Aug 28, 2013

Lesson from the Sefer Ha'Chinuch

In the Sefer Ha'Chinuch on parshas Ki Seitzei, mitzvah 534 (or 537) is to bury the person who was hung after being stoned to death for serving idols or for blasphemy.  The "Key Concept," as written in "The Concise Sefer HaChinuch" in English says, "When people see the executed person's corpse hanging on the post, they will say that such is the punishment for having cursed the Holy One's name.  When they utter these words, however, they remind themselves that such a sin is possible, and simply by speaking of the sin, they do damage to their souls."  This is why the person's body is taken down and buried on the same day that he was executed.  "As a result, there is less opportunity for people to do self-inflicted damage to their souls."

Reading this triggered the thought that I wrote about here, questioning what effect being regularly exposed to negativity has on us.  I won't repeat myself, go take a look :)


  1. While burying the corpse the same day lessens the opportunity for negative speech and reflection, the execution itself is public knowledge. We don't secretly execute the sinner and then lie about the cause of death so that the public is totally spared all negative thoughts.
    Today, everyone has a soapbox and an opinion to express as well as the fact that the soapbox has a much wider audience than ever before. Sometimes the news articles in frum publications discuss the problems along with possibilities for solutions. Can we really solve problems by pretending that they don't exist?
    For example, one of my grandsons is severely autistic. If I dress him up in a fancy suit and put a siddur in his hand, can I pretend that he can daven and ignore the sad truth that he cannot? Can I create my own reality; one where he is normal? Frum magazines have loads of articles about autism and about families of handicapped children in general. This is a sad and negative topic but should we imagine that frum children are immune to these disorders? Can positive thinking make autism go away? And what about families who find strength in reading about others with similar struggles?
    Unfortunately social ills, mental illness, and physical illnesses know of no boundaries and happen in all walks of life and echelons of society and frumkeit does not guarantee a happy life. Should frum Jews with problems turn to non-Jewish publications for information about their situations?
    We also have to realize that the outside world is greatly impacting our world. It is no longer enough for a shteible rav to posken for his dozen or so congregants and impact only his own half of a city block. Frum society is facing various upheavals as the economy and society in general changes and the change must be on a societal level. The greater society must be informed for this to happen.

  2. It is difficult to come to a consensus on how much is too much, for yes, as you note, the execution is public and yet, too much exposure is deemed harmful.

    However, I do not lump social, mental and physical ills together. The previous post I linked to referred specifically to psychological/emotional/mental issues, not to medical problems and handicaps.

    1. People who are having social and emotional difficulties also cannot pretend that they don't exist. For example, years ago I was hit by a car. For quite awhile after that happened, I relived the impact every time that I crossed the street when there was traffic. At first I clung to family members while crossing but eventually I stopped reliving the feeling of impact. Some psychologist explained how a part of my brain recorded that impact and was not letting go of it and although logically I knew that cars did not hit me more so than anyone else, my mind registered impact.
      I can imagine that some situations affect a person emotionally and those emotions may rule that person's behavior more than that person can consistently control. This is the way humans are wired and if it gets out of hand, it can become a mental illness. I would imagine that some people would avoid crossing streets in order not to relive the impact of an accident and this would mean that the person was mentally ill.
      Since we know that the brain can become ill from stress, fright, extreme grief, etc, why would we be afraid to discuss this any more than we would be afraid to discuss autism or cancer? Would we say that discussing these diseases causes the Satan to send them?

  3. The execution is public but the publicity has limits - it's not about being afraid to discuss these things. It's about immersing in the abnormal. A certain amount can be useful; too much exposure leads to diminishing returns.