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LEVITICUS — 21:1 defile

LEV866 An important--perhaps the most important--consolation the Jewish tradition offers mourners is its belief in an afterlife. Hence, the advice recorded in the Talmud: "Weep for the mourners and not for their loss, for [the deceased] has gone to eternal rest, but we [the mourners] are suffering" (Mo'ed Kattan 25b). The traditional Jewish belief is that the soul survives and remains aware of those left behind. Many Jews are under the misconception that Judaism does not believe in an afterlife and are heartened to learn that it does. [I believe there is a connection between the Torah's non-discussion of an afterlife and the fact that the Torah was revealed after the long Jewish sojourn in Egypt. Egyptian society in which the ancient Israelites long resided was obsessed with death and afterlife, as reflected in the holiest of Egyptian literary works, The Book of The Dead. The major achievement of many Pharaohs was the erection of pyramids, which were giant tombs. In contrast, the Torah focuses on this world, so much so that it forbids Judaism's kohanim (priests) from having contact with dead bodies [this verse; in Egypt, the priests helped prepare the body for internment). Thus, the Torah may well have been silent about afterlife out of its desire to ensure the Judaism not evolve in the direction of Egyptian religion. Throughout history, religions that have assigned a major, and perhaps exaggerated, role to the afterlife often have permitted other religious and ethical values to become distorted. Thus, it was belief in an afterlife that motivated the Spanish Inquisition to torture innocent human beings; the inquisitors believed it was morally right to torture people for a few days in this world until they repudiated their supposedly heresies and excepted Christ, and thereby save them from the internal torment of hell. In our own times, the strong belief of afterlife among Islamic terrorists enabled them to kill themselves while murdering innocent people--mainly non-Muslims--with whom they disagree. Thus, the nineteen Islamic terrorists who murdered 3,000 people on September 11, 2001 were convinced that after crashing their planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, they would immediately be granted heavenly reward. How much less evil might they--and, centuries earlier, the inquisitors--have done had they not believed in an afterlife.] Helping the mourner--if he is open to such a belief--to focus on the continuing existence of the soul of the one who died can help assuage his or her hurt and anger.


LEVITICUS — 21:1 impurity

LEV867 A regular Kohen shall not bring spiritual impurity upon himself except in limited circumstances. Owing to the fact that He has chosen the Kohanim to serve in the Beis HaMikdash, Hashem distances them from corpses. ... spiritual impurity is a damaging force, and when a Jew dies the spiritual impurity that rests on the corpse is very strong. Much more potent than any other type of spiritual impurity, it is called “the father of the fathers of spiritual impurity.” When a Jew dies, his intelligent and Divine soul departs from his body, leaving behind only his physical body, whose only desire was the lowly, evil and mundane. Even during the person's lifetime his body constantly strove to lead him to sin and sully his precious soul. Accordingly, when the soul--the sublime glory of the body--departs and all that remains is the base and material flesh, it stands to reason that the corpse defiles everything around it. For this reason, it is fitting that Kohanim--Hashem's servants in the Beis HaMikdash--be kept at a distance from this strong spiritual impurity. When certain close relatives of the Kohen die, however, the Torah--for the Kohen’s benefit--allows the Kohen to render himself impure, “for the ways of the Torah are pleasant, and all of Its paths are peace.” The Torah does not want to cause any Kohen excessive suffering. When the heart of a Kohen is aggrieved over the loss of a loved one--someone of his own flesh--the Torah does not forbid him to enter the tent of the deceased to give vent to his grief and weep bitterly over his loss.


LEVITICUS — 21:2 impure

LEV868 When a close relative of a regular Kohen dies, the Kohen shall become spiritually impure to mourn and to attend to the needs of the deceased corpse, as any Jew whose close relative dies. When a close relative of a regular Kohen dies, there Kohen has a mitzvah and obligation to become spiritually impure through the nearness to the corpse that results from mourning and from attending to the needs of the deceased's corpse. The six relatives are his mother, father, son, daughter, brother and sister. The Rabbis added that the same requirement exists in the event of the death of his wife. When any such close relative dies and the Kohen does not want to fulfill this mitzvah because he wants to retain his spiritual purity, we oblige him to become impure and fulfill the mitzvah. Every Jew has this obligation to mourn and to attend to the needs of the corpse when the deceased is one of these relatives. Key concepts: Sometimes, owing to his physical nature, when something happens to a person he is not moved by it emotionally until he does an act that brings his emotions to the surface. Therefore, the Torah commands that when someone dies, his close relatives, who naturally loved him, must perform actions that will stir them to reflect upon why this suffering befell them. The prescribed acts of mourning help them to realize that their sins were the cause of their woe, for never does Hashem bring suffering or pain on anyone unless he is guilty of sin. This is a basic tenet of our faith. The required mourning and reflection upon it bring the mourner to repent his sins and improve his way to the best of his ability. Another benefit of the mitzvah is as follows: Non-believers attribute death to chance, as if just as animals die, people die. In order to prevent such a thought from entering our minds and to uproot it if it is already present, the Torah obligate special procedures for mourning.


LEVITICUS — 21:5 gashes

LEV869 No one has the right to injure his own or anyone else's body, except for therapeutic purposes. Judaism regards the human body as Divine property (Maimonides, Hil. Roze'ah, 1:4) surrendered merely to man's custody and protection. It is an offense, therefore, to make any incisions [this verse and commentaries] or to inflict any injuries on the body, whether one's own or another person's (Hoshen Mishpat, 420:1 ff, 31). One may not as much as strike a person, even with his permission, since the body is not owned by him (Tanya, Shulhan Arukh, Hoshen Mishpat, Hil. Nizkei ha-Guf, 4.) Such injuries, including even amputations (Maimonides, Hil. Mamrim, 2:4) can be sanctioned only for the overriding good of the body as a whole, i.e., the superior value of life and health.


LEVITICUS — 21:7 immoral

LEV871 No Kohen shall marry an immoral woman. No Kohen Gadol or regular Kohen may marry a woman who has had intimate relations with a man who she is forbidden to marry. Similarly, if she had relations with a Kohen challal (חלל)--a Kohen who was forbidden to serve in the Sanctuary--no other Kohen may marry her. Key concepts: Hashem chose the Kohanim to serve Him in the Beis HaMikdash on a constant basis, so in many respects they must live on a higher plane of purity and sanctity than what is required of the rest of our nation. Since a man's wife is often on his mind, the Torah forbids any Kohen to marry a woman who has an evil nature and immoral character, lest she corrupt him and cause him to deviate from the correct path. In addition, anyone who becomes close to such a woman bring shame and disgrace upon himself, for everyone scorns and derides her.


LEVITICUS — 21:8 kohen

LEV872 LEV8 It is a positive commandment to accord honor to a kohen: [a direct mail descendent of Aaron] since Scripture says, You shall hallow him [this verse] – – which means to make him holy and prepare him, that he should be fit and ready to offer up sacrifices [at the Sanctuary], and also to treat him with honor, making him first in every matter of holiness: to begin as the first at the reading of the Torah, to be the first to say the benediction at a meal, and to take a fine portion at the start. We are duty-bound to hallow him [thus] even against his will if he does not wish it, since Scripture states, You shall hallow him--even against his will. Even if a kohen has a disfiguring defect, and thus is not fit for Temple service, we are obligated to honor him.


LEVITICUS — 21:8 sanctify

LEV874 If one speaks lashon hara about a kohen in his presence, thereby demeaning him, he transgresses the commandment of וְקִדַּשְׁתֹּ֔ו, “And you shall sanctify Him” (Vayikra 21:8), which obligates us to accord much honor to kohanim. One who speaks lashon hara or rechilus about a kohen and degrades him is certainly not honoring him, and therefore transgresses this commandment.


LEVITICUS — 21:10 superior

LEV875 Priests, the living symbols of a functioning religion, were are also under orders to present a handsome appearance. The high priest is described in the Bible as "the priest who is superior among his brethren" [this verse]. His superiority must be manifested, according to the Talmud, in his "strength, comeliness, and wisdom" (Yoma 18a). Yet men in the public eye quickly discover that strength and comeliness, qualities visible to all, are central to early impressions and evaluation of a leader.


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