Temple, Knowledge, and Sacrifice
Rabbi Israel Chait
Student’s transcription from a shiur given on March 15, 2018
What is the reason why a mourner, a leper and one who was in contact with the dead cannot offer sacrifices? I will offer an explanation by way of drash—homiletics.
The commentaries point to a Rashi in Talmud Moade Kattan. There, Rashi states that a mourner is not shalame b’daato; of sound mind. It is then sensible that a mourner cannot offer a sacrifice, since mikdash—temple—is the place where one goes to obtain knowledge of God. As the mourner is not of sound mind, he cannot offer a sacrifice in temple, for his state of mind inhibits his ability to obtain knowledge.
Then there is the person plagued by disease—metzora. The difference between this person and a person who sins is that the latter simply performed a [single] act of sin. But the metzora points to a deep character defect, like one who always speaks lashon hara, a “baal lashon hara.” This person must move outside the Jewish encampment. He too cannot offer a sacrifice because this defect prevents him from attaining knowledge, which the temple supplies.
The third personality who cannot offer a sacrifice is one who was in contact with the dead. This is the only tumah (ritual impurity) with an entire parsha reserved for it, namely Parshas Parah. No other tumah has such an elaboration of an entire system, including the cow, the ashes, and the contradictions (the ashes purify those who are impure, and vice versa). This system is complex and deep. This is why Chazal say that even King Solomon didn’t fully fathom Para Aduma to the nth degree.
This is only regarding the tumah from of the deceased, tammei mase [and no other tumahs, like that of insects/crawling creatures, sherretz]. This is because the person becomes very emotionally upset during such an encounter. Regarding a dead person, we only have his body, but his positive qualities are gone. In general, death is something that throws a person for loop; it is the most difficult phenomenon that man must accept. That is why people ask questions when it comes to death: “How can this be?” Death completely disrupts man mentally. The Rav said, “Death is the destruction of man and no philosopher or miracle worker can talk it away.” Death affects man in a way that it uproots his metaphysical self. Therefore, he is not a complete person and he too cannot offer a sacrifice.
In summary, a mourner cannot attain temple’s knowledge for he is not of sound mind. The leper possesses a deep character flaw which too conflicts with the attainment of knowledge. And a person who was in contact with the dead has a metaphysical flaw; placing him into the category of Iyove, and he is uprooted metaphysically. This explains why these three people cannot offer sacrifices [their respective mental and emotional capacities conflict with knowledge, which temple provides].