In this week’s parsha we learn of the halachos of a Nazir – one who accepts upon himself a vow to a) abstain from eating grapes & drinking wine, b) refrain from cutting his/her hair, and c) not become tamai through contact with corpses or graves. This last prohibition is applicable even to the corpses of close family members. As the passuk says “Le’aviv ule’imo le’achiv ule’achoso lo yitamo lahem bemosam..” – For his father, mother, brother and sister he may not make himself tamei for them at their death…” (Bamidbar, 6:7). Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l asks why the Torah does not also list the corpses of a Nazir’s son and daughter? For the prohibition is applicable to their corpses, too. Contrast this list with a similar one presented by the Torah back in parshas Emor regarding a Kohain (who too cannot become tamai by coming in contact with corpses and graves). There the Torah is listing the deaths of close family members that are an exception to his prohibition, allowing the Kohain to become tamai by tending to their interment. And in that list, points out Rav Yaakov, the Kohain’s son and daughter are listed. So why by the Nazir does the Torah refrain from mentioning them?
Perhaps we can suggest the following answer. Rav Yehoshua Trunk zt”l (the mid 19th century Rav of Kutna) posits that the Torah is uncomfortable in mentioning the tragic event of one losing a child. It is just too painful for Hashem to mention. We see several examples of this in the Torah: In parshas Pinchas where the Torah lists the order of inheritors of a dead man’s estate it does not mention that a father inherits the estate of one who dies childless. In parshas Noach, where the ten generations from Noach to Avraham are listed, the Torah does not give closure to each generation by saying the word “Vayomos” -”and he died”. This is in contrast to the ten generations listed in Beraishis where the Torah does insert that word. This is because if one were to make calculations of when those people in parshas Noach died, we will find that some of them passed away whilst their fathers were still living and Hashem is too pained to therefore overtly mention their death. Of course, there are exceptions such as the deaths of Nadav & his brother Avihu , two of Aharon Hakohain’s sons. Their deaths were a teaching moment to Bnai Yisrael of the high level of sanctity and decorum demanded of a human entering the Mishkan, and an opportunity to see the stoic and superhuman reaction of Aharon Hakohain to their deaths.
Now we can understand why by the Nazir the Torah does not explicitly mention the corpses of a son and daughter. It is too tragic an event to mention, and thus the Torah omits it and leaves it up to Chazal to understand the halachos relevant to the death of a child.
Ah, you will ask, “So, why by the Kohain and his list of family members (for whom he may become tamai) the Torah does list the deaths of a son or daughter? The answer, I believe, is that when it comes to a Kohain in the Midbar losing a child, even though it was an awful tragedy, the Torah feels an obligation to mention such an occurrence. You see Chazal tell us that for the forty years the Yidden were travelling in the Midbar no-one gave their sons a Bris Milah. It was just too dangerous. For the Northern Wind and its tremendous healing powers did not blow during that time, making it dangerous to perform a bris procedure. However, there was one exception: the tribe of Levi. They threw caution to the wind (maybe that it where the expression comes from) and went ahead and performed the Bris Milah on all their sons. And Chazal praise them for their dedication to this mitzvah (See Rashi, Devarim, 33:9) The Seforno (ibid), however, adds an amazing statement to this Chazal. He says that the Levi’im felt that this mitzva was so vital that even though it was extremely dangerous they went ahead with the bris procedure even though many of the children died! Now we can understand why in parshas Emor the Torah does not shy away from listing the deaths of sons and daughters of a Kohain. For Kohanim, who too were from the tribe of Levi, lost sons through their dedication to the mitzva of Bris Milah. Yes, the tragedy was just as great as any other death of a child. But the Torah wants to make mention of it, for it was through their supreme dedication to Hashem that these tragic events transpired (Of course this answer would not explain mentioning the death of daughters, but once the Torah had to mention the sons it also mentioned the daughters, otherwise one might think that the halacha is different with regard to them).
Have a great Shabbos.
Rabbi Nosson Greenberg is rov of Khal Machzikei Torah of Far Rockaway, N.Y., and maggid shiur at Yeshiva of Far Rockaway.