MoMoed Katan 25 - Chagiga 3
The Paradox of a Passing
The passing of tzaddikim (righteous people) is compared to the red heifer, whose ashes are used to bring purification for those Jews who have become spiritually contaminated by contact with the dead.
As a source for this equation, Rabbi Ami cites the juxtaposition of two chapters in the Torah. The laws of the red heifer (Bamidbar 19) are followed by an account of the passing of Miriam (Bamidbar 20:1) to teach us that just as the red heifer serves as an atonement (it is referred to in Bamidbar 20:9 as a "sin offering" Maharsha) so does the death of a tzaddik act as an atonement.
An interesting explanation of this comparison is offered by Rabbi Yonatan Eybshutz in his classic "Yaarot Dvash" against the background of the paradox which hovers over the red heifers power of purification. While sprinkling its ashes on the contaminated person in the manner prescribed by the Torah makes him pure, those involved in some of the processes connected with those ashes become impure.
This paradox of "purifying the impure and causing the pure to become impure" defies human understanding, and is therefore called a "chok." A similar paradox exists regarding the impact which the death of a tzaddik has on those around him. Just as the red heifers ashes achieve purification for the impure in some mystical way, so too does the tzaddiks death achieve, in some mystical way, atonement for the sinners in the tzaddiks generation. But regarding the tzaddiks disciples and those close to him who benefited from his guidance, his death is a tremendous blow, for they have lost the source of their education and inspiration. Of them it may be said that "the pure have become impure" as a result of their loss.
Why Bring the Kids?
Once every seven years, Jews gathered together in the Beit Hamikdash to hear the king read from the Torah. "Gather the people," says the Torah (Devarim 31:12), "the men, women and children"
In analyzing this command, Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah raises the question, "What purpose is there in the children coming?" His answer: "Only to provide a reward for their parents."
The children referred to here are those infants too young to understand what is being read. Older children, who even if they have not yet reached the age of mitzvah responsibility but are at the level of chinuch where they can be trained by their parents to learn, are mentioned in the very next passage as active participants in this massive educational experience. There is therefore no other purpose for bringing the very little ones except for gaining a reward.
Rabbi Yehuda Mintz of Padua (15th century, Italy) provides an explanation of this gemara. Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah never intended to ask why parents should bring children to such a gathering. Can we imagine parents being able to concentrate on the kings Torah reading while worrying about the welfare of the children they left at home? The Sages question was rather why it was necessary for the Torah to command parents to bring along their little ones if they would have done so without such a command. The answer he gives is that the Torah wanted the parents to be motivated not just by their concern for the safety of their children, but primarily because having these children nearby would enable them to properly concentrate on listening to the Torah reading. With such motivation, what might have been ordinary child-care is transformed into a mitzvah which earns reward.
Tosefot points out that this gemara is the source for the custom of bringing children to the synagogue. It follows then that this is meaningful only when this will help the parents focus on their prayer. If these children, however, are not watched, disturbing their parents and the other worshippers, their presence in the synagogue is counterproductive.