Between Metzora and Acharei Mot

When discussing the transition between Parashat Shemini and Parashat Tazria, we saw that a common theme was contact with the dead – first dead animals, then humans who had conditions that were associated with death. This continues through Parashat Metzora, which continues to detail the laws of tzaraat and other cases of impurity.

The following set of laws, in Parashat Acharei Mot, appear to be something entirely unrelated – the special service of the Kohen Gadol in the mishkan, repeated every year on Yom HaKippurim. But that section opens with the words, “The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they drew too close to the presence of the Lord” (Vayikra 16:1). That brings us back to the story in Parashat Shemini, where we read of the death of Nadav and Avihu.

Tying this all together, we can understand the sequence as follows: In Parashat Shemini, the mishkan was dedicated, and it was meant to be the center of worship and holiness for the nation. But it had just been impurified by the deaths of Nadav and Avihu. So before the Torah could continue with the laws of the service (as detailed in Parashat Acharei Mot), it needed to discuss laws of impurity and death.

In Judaism, death and holiness must be disconnected. Other religions worship death, while the Torah sanctifies life. This was certainly true of the culture of Egypt, with their massive monuments to the dead, which Israel had just left. For the Jews, any contact with death would distance oneself from divine service, not draw one closer.

The importance of life goes all the way back to the beginning of the Torah. Bereshit opens with God creating a world, and declaring that it was good – very good. There is very little emphasis on an afterlife or world to come in the Torah. We are obligated to improve this world, via the mitzvot. Those mitzvot can only be done when alive, and so again, unlike other religions, the Torah does not idealize the world after death, but rather the world we are in now, the one that is very good.

About the Author
David Curwin is a writer living in Efrat. He has been writing about the origin of Hebrew words and phrases, and their connection to other languages, on his website since 2006. He has also published widely on topics relating to Bible and Jewish philosophy.
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