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G-d told Moses to say (emor) to the priests, the sons of Aaron: 'You may not defile yourself by contact with a corpse… except if it is of a close relative' (21:1-2).
The word emor (say) is a softer and gentler form of daber (speak); the usual way G-d instructed Moses to address the Israelites. The use of the word emor appears to imply a degree of persuasion rather than instruction, tact as opposed to blatant orders.
This might be reasoned as possible. There are two sides of the person, which on death become separate. As Kohelet puts it: [On death, Man] returns to the earth, as he once was. [But] the spirit returns to G-d, who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7). The body is temporary. Whole disintegration commences from the moment of death.
The soul is permanent. When freed from the body it transcends the limits of history and geography and returns to the Creator.
G-d - the Creator is eternal. Humanity, and even planet earth is temporary. It is limited in history, geography, and future.
The priests in temple times connected Man to G-d by carrying out His ordained service at the holiest spot on the planet - where the Creator is closest. Thus the sacred role of the priests is a bridge between the temporary - human existence, and the Creator - eternal. Today, this role is fulfilled by prayer, yet the priests still act as a conduit of G-d's blessing to the people in the priestly blessing service: '[The priests] shall put My name on the Israelites and I (G-d) will bless them' (Num. 6:27).
Thus the role of the priest bridges humanity with the eternal. It is with the spiritual side of man which continues after death, not the physical side of man which terminates at death. Therefore it would not be fitting that he should carry out that role when there are others that can perform it.
The exception is with a close relative. There, the closeness of the relationship means that something of the deceased is with the priest at the time of death. For he, the priest, is in some way a continuation of the life of the deceased…
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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Also by Jacob Solomon:
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