The parsha begins by reiterating the tragic deaths of Aharon HaKohen’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu; then it continues with its explanation of the Yom Kippur service. Yom Kippur was the only day of the year that the Kohen Gadol was permitted to enter the Kodesh HaKodoshim, Holy of Holies. Chazal point out that two instances of misas tzaddikim, deaths of the righteous, are juxtaposed on issues that deal with kapparah, atonement: Parah Adumah and Yom Kippur. The death of Miriam HaNeviyah is juxtaposed upon the laws of Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer; and the laws of Yom Kippur are juxtaposed upon the Torah’s mention of the deaths of Nadav and Avihu. Chazal derive from here that the deaths of tzaddikim have the same power of atonement as the Parah Adumah and Yom Kippur. The question is obvious: Why is it necessary to cite two proofs for the power of atonement associated with the deaths of tzaddikim? Does anything have greater power of atonement than Yom Kippur? It is the one day that is replete with the power of atonement. What is added to this by citing the atonement power of the Parah Adumah?
Horav Eliyahu Baruch Finkel, zl, quotes one of the gedolei Yisrael who explains that there are two forms of atonement: Parah Adumah; and Yom Kippur. The primary purpose of the Parah Adumah is taharah, to purify the spiritual defilement contracted by those who have come in contact with a deceased person. It also atones. Korabanos and Yom Kippur are for one singular purpose – atonement.
Likewise, there are two types of righteous people: The first is the individual who has lived a long, full life, who has passed from this world so that he now may receive his due reward in the World to Come. Chazal reveal to us that he, too, is mechaper, atones, with his death. There is also the individual who, in addition to his high level of piety, sadly leaves this world in the prime of his life, when the world could have gained so much more from him. His passing is for one reason: atonement. The world required an immediate reprieve – one that was affected by his early demise.