"Seize the day! Take every opportunity."
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” -- Henry David Thoreau
This week, we learn about many laws associate with the Kohanim when they are not in the Temple. One such stricture is that they may not come into contact with a dead body. The impurity which emanates from the dead creates a miasma, a spiritual pollution, which is detrimental to the holy kohanim. Why do they have this rule?
To understand this strange law, we must first look at a different law associate with the dead. The Mishna teaches us the when we are burying someone, we need not stop to perform other mitzvot, even those which are very time-sensitive such s reading Shema or other davening. Some have suggested that this is because of a general law exempting those in the midst of the performance of a mitzvah from staring another. However, others have said that this is because one who is currently dealing with the dead cannot connect to the very flavour of life, the Torah.
Death and the Torah stand at opposite poles. The Torah represents our ongoing connection with Hashem, our dialogue with the divine. And it is, fundamentally, a document for the living. It is a document available only to those who have life to pursue it. We are given this short time on Earth to better ourselves and improve the lives of others, with the Torah as our blueprint. Contrary to other religions, this is our spiritual peak. This is the most valuable time. This time, the time of self-improvement and work, is the time we care the most about. The dead have achieved whatever they could. Their advancement can no longer proceed from this point forward.
The Kohanim are avatars of spirituality and right practice. They should represent for us the ultimate in spiritual achievement. As they go about their work in the Temple, they are meant t be almost like angels. As the prophet tells us: "For the lips of the kohen are the lips of knowledge, and they will request the teaching from his mouth, for he is a messenger of Hashem, the Lord of Hosts." (Malachi 3) Such people must be always importing, always striving for more. They cannot allow themselves to come into contact with the antithesis of such goals.
The Torah recognises that not all can behave in this fashion. While there is allowance for Jews other than kohanim to undertake a similar stricture, in the form of a Nazir, it is intended as a temporary state. However, the fact that there are some who achieve such lofty spiritual heights inspires all of us to strive for more and to connect more deeply. It also tells us to seize the moment while we have I, to take advantage of every opportunity, so that we can slowly become the person we want to be.