In this week’s Parsha, Parshat Shemini, we learn of the death of Aharon’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu. We then find out that Aharon’s other two sons, Mishael and Eltzafan, are ordered to remove their brothers’ remains from the Kodesh Hakadoshim. By doing this, they would seemingly have obtained the status of being “Tamei Lamet.”
The Gemara in Succah (25a-b) delves into a discussion regarding a Halachich principle known as “Haosek Bimitzva Patur Min Hamitzva,” “One who is involved in one Mitzva is exempt from doing another Mitzva.” The Gemara explains that this is derived from a Pasuk in Chumash which says, “Vayihi Anashim Asher Hayu Timayim Linefesh Adam,” “And there were men that became impure from a dead body” (Bamidbar 9:6), and were therefore unable to bring the Korban Pesach. Who were these people?
The most obvious answer is that these people were the people that were in charge of carrying Yosef’s coffin from Mitzrayim to Eretz Yisrael. A second answer offered by Rabbi Akiva suggests that these people were in fact Mishael and Eltzafan. Logically, though, both the coffin bearers and Aharon’s sons could not be these Tamei people, since from the time they became Tamei until it was time to bring the Korban Pesach, they would have had ample time to perform the procedure of becoming Tahor, pure. The only possibility then as to who these people were, is that they were regular people involved with the Chevra Kadisha. However, after learning this, our original question of whether or not Mishael and Eltzafan became Tamei by removing their brother’s remains still remains.
To answer this question, we must look at Tosafot (Succah 25b, s.v. Mishael Vieltzafan Hayu), who quotes the Torat Kohanim which says that Nadav and Avihu’s bodies were burned, as the text says. If so, Mishael and Eltzafan would not have become Tamei, since one cannot become Tamei from coming in contact with ashes. Therefore, in theory, if Nadav and Avihu died on Erev Pesach, which would not leave the necessary seven days of Tahara in order to bring the Korban Pesach, they would not be considered Tamei and would still be allowed to bring the Korban Pesach. Even if you do not subscribe to this theory, and argue as Tosafot does, that they were burned only on the inside, which would leave their outer body intact, there were more than the necessary seven days to become Tahor and bring the Korban Pesach. To further support this view, if they were completely burned to only ashes then the Chumash could not possibly say, “Vayisaum Bichutanotam,” “They carried them out by their tunics,” (Shemini 10:5).