(During certain year parashat Emor is read in the Land of Israel, while in the Diaspora, on the same Shabbat, the two portions of Acharei and Kedoshim are read).
There is a common thread between these Torah portions: the concept of death. Acharei Mot begins with ‘after the death of Aaron’s two sons,’ while the portion of Emor begins with instructions to the kohanim, the priests who serve in the Tabernacle/Holy Temple not to contaminate themselves by exposure to death.
Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, one of the foremost rabbis and kabbalists of modern times (and himself a Kohen), writes very beautifully about the true nature of death from a Torah perspective. He explains that death is actually a birth; the birth of the soul’s new life outside the body. He explains that the idea of death as being ‘the end’ is an illusion….a lie. He calls death a graduation, and explains that the power of life -- real, eternal life -- is so powerful, that the time comes when the soul can no longer be contained by the physical body because it needs to soar and expand to what it could really be, beyond the physical limitations of this world. We are all influenced by the lie of death because as human beings this is an unavoidable reaction....however, the kohanim who serve in the Holy Temple are commanded not to pay any mind to this lie, since they are in the place of the Shechina, the Divine Presence, which is eternal life, and they are responsible for bringing blessing into the world through the Divine service.
All of us grapple with death, and we all have to deal with it on a personal level sooner or later. Like everything else in life, the question is, how do we react, and how do we deal with it. It’s one thing to philosophize and read these great writings and be inspired….but it’s quite another when we actually face death and experience it, especially the passing of a loved one. And when tragedy strikes, and the young and innocent are taken in the bloom of life, how does Rav Kook’s insight help us to overcome the crushing reality that seems so unfair? It may be a new life for the soul, but why now? These are the feelings we invariably feel.
If I may attempt to answer my own question: Nothing really helps us to deal with the pain of any loss, and certainly not a particularly tragic one, such as the death of the young. We have no insight in how Hashem runs the world and what is behind His decrees…we only have our faith in Him that everything is ultimately for the good even if we cannot understand. Remember that Hashem does not work for us. But the great Rav is reminding us that the main thing to remember is that this is not the end…not at all. Even a tragic ‘ending’ is not really an ending but a beginning….the soul is forever and so through our tears, and despite them, we must remember that nothing can stop the power of eternal life which is hidden inside each and every one of us.