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Hukkat. Choose Life!

Parashat Hukkat opens with the ritual of the Red Heifer, a complicated purification process to purify a person who has come into contact with the dead. But,

  • Does death defile?

  • Can death generate some impure spirit?

  • Why do we need purification after we have touched the dead or resided in the same room as a corpse?

Rabbi Soloveitchik in his work, Halakhic Man, gives a fascinating perspective on this topic:

Judaism has a negative attitude toward death: a corpse defiles; a grave defiles; a person who has been defiled by a corpse is defiled for seven days and is forbidden to eat any sacred offerings or enter the Temple…

Many religions view the phenomenon of death as a positive spectacle … sanctify death and the grave because it is here that we find ourselves at the threshold of transcendence, at the portal of the world to come. Death is seen as a window filled with light, open to an exalted, supernal realm.

Judaism, however, proclaims that coming into contact with the dead precipitates defilement. Judaism abhors death, organic decay, and dissolution. It bids one to choose life and sanctify it.

Authentic Judaism as reflected in halakhic thought sees in death a terrifying contradiction to the whole of religious life. Death negates the entire magnificent experience of halakhic man… —when a person dies, he is freed from the commandments"