Death's Divine Message
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
In Parshat Chukat, we are instructed how to purify a person who has come into contact with a dead body. It is a complex procedure requiring the ashes of the red heifer to be sprinkled upon the impure person at two specific times during a week long purification process.
On the other hand, one that comes into contact with an animal carcass has to undergo immersion in a Mikvah (Ritual body of water), a short and straightforward purification process. Rabbi Soloveitchik (The Rav Thinking Aloud on Sefer Bamidbar) points out that Jewish law considers the death of an animal and human so differently because of the great difference between human life/death and animal life/death. He points out that while death of a human being is considered tragic, the death of an animal is not generally experienced as a tragedy. This is because an animal is not really considered to have individualistic existence. An animal does not have a spiritual personality so to speak. Despite the death of this particular animal, the species will survive. Human beings on the other hand are different. Within every human being there is a spiritual personality, a unique individuality unlike any other. A human being exists not only as a representative of humankind but has his/her own independent existence and right to exist. Therefore the death of a human being is indeed tragic. The death of one human being is the death of an entire unique species. The recent death within our community has affected many of us greatly. One of the profound lessons for me has been a deeper understanding of the unique preciousness of every human being. Unfortunately we often only truly appreciate the value and preciousness of someone once they are no longer with us. The challenge for us is to notice, appreciate and do for others while they are still with us. While death is tragic, not noticing and appreciating others while we are all alive is also tragic. Let us work on having and showing appreciation, respect and honor to every human world around us.