This week’s Parasha begins with instructions given to Moshe, which effect Aaron and the Kohanim forever after: And God spoke to Moshe, ‘Speak to the kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and say to them, “Do not defile yourselves with the soul of the dead from among your people.”‘ (Leviticus 21:1).
It is striking that the entire portion addressing the Kohanim, never mentions the defilement because of dead bodies, but rather warns against the defilement from departed souls. Another example “He shall not go in where there are souls of dead people; he shall not defile himself even for his father or mother.” (21:11) Through the entire Torah we learn that a dead body is impure, however it is never mentioned that souls were impure. So why are the Kohanim cautioned not to approach souls rather than dead bodies? We should also wonder why the Torah chose to instruct the Kohanim of these laws right after warning us against having mediums and oracles? The last Verse of the previous Parasha states: “Any man or woman involved in the practices of mediums or oracles shall be put to death; they shall be pelted with stones – their bloodguilt shall be upon them.” (Leviticus 20:27).
This verse discusses the punishment for alien practices which were known as ov “mediums” and yidoni, “oracles,” which involved communication with the dead. This is the third instance in which this prohibition is reiterated. What is the parallel between witchcraft performers who are the most defiled individuals and the saintly Kohanim?
The Shem MiShmuel observes that the first instance of lost innocence was the fall of Adam and Eve. In Eden, the first human beings were truly one with Hashem, experiencing His presence, thus they exchanged that for a bite of fruit which they hoped would give them a better knowledge of Hashem. The result was the introduction of death into the world.
Death is the opposite of innocence. Once man separated himself from Hashem, the power of tumah, “spiritual impurity” gained a foothold. In fact, the Hebrew word tam “innocent” when read in reverse spells met, “death.” When man is no longer innocent, having reversed and perverted his natural innocence, the result is inevitable and inexorable. This was experienced by King Shaul when the Philistines gathered to attack Israel. The prophet Shmuel had passed away, and Shaul’s prayers remained unanswered. He felt at loss with nowhere to turn to for advice. The Verse describes his poor decision. And Saul said to his servants, “Find for me a woman who masters the practice of ov and I will go and seek her out’ … He said to her, ‘Perform sorcery for me with ov and bring back he whom I ask of you’ … She said, ‘Who should I bring back?’ and he said, ‘Shmuel’ … And Shmuel said to Shaul, ‘Why have you angered me and raised me up … Hashem will tear the kingdom from your hands and give it to your friend David.” (I Samuel 28:7-17) Indeed, the next day King Shaul and his son died, baring the consequence of using sorcery as stated; “When you come to the land that Hashem has given you, do not practice the revolting habits of those nations … nor practice ov or yid’oni or attempt to communicate with the dead. For Hashem abhors all those using these methods, and because of these abominations Hashem is driving out these nations before you. Be complete with Hashem your God.” (Deut. 18:9-13). The Zohar explains that the above verses clearly define the paradox between the tree of life and the tree of death. The choice is ours and we should choose life. Being Tam with Hashem amounts to being totally and confidently conferred into happily accepting all occurrences with the belief this is in our best interest. While resourcing to occult practices denote a lack of trust in Hashem, which lead to confusion and fear. The Zohar mandates that the complete and innocent person, the Tam, his body and soul are unified, while the one resorting to witchcraft dissociated his soul from his body and therefore perishes. All sins, to a certain level, effect a separation between the soul and the body, and only redemption can reunite them. Any form of split between the soul and the body affect the health of the person, respectively to the level of the separation. This teaching clarifies the questions asked above. As the very function of the kohen is to reunite and to make peace between man and Hashem through the sacrificial offerings which serve as atonement to sins. In other words, the kohen brings about oneness and wholeness between the body and the soul. According to the Zohar, the kohen is the embodiment of the tree of life and any defilement will affect him even more than a regular Jew. Therefore, at all time he must remain connected to Hashem, while a corpse represents the separation of the Divine from the mortal.
For the kohen to fulfill his mandate he must be complete, Shalem, in order to bring peace between man and Hashem. The word shalem, “complete” or “whole” is strongly
associated with the word shalom “peace,” as peace brings oneness and wholeness. Hence, the Mishna states; Hillel said: “Be a disciple of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving mankind and bringing them closer to the Torah.” (Avot 1:12)
The Maharal teaches that peace is Godly; it emanates from Hashem and is thus an aspect of Hashem Himself (Netivot Olam Page 215). For this reason, one of the names of Hashem is “Shalom,” as it specifies His Oneness and Wholeness.
By Rabbi Fridmann * email@example.com * 305.985.3461
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