The only time that the Kohen Gadol was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies was on Yom Kippur – the holiest day of the year – the day set aside for spiritual atonement. Our parsha begins with the mention of the deaths of the two righteous sons of Aharon HaKohen and follows with the laws concerning the Yom Kippur service in the Temple. Chazal derive from this juxtaposition that the deaths of the righteous have an atoning effect similar to that of Yom Kippur. Likewise, we find a similar statement made by Chazal, noting that the mention of the death of Miriam HaNeviyah is juxtaposed upon the laws of Parah Adumah. This teaches that misas tzaddikim, the deaths of the righteous, have an atoning effect similar to the Parah Adumah. We can understand the relationship between the deaths of the righteous and Yom Kippur. Parah Adumah, however, is not a korban, ritual sacrifice. Why not compare missas tzaddikim to korbanos, all sacrifices? They serve as an atonement – unlike Parah Adumah, whose sanctity only maintains kedushas damim, monetary value.
Horav Yitzchak Yaakov Rabinowitz, zl, Rav of Ponevez, quotes the Mishnah in Mesechas Parah 3:11 that teaches that the eifar Parah, ash of the Parah Adumah, was divided into three parts: one part was placed in the chail; a second portion was placed on Har HaMishchah; the third portion was divided up between the mishmaros, watches, of the Kohanim. The part that went to the chail was set aside to purify the Kohen who prepared the Parah Adumah. The part that was placed upon the mountain was used for the Kohanim. The third portion was used for the people when it was necessary to purify them from spiritual defilement.
This process provides a strong similarity between the Parah Adumah and the deaths of tzaddikim. When a righteous person takes leave of his earthly abode, his spiritual persona is, likewise, divided into three parts. His holy neshamah, which retained its pristine purity throughout the tzaddik’s earthly sojourn, returns to its rightful place beneath the Kisei HaKavod, Holy Throne. The second part is reserved for the Kohanim, which is a metaphor for the chiddushei Torah, novellae, which the scholar innovated. These writings are reserved for the scholars who will delve through them, thereby increasing their knowledge and allowing for the “lips” of the tzaddik to speak from the grave. The third portion is reserved for Klal Yisrael, the Jewish community, who should derive important life-altering lessons from the life of a tzaddik. The way he lived should illuminate for us the path we should follow and the manner in which we should live.
This is why missas tzaddikim is compared solely to the Parah Adumah – not to the general family of korbanos. The various sacrifices do not demand the owner’s participation. The Kohanim perform the service, and the owner receives atonement. The Parah Adumah, however, demands owner participation, whereby the subject of the purification must take some of the ashes in order to purify himself. Likewise, when a tzaddik dies, the community must actually participate in “taking” a lesson from his life. Otherwise, the positive effect dissipates. It does not “just happen”. The person makes it happen.
A great tzaddik leaves this world. We read the obituary and biography – even the book which soon appears. The stories are inspirational; the anecdotes are meaningful. Sadly, the inspiration and meaning dissipate with time – unless we make the effort to study the life of the tzaddik, to take from his life and incorporate it in ours – just like the ashes of the Parah Adumah.