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D'varim/Deuteronomy 14:1 You are children to Adonai your G-d: you shall not cut yourselves
Rashi opens by commenting that the verb , a Hit'polel stem from the root , to cut, is reflexive. Connecting this instance of the command to its first invocation, "You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead, not make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the L-rd" (Vayikra 17:28, NASB), he says, "you shall not make a cutting or a scratch in your flesh ... because you are children of the Omnipresent". Quoting from Ibn Ezra, "Once you realise that you are children of the Eternal and that He loves you more than a father loves his child, you should not cut yourselves for anything that He does, because whatever He has done is for your good although you may not understand it", Ramban points out that while Vayikra 21:5 applies this to the priests, it is actually to be observed by all the people for all the Israelites are counted as children of G-d, "all the congregation are holy, every one of them" (B'Midbar 16:3, NASB), and G-d Himself said, "you shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Shemot 19:6, NASB).
The Sages of the Talmud (b. Yevamot 13b and 14a) apply this command not only to individuals but to the national body. They teach that means keeping unity in the nation on the grounds of keeping the Torah and not allowing differences in the teachings and decisions of the law to lead to divisions or splits in the community: "Said Resh Lakish to R. Johanan: Apply here the text of , you shall not form separate sects!"Hirsch points out that the root also generates a noun for a separated mass or detached troop of an army, so that the verb can have the meaning, "do not separate yourselves, do not divide into parties or separate groups." As a staunch opponent of the nascent Reform movement in Germany, fighting to prevent Jews stepping away from Torah and tradition by abandoning Jewish life and practice, he goes on to add, "the Torah wishes to give us the admonishment not to allow a split to arise within a united communal body through differences of opinion in interpretations and deductions made from the Torah." This amplifies the words of Hillel: "Do not separate yourselves from the community" (Pirkei Avot 2:5) and the writer to the Hebrews, "not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another" (Hebrew 10:25, NASB).
Rav Sha'ul addresses this issue in the community at Corinth. Already there is a dispute between different groups in the community as to whom they follow: Sha'ul or Apollos. Sha'ul writes: "when one says, 'I follow Sha'ul' and another, 'I follow Apollos', aren't you merely being human?" (1 Corinthians 3:4, CJB). People, as people do when left to their own devices, are starting to focus on themselves and their favourite leaders rather then G-d Himself; not that they have forgotten G-d, but that each of the leaders is seen as presenting the right way or a better way to serve G-d; each leader interprets the Scripture more faithfully or has a fuller explanation. So Sha'ul has to ask them who exactly the leaders are, for they are all servants, but it is G-d who called them to trust in Him, through either leader. "I planted the seed, and Apollos watered it, but it was G-d who made it grow, so neither the planter or the waterer is anything, only G-d who makes things grow" (1 Corinthians 3:6-7, CJB).
Much is sometimes made of Yeshua's words when He says, "He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters" (Luke 11:23, NASB), using this to justify church splits and the multiplication of denominations, each with their own leaders, and particular emphases and interpretations. Yet Yeshua also said the opposite when the disciples told Him about a man who was casting out demons in Yeshua's name but wasn't one of their group; Yeshua said, "He who is not against us is for us" (Mark 9:40, NASB). When it comes down to it, most denominations actually agree on about 90% or more of their doctrine and interpretations, with only the rest being in dispute, yet all claim to be followers - sometimes the only true followers - of Yeshua as Messiah! Shouldn't we all be getting our act together and starting to behave like one body rather than a box of dismembered joints?
Further Study: Galatians 3:26-29; Isaiah 55:10-11
Application: What part can you play in uniting the body of Messiah? Why not seek G-d for His heart for the different fellowships and communities that you know and ask Him how you can help to bring about reconciliation and sharing between believers.
© Jonathan Allen, 2007
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