Haircuts and Mourning
Parshat Shmini begins with the deaths of Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu who sacrificed a strange fire.
 
In Shmot 10:6 “Moshe said to Aharon and to Elazar and Itamar his sons: ‘Do not let your hair grow long and do not tear your garments so that you will not die and bring Divine anger to the entire congregation; your brothers, the entire House of Israel shall weep over the conflagration that God set ablaze.’”
 
Rashi teaches that from the words “Do not let your hair grow long” we learn that  Biblically, generally a mourner is forbidden to take a haircut. However, Aharon and his family were not subject to that law.
 
Rashi bases his view on the Gemara in Moed Katan 14b “A mourner is forbidden to engage in haircutting since God said to the sons of Aharon: Do not let your hair grow long, it follows by implication that for all other mourners haircutting is forbidden.”
 
The fact that the Gemara derives the prohibition from a Biblical verse seems to refute those such as Ramban (Vayikra 10:6) who say that the laws of mourning are of Rabbinic origin. They believe that this pasuk would be looked at as an Asmachta (Scriptual support) for the law, not as the actual source.
 
Whether the prohibition against a mourner cutting their hair is Biblical or Rabbinic, when one lets their hair grow it is an outward sign of mourning.    
 
We are now in the midst of counting the Omer, which has become a communal mourning period for the students of Rabbi Akiva who died during this time. Just as all of B’nai Yisrael mourned for Nadav and Avihu, so too we all mourn for Rabbi Akiva’s students and part of that mourning process is that we don’t get haircuts during this time.
 
As we continue to count the Omer, we look forward to Lag B’Omer, the day that the plague stopped, Rabbi Akiva’s students stopped dying, the day that we can once again get our hair cut and communally move from mourning to joy.
 
Shabbat Shalom from Yerushalayim!
 
Sharona Margolin Halickman

 

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