Re’eh is brimming with mitzvot, emphasising the holiness of the individual to ensure the holiness of the nation as we reside in the land of Israel.
One of more poignant verses says: “You are children to God: do not mutilate yourselves (titgodadu), do not make a bald patch in the middle of your head as a sign of mourning.”
While the plain sense of the text speaks of limiting excessive mourning practices, our sages offer an additional level of interpretation to the word titgodadu, relating it to the word aguda, meaning group. Thus, the sage Reish Lakish said (Yevamot 13b) not to act as disparate groups. The Rambam (Laws of Idolatry, 12.14) therefore rules “there should not be two courts in one city, acting in different manners, as this leads to arguments”.
Rashi (Yevamot ad loc) offers a different rationale, that ‘it appears as if there are two Torahs’. How this manifests in a contemporary milieu, where we have many different Beth Dins in a single city, is a broader discussion.
We see here a concern for navigating the path between diversity and cohesion: we are all individuals, and yet we have to live together. While this may be only speaking about Jewish custom, it obviously has implications for how we are to live within a community in which we may not agree with everyone.
It is telling this law of prohibiting sectarianism is derived from a word prohibiting self-mutilation. The Jewish people should view others as being part of our body: to cut off part of our nation is like slicing off a limb. The cure – as per the opening of the verse – is to remember we are “children of God.”
Rabbi Garry Wayland is an educator with United Synagogue Living & Learning