In Parshas Emor, the theme of Sefer Vayikra being the Toras Kohanim, is continued. The parshah opens with the halachos of whom a Kohen is allowed to become tamei, spiritually impure, for. The halachos are straightforward and simple. When a person passes away, their body enters a state of Tumah, spiritual impurity. Coming into contact with the deceased renders a person impure.
Because of their lofty positions, Kohanim are restricted by the Torah from coming into contact with most deceased people. A regular Kohen is only allowed to become tamei to his direct family members which include his parents, his wife, his children, his brothers and his unmarried sisters. The Kohen Gadol however, is on an even higher level than a regular Kohen and therefore cannot become tamei to anyone. (The exception in both these cases is when there is a Meis Mitzvah, where there is a body that must be buried and there is no one else who can take care of it. In that case, even Kohanim are obligated to step in and fulfill the mitzvah.)
The Kli Yakar points out a paradox in the subject of Tumas Meis, the impurity of the deceased. A person’s soul is pure, and as the soul leaves the body upon death, the tumah which comes upon a dead body must be a result of the body itself. However, at the same time, an animal, which has no soul, does not become tamei upon its death! So where does the tumah come from? He explains that when the Malach Hamaves, The Angel of Death, rips the soul out of a person’s body, he leaves the tumah in its place. However, animals, which have no soul, are not killed by the Malach Hamaves and therefore do not become tamei in death.
This is true by all humans except for tzaddikim. Tzaddikim do not die through the hands of the Malach Hamaves, but rather through neshika, literally translated as a kiss. The process of this death is that Hashem comes down and “kisses” the neshama out of the body. Therefore, there is no tumah on the bodies of tzaddikim and technically, Kohanim would be allowed to come in contact with their bodies.
Aharon HaKohen was on such a level; he died through Hashem’s kiss. The Kli Yakar, repeating an idea we discussed in ParshasMetzora, suggests that this same kedushah was passed through Aharon to all his descendants, meaning that no Kohen would become tamei upon death. For this reason, Kohanim are allowed to deal with their dead relatives without being over the prohibition of becoming tamei as their relatives are not actually tamei! The Kohen Gadol however, is still not allowed to become tamei to anyone because even when someone dies through neshika, there is still a tiny bit of tumah that comes over the body. For someone on the lofty level of the Kohen Gadol, we will be makpid that he should not become even the least bit impure.
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