Friday, October 25, 2013

Life, living, aspirations, achievement, and creativity

"Pagans, both ancient and modern, have a predilection for associating religion and religious matters with death and thoughts of death. For them the kingdom of God begins only where man ends. They view death and dying as the true manifestations of their deity, whom they see as a god of death, not of life; a god that kills and never revives, that sends death and its forerunners, sickness and affliction, so that men’s realizing the might of their god and their own impotence, may fear him. For this reason they set up their shrines near graves and the place of their priests is prominently near the dead. Death and mourning are the most fertile soil for the dissemination of their religion, and it seems that in their view, the presence, on their own flesh, of a mark of death, a symbol of death's power to conquer all of life, would be a sign of religiosity par excellence and, above all, the most essential attribute of the priest and his office.

"Not so the priests in Judaism, because the Jewish concept of God and the Jewish religion are not so. The God Whose Name assigns the priest his place among the Jewish people is a God of life, His most exalted manifestation is not the power of death that crushes strength and vitality but the power of life that enables man to exercise free will and to be immortal. Judaism teaches us not how to die but how to live so that, even in life, we may overcome death, lack of freedom, the enslavement to physical things and moral weakness. Judaism teaches us how to spend every moment of a life marked by moral freedom, thought, aspirations, creativity and achievement, along with the enjoyment of physical pleasures, as one more moment in life's constant service to the everlasting God. This is the teaching to which God has dedicated His Sanctuary and for whose service He has consecrated the ihbvf, the guardians of the basis and "direction" (Hebrew: ivf [priest] = iuf [direction] of the people's life.

"When death summons the other members of his people to perform the final acts of loving-kindness for the physical shell of a apb [soul] that has been called home to God, the ‘v hbvf ["priests of God"] must stay away in order to keep aloft the banner of life beside the dead body, to make certain that the concept of life; i.e., the thought that man has been endowed with moral freedom, that he is godly and not subject to the physical forces that seek to crush moral freedom, is not overshadowed by thoughts of death. Only when the realities of life require even the priest to perform his final duty as a husband, son, father or brother for the shell of a departed apb, or the presence of an abandoned body makes it necessary for him to take the place of the father or brother of the deceased, does his priestly function yield to his calling as a human being and as a member of a family. In such cases he is not only permitted but in fact commanded to have the necessary contact with the dead body. Under all other circumstances, however, priests must stay away from the bodies of the dead."

R' Hirsch on Genesis Emor 21:5

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