לֹֽא־יִטַּמָּ֖א בְּעַמָּֽיו - Do not defile yourself for any dead person amongst your relatives
In this week’s parsha we learn of a unique set of laws as they apply to Jewish priests, Kohanim.
Kohanim must distance themselves from the dead and dying. They are to refrain from becoming ritually unclean and must take every precaution to prevent the defilement of their holy order.
Why are there restrictions for the Kohanim-class in regards to purity and ritual uncleanliness?
Why are they burdened with extra rules and regulations?
How are Kohanim different from the rest of the general Jewish population - who are absolutely free of these rules?
To understand this we must appreciate how a Kohen is tasked to promote the physical well being and spiritual purity of the Jewish People. This is his job!
Under no circumstances should he be involved in matters of death or tumah, ritual impurity.
By becoming entangled in tumah, the Kohen is abdicating his unique role in the sacred service to the Jewish People.
In this vein we note the halacha that a Jewish person who accidentally killed another Jew must seek safe harbor from the victim’s vengeful relatives by taking shelter in a designated Ir Miklat, city of refuge.
The hapless murderer is essentially trapped in a strange and unfamiliar city and must learn to survive in exile and under stressful circumstances, for the rest of his life.
If and when, however, the Kohen Gadol, High Priest, passes away, the murderer goes free and returns to his original home and regular life.
This is the only opportunity for freedom offered to the murderer-refugee.
The gemara explains this improbable connection and why the Kohen Gadol is held “responsible” for the killer’s imposed exile - since the High Priest should've prayed that no fatal accidents occur among the Jewish People!
As the Kohen Gadol commands a leadership role in his capacity to further life, it represented a personal massive failure and professional abdication of duty by not davening to avoid an even accidental death.
We observe how the Kohen’s focus should be on the living and not the dead.
Kohanim played a vital role in providing spiritual succor and they inadvertently extended a new lease on life for some unfortunate souls as well. They truly were a force of life and living for the entire nation.