Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah–Emor

Let none [of you] defile himself for a dead person among his people (Lev. 21:1)

According to Torah, coming near a dead body makes one unclean, or impure. If one is “impure,” one is ostracized from the community during the period of impurity. At the very same time, it is an ultimate “mitzvah” to properly bury the dead.

Herein lays one of the great conundrums of fundamentalism. How can one remain pure and still perform this mitzvah? Torah carves a little out, in that it argues that one is not impure if the deceased is a really close relative. For most of us, as we say our final earthly goodbyes to the people to whom we are close, but who are not on the “protected” list, we have a problem. Or, do we?

Contrary to popular parlance, impurity is not, in and of itself, a sin. It is state of distraction. We often get distracted, that does not “de facto” mean that we have transgressed. In fact, there are times that distractions are essential to the value of living. In the case of this week’s text, the distraction allows us the opportunity to reflect. No one needs to tell us that we are distracted when we bury people close to us. No one has to call us out as impure, and so Torah lets organic life speak and exempts burying loved ones from making one impure.

But, for the so many others to whom we say, “Goodbye,” do we take time to reflect on the value of life? Do we take intentional time to reflect on how the deceased’s life impacted our own? What about the legacy to which his/her life speaks? Each of us has gifts to share, too often; most of them die with us … for lack of anyone paying attention. Torah tells us to stand aside for a period, allowing us this reflection time.

Certainly, not every distraction is a good one. Often, we get “off track” for a host of distractions that serve only to distract us from our daily goals and objectives. Impurity is nothing more than the state of being distracted, calling attention to our need to “pay attention.” It recognizes that we are outside the norm. If the distraction takes us off course, then we need to “right the ship.” If the distraction is a necessary break in the action, then we need to take the time to regroup.

My concern is that so many religionists use impurity and transgression as synonyms and then sit in judgment over people, making a host of demeaning accusations. We destroy relationships presuming that bumps in the road are character flaws, failing to see the impact of these and other distractions in our own lives that hinder our progress.

So, this week’s portion commands Moses to speak with the priests, not judge them nor command them, but speak with them and help them figure out some of these life rules. Built into this instruction is an implicit command for derekh eretz – compassionate thoughtfulness. If impurity is the state of distraction, then perhaps we must help one who is impure figure out what he/she needs to get back in the game, and then respond accordingly. Sometimes is the sympathetic ear and/or personal comfort. Other times it is the support to refocus. In either case, our obligation is to support each other and not judge them, for we have no idea what is happening in his/her head. In every case, choose dignity and life. Shabbat Shalom.