ZOHAR PARSHAS EMOR DAF 88a-88b
JOURNEY OF THE SOUL LEAVING HER BODY.
THE PROHIBITION OF
KOHANIM BEING IN CONTACT WITH A DEAD BODY
[Parshas Emor begins with a vital law regarding Kohanim. A Kohein [priest] is forbidden to become impure by being in contact with a dead body. This passage of Zohar speaks of the reasons as to why a body without a soul is considered impure, and why it is forbidden to leave a dead body overnight before burial.]
Come and see. At the time that a person stands to go to that world, the supernal world, i.e. at the time that the soul leaves the body, and he is "in hospital", he is already lying on his [death] bed [ready to leave this world] three messengers come to him – three angels of judgment. And a person sees there what a person could not see while he is in this world. And that day is the day of Supernal Judgment. That the King Blessed be He requests the return of His deposit, i.e. the soul that He deposited into the hand of man. Happy is the man who returns the deposit to the King Blessed be He as clean as it was given to him without sin or wrongdoing, but rather is filled with Torah and Mitzvot. But if the deposit is soiled with the dirt of the desires of the body, what will he say to the Master of the deposit when He claims from him as to why he soiled the deposit that was entrusted into his hand.
He lifts his eyes and sees the Angel of Death standing in front of him. And his sword is drawn in his hand, and he breaks and separates the four foundation joints of the person. And there is nothing harder for the soul of all punishments that he had throughout his life, than the separation from the body. And no man dies before seeing the Shechina [the Indwelling Presence of G-d.] And due to the abundance of yearning of the soul towards the ray of [light] of the Shechina, it leaves the body to welcome Her. After the soul leaves the body, what soul can cleave to the Shechina and be received inside Her? And behold we have already described these things in another place.
After the soul leaves the body and the body remains without the spirit of life, it is forbidden to leave it - the body, without burial, as it is written “Do not leave his corpse on the tree, you shall surely bury it on that very day.” (Devarim 21:23.) And it is explained that since the dead body waits 24 hours which is day and night without burial (this is the most of amount of time allowed,) it gives [causes] a weakness in the limbs of the Supernal Chariot, that a man below hints to it. For just as there is a hold of the Chitzonim [the external impure forces] below on the body of the dead person, so too, they [the Chitzonim] are able to hold [and attach] above G‑d forbid.
And there is a second reason for not allowing the body to remain overnight. It prevents the Holy One Blessed be He from doing His work [so to speak], since it is possible that the Holy One Blessed be He decreed upon him - this soul, that it should come into another incarnation, immediately on the day that it died, in order to benefit the person to repair his soul through reincarnation. And all the while that the body is not buried, the soul cannot enter before the Holy One Blessed be He, and it is unable to come into another body and to be reincarnated into a second incarnation, since they do not give the soul another body until the first is buried.
Another thing – a third reason concerning the prohibition of leaving the corpse overnight: When the soul separates from the body and it wishes to go into that world – the supernal world – it is unable to enter that world until they give to her another body of light, and only afterwards is it able to enter. And you can know this from Elijah the Prophet. He had two bodies. One body was as he appeared below in this world to people – that in this body he was unable to go Above. And one body as he appeared in Above amongst the supernal holy angels. And therefore it is forbidden to let a corpse remain overnight [without burial,] since until the body is buried, it is impossible for the soul to enclothe herself in another spiritual body and to ascend upwards to her place.
And there is another fourth reason on the prohibition of leaving the corpse overnight: Since all the while that the body is not buried, it is a distressful for the soul, since a spirit of impurity is prepared and ready to rest upon it, and it is ready to make the body impure. And since this impure spirit is ready and prepared to contaminate the body, and therefore it is forbidden for a person to leave the body without burial for one night, since the spirit of impurity is present and reigns in the night, and it spreads itself and flies over the entire earth to find a body without a soul to make it impure, and therefore at night the body becomes more impure.
And upon this, the verse warns the Kohanim and says to them, “Each of you may not contaminate himself to a dead person amongst his people,” i.e. they may not contaminate themselves to a body without a living soul, since they are holy, therefore there shall not rest upon them a spirit of impurity and they shall not become impure through it.
And this means to say that since no body is created for an impure soul, therefore it [the impure spirit] searches for a body to enclothe itself in, and if it finds a body empty of a soul, it is able to enclothe itself in it. And this is the great distress for the body and the soul. And in particular at night, since then is the time of the rulership of the spirit of impurity. And this is the reason of the prohibition of the contamination of the Kohanim. For since the impure spirit rests upon the corpse, and the Chitzonim have a hold upon it, therefore the Kohanim need to be even more careful that they do not contaminate themselves, in order that they do not profane their supernal holiness that rests upon them.
NOTES TO SIGNS USED IN FORMATTING:
Bold print: Original Zohar
Ordinary text: Matok Midvash
[Square brackets]: ELIYAHU ben PINCHAS
(Round brackets): Either the source being quoted e.g. Proverbs etc., or alternatively used to quote the kabbalistic language as discussed in Matok Midvash. The Matok Midvash formats the Nigleh side of things in an ordinary print, and the Nistar terminology in Rashi script. I’ve therefore put the Rashi script – the Nistar terminology in round brackets.