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Parshat Emor

By: Mrs Leora Bednarsh

Parshat Emor opens with the prohibition of a kohen to become tameh l’met. Why is a kohen forbidden contact with a dead body? A kohen, having a special role as a representative of the people in the holy realms of the mikdash, has an obligation to maintain a high level of personal kedusha. A corpse is defined as avi avot ha’tumah, the highest level of impurity. Kedusha can be defined as connecting the physical with the spiritual. This is indicated by the list of mitzvot in Parshat Kedoshim, after the commandment of kedoshim t’hiyu. All of the mitzvot are related to the physical details of our lives. A human being has the highest potential for kedusha by using his or her physical bodies to follow G-d’s will through mitzvot, and in this way connect his or her nefesh, or neshama, soul, to G-d. When the neshama leaves the body, then all that is left is the guf, the physical side. The absence of the neshama is then deeply felt, and that is the definition of tumah – the physical without the spiritual. A person who observes death from close quarters is left with an impression on his or her soul – an understanding of the possibility of total disconnect between body and soul.

The term tumah is also used to refer to sin. Sin occurs when we do not allow mitvah to connect our souls with our bodies but rather allow ourselves to be guided by our physical drives and desires, and thereby defile ourselves.

A kohen is obligated to maintain a constant awareness of his potential for spirituality, and is therefore required to limit his exposure to death. Death, while of course natural and part of G-d’s plan, is not to be the focus but sidelined. Interestingly, while we believe strongly in life after death, the Torah has very little to say about it, since it is a Torat Chaim, a Torah of life. If we contrast ourselves to both the culture we came out of, and the culture we are currently surrounded by, these ideas become very clear. Egyptian priests were primarily concerned with mummification, tombs, in other words death. And the Islamic Fundamentalist culture in which we live is likewise obsessed with suicide, martyrdom – death. Judaism is a vital religion, with life being the highest value. G-d is the source of life, and we strive to use the gift of life as an opportunity to connect with Him through mitvot.




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