Our Gemara on Amud Aleph continues the discussion of various states of decomposed flesh, and when it still is within the threshold of a corpse, to the extent that it can render a Nazir impure. Such corpse dust must not contain foreign ingredients mixed within it:
תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן אֵיזֶהוּ מֵת שֶׁיֵּשׁ לוֹ רָקָב מֵת שֶׁנִּקְבַּר עָרוֹם בְּאָרוֹן שֶׁל שַׁיִשׁ אוֹ עַל גַּבֵּי רִצְפָּה שֶׁל אֲבָנִים זֶהוּ מֵת שֶׁיֵּשׁ לוֹ רָקָב נִקְבַּר בִּכְסוּתוֹ בְּאָרוֹן שֶׁל עֵץ אוֹ עַל גַּבֵּי רִצְפָּה שֶׁל לְבֵנִים זֶהוּ מֵת שֶׁאֵין לוֹ רָקָב
The mishna taught that one of the sources of ritual impurity for which a nazirite must shave is a full ladle of dust from a corpse. The Sages taught (Tosefta, Oholot 2:3): Which is a corpse that has the halakha of dust, i.e., whose dust imparts impurity? A corpse that was buried naked in a marble coffin or on a stone floor; this is a corpse that has the halakha of dust that imparts impurity. Any dust found there must have come from the corpse. However, if it was buried in its cloak, or in a wooden coffin, or on a brick floor, this is a corpse that does not have the halakha of dust that imparts impurity. In the latter cases it is assumed that the dust from the corpse includes particles from the clothes, wood, or bricks that disintegrated, and there is a tradition that the impurity of dust applies only to dust that comes solely from the corpse, not to a mixture from different sources.
Let’s enjoy a little derush regarding this statement. The phrase נִקְבָּר עָרוֹם “buried naked” is used elsewhere in the Gemara to describe a particularly problematic behavior or mode of thought (Megillah 32a):
אָמַר רַבִּי פַּרְנָךְ אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן: כׇּל הָאוֹחֵז סֵפֶר תּוֹרָה עָרוֹם, נִקְבָּר עָרוֹם. עָרוֹם סָלְקָא דַּעְתָּךְ? אֶלָּא אֵימָא: נִקְבָּר עָרוֹם בְּלֹא מִצְוֹת.
Rabbi Parnakh said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: Anyone who holds onto an uncovered Torah scroll, i.e., holds the parchment directly without anything intervening, will be punished by being buried uncovered. The Gemara asks: Can it enter your mind to say that he will actually be buried uncovered? Why should he be buried in such a disgraceful manner? Rather, say that he will be buried metaphorically uncovered, i.e., without the merit of having performed mitzvos.
בְּלֹא מִצְוֹת סָלְקָא דַּעְתָּךְ?! אֶלָּא אָמַר אַבָּיֵי: נִקְבָּר עָרוֹם בְּלֹא אוֹתָהּ מִצְוָה.
The Gemara again asks: Can it enter your mind to say that he will be buried without the merit of having performed mitzvot? Why should he forfeit the merit of all the mitzvot that he performed during his lifetime? Rather, Abaye said: He will be buried metaphorically uncovered, i.e., without the merit of that mitzva. He forfeits the reward of the mitzva he performed while holding directly onto the parchment.
Maharal (Tiferes Yisrael 13) explains this Gemara to mean that though Torah contains esoteric and profound nearly unfathomable meanings, one must be careful to remain grounded in physicality. Just as the soul cannot exist in this world without a body, Torah observance cannot exist in this world without physical process. Holding the Torah scroll naked is a metaphor for trying to ascend spiritual heights without physical grounding. The danger is that the person will get lost in an antinomian state and lose his observance, thus end up going to the next world with nothing.
Perhaps our Gemara alludes to this as well in stating that there is only impurity when the corpse is without any foreign material. The lack of foreign material, i.e., input from reality, makes it susceptible to the forces of impurity and the sitera achera.
I close with a powerful reminder from Rav Soloveitchik:
There is nothing so physically and spiritually destructive as diverting one’s attention from this world. And, by contrast, how courageous is halakhic man who does not flee from this world, who does not seek to escape to some pure, supernal realm (Halakhic Man, p.41).