:5)

You are the children of the Lord your God; you shall not cut yourselves…
(Deuteronomy 14:1)

Clearly, God recognizes how strong the allure for the tribal and the primitive is.

The final reference distinguishes itself from the earlier two Leviticus references in applying to everyone, not just to the priests.  Furthermore, it employs a special word for cutting GoDeD which possesses a secondary meaning—separation.

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that when harmony exists between our bodies and our souls, we enjoy spiritual tranquility and with spiritual tranquility can come closeness to God.

Mutilating our bodies in gruesome acts of self-flagellation is one of the clearest symptoms of a vast canyon of separation between soul and body.  It’s almost as if we’re exulting in our soul’s ability to force us to hurt our bodies.  God certainly doesn’t want us to mutilate the bodies He entrusted to us.

Sometimes an entire culture can become diseased.  In trying to run our businesses and in trying to help raise our families in accordance with God’s Biblical blueprint, it helps to recognize the spiritual roots of some of the cultural forces out there.

I’m not saying that people with conspicuously pierced lips, noses, or other body parts are bad people.  I am saying, however, that in many instances, the painful piercings are an attempt by spiritually alienated young people to place a physical bandage upon a spiritual wound, or they are an indicator of a spiritually alienated society.

A gulf of separation between body and soul is the default condition for primitive humanity and self-mutilation is one of its symptoms.  The Bible, as God’s guide to civilization teaches us to escape primitivism, and become unified children of God with both bodies and souls worshipping our Father in Heaven.

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Read the most recent Ask the Rabbi question and answer here

Hello Rabbi-
I am a conservative Presbyterian with strong feelings of loyalty to Israel. Many Sundays, my Sunday school class ends with the Director of Christian Ed mentioning how horrible the Israelis are to the Palestinians. I know that each side is not without sin, but I’d like to speak of this conflict better equipped with the facts. Can you suggest a book (or any educational material) to help me learn about both sides of the conflict?

Thank you.

Jenny R.

Read Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin’s ANSWER HERE

This week’s Susan’s Musings: Travel Gratitude

Almost every day in our lives provides opportunity for both joy and pain. One complexity of the human experience is that while we are easily aware of the pain, we often need to pay attention in order to find the joy.

I am on a plane as I write this (Feb. 18, 2013), on a trip that combines both elements. One part of this multi-legged voyage will provide the thrill of meeting a sweet new granddaughter (here’s a photo with her siblings)…READ MORE

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