A Safeguard of Purity by Chaim Strassman


This week’s Parsha describes several restrictions placed upon the Kohen Gadol.  One of the more well-known restrictions is that he may not come in contact with a dead body so that he does not become Tamei, spiritually impure.  This Halacha is so strict that the Kohen Gadol may not even go to a parent’s funeral, whereas a Kohen Hedyot, a common Kohen, can attend the funerals of certain close relatives, including his parents.  Moreover, the Halacha accepts the Tannaitic opinion that forbids a Kohen Gadol to leave the Beit Hamikdash to even follow his parent’s funeral procession.  This seems to be a very harsh restriction, especially given that it would normally be considered a Mitzvah to honor a parent by attending his or her funeral, and the Kohen would certainly want very much to go.  How can it be that our Torah that teaches Rachamim, mercy, still prohibits a grieving son from going to his parent’s funeral?  Additionally, the Torah usually does not always make such strong safeguards.  Why does it go so far in safeguarding the Kohen Gadol’s Taharah?

We may find an answer at the beginning of the laws for the Kohen Gadol.  Many times, the Torah emphasizes the command of holiness for Kohanim: “They shall be holy…and you shall sanctify him…he shall be holy…” (21:6,8).  This quality, which is even more true of the Kohen Gadol than other Kohanim, was reason enough to make such a strong safeguard to ensure the Kohen Gadol’s Taharah.  The commandment of remaining Tahor is simply too important to transgress, even if it is his parent’s funeral.

From the Torah’s enacting such strong safeguards, we can also learn something else.  The Kohen Gadol must go to great lengths to stay holy even in a time of hardship for him.  When we find ourselves dropping on some level in our lives, we, too, need to make our own safeguards in order to improve ourselves.  Whether the problem is lack of enthusiasm in learning or watching too much television or any other issue we may encounter, it is our task to ensure that we safeguard every aspect of our Torah lives.

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