This week’s parsha starts off discussing the passing of Aharon’s children. Immediately following, the Torah tells us about the service of the Kohen Gadol on Yom Hakipurim. Chazal tell us that the reason the Torah put these two ideas together is to teach us that just as the Kohen’s service on Yom Hakipurim brings us forgiveness, so too when a righteous person dies we receive a kapara.
In Chumash Bamidbar the Torah juxtaposes the death of Miriam and the service of the parah adumah. Again, chazal teach us that the passing of a great person brings atonement just like a korban. The obvious question is why is it necessary to teach us the same lesson two times. The Chasam Sofer explains that these two ideas are parallel, but not the same. The Parah Adumah was brought to atone for the sin of all of Klal Yisrael. It is a communal sacrifice and brings together with it an atonement for the general population but not for each individual and his personal sins. So too a leader in Klal Yisrael is the embodiment of the group. Being that he is our representative, with that leader’s passing we are granted an aspect of kapara. But it has not yet been moved to the personal level. The Yalkut tells us that after Miriam’s passing there was not a proper eulogy given. When the children of Aharon died the pasuk tells us explicitly that all of klal Yisrael cried over the great loss. By taking that loss personally, they intensified the kapara, for it to not only to be general, but personal. Just as we understand as we stand on Yom Hakipurim and pray for atonement of all of klal Yisrael, we have in mind, and expect a personal atonement too. This is the reason that Chazal mention this idea twice. Once for a kapara for the klal and once for a personal kapara.. Only with the personal attachment—through hesped (eulogy) and crying—are we granted a special, personal, kapara.
Many times I am asked by people after the passing of a Torah giant if I am obligated to go to the funeral or the hesped. Aside from the obvious obligation to be there, which exists, it may be worthwhile to keep in mind an added benefit of being moved personally: Not only to improve oneself but to receive a kapara at the time of this great loss.
At this time of sefira, when we ponder the death of the talmidim of Rabbi Akiva, the greater our attachment and feeling of the loss, the more we will connect to the lofty ideals which Rabbi Akiva disseminated.
Mi she’amar l’olam dei yomar ltorasaynu dei.