Roy Neuberger - Jul. 12, 2019

Why is a human corpse the basic source of impurity?


Years ago, I drove Rabbi Avraham Halevi Jungreis – the father of Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, may their memories be a blessing for us – to a funeral. After letting Rabbi Jungreis off, I went to find a parking spot. When I returned, the funeral chapel was crowded, but I needed to find Rabbi Jungreis inside, so I entered an open door at the back of the building, thinking this would be a way around the crowd. I passed through a room and saw a table covered with a sheet. There was something under the sheet, and then I saw an arm sticking up.


I ran! Forget the shortcut!


Why are we afraid of the dead?


It’s just a body that was alive recently, and now the soul has departed.


I am squeamish about dead bodies. For example, if I see a dead bird on the sidewalk, I like to move it out of the way, so I take a stick and push it into the grass. But I don’t even like touching it indirectly.


Why is death frightening? And what does this have to do with impurity? Why are we forbidden to enter the Sanctuary after contact with a corpse?


I believe the answer goes to the very foundation of our Jewish existence. If our perspective is not eternal, then our priorities are totally confused. Nothing in life makes sense if it is not viewed in the perspective of eternity. This kaveochel (“in a manner of speaking”) is Hashem’s perspective, and the Holy Temple is the place where we as a nation unite with Hashem.


“The Rambam … tells us (Introduction to Parshas Teruma) that the unique and unprecedented display of the glory of Hashem that we witnessed when He rested on Mount Sinai did not end [there].… Instead it now came to rest in the Mishkan (“Tabernacle”) … [which] was … the continuation of Mount Sinai.” (Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt”l on Shavuos)


As Torah Jews, we are expected to distinguish between our soul and our body. If we do not keep in mind that our soul is eternal, then there is something wrong. The trauma associated with death is the antithesis of all that is represented by the Holy Temple. Death and the Holy Temple cannot mix.


At the beginning of our Yom Tov cycle, how do we end the Passover Seder?


“Then came Hashem and slew the angel of death!” (Chad Gadya) That is the essence of Torah perspective, and that, it seems to me, is why we are so frightened by death. We see ourselves! I imagine myself – excuse me! – disintegrating in the ground and it frightens me terribly, which I am sure is the result of my spiritual shortcomings.


I remember reading that Rabbi Pinchas Scheinberg zt”l once said of death: “It’s like walking from one room into the next.” He was not afraid!


May we all soon reach the level in which we are able to see beyond death! May we once again merit to walk upon Temple Mount! May we see the Kohanim at their task, hear the voices of the Leviim and soon see the Holy Temple in its eternal sanctity!


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