Because of their sanctified and elevated status of purity, Kohanim are prohibited from coming into contact with the deceased. With the exception of a short list of immediate family members, they must refrain from attending burials.
For a Kohen Gadol there are no such exceptions, and as we learn this week, the same holds true for a Nazir. One who has taken the vow of a Nazir must abstain from coming into contact with any deceased individual.
“To his father or to his mother, to his brother or to his sister — he shall not make himself impure by them upon their death. …” (Bamidbar 6:7).
Chazal explain this passuk to teach us that while there aren’t any familial exceptions, there is one individual that even a Kohen Gadol and Nazir are instructed to bury: that is a meis mitzvah — a corpse that is found and there is no one else available to bury him.
The Sefer Chassidim (simanim 105 and 261) teaches that a mitzvah which no one is pursuing and which no one seeks to perform, or a part of the Torah that others decline to study, is akin to a “meis mitzvah.”
The Chofetz Chaim says that it is actually a kal va’chomer: The Torah commanded that even a Kohen Gadol and a Nazir should defile themselves in order to bury the body of a deceased person — which is only a physical entity without a soul — because it once hosted a neshamah. They were thus commanded so that such a body should not lie in contempt. How much more so for those sections of the Torah that are neglected!
In particular, the Chofetz Chaim greatly encouraged the study of Kodshim, which had been all but ignored. He also famously brought awareness of hilchos lashon hara to the forefront of the consciousness of the Jewish world.
One of the great spiritual heroes of recent time was Rabbi Yosef Rosenberger, z”l, who founded the very first shaatnez laboratory and single-handedly introduced the concept of checking for shaatnez — a terribly neglected mitzvah at the time — to multitudes of Jews.
Few of us can comprehend the loftiness of a Chofetz Chaim, nor can we aspire to have the far-reaching impact of the selfless dedication of Rabbi Rosenberger. But all of us can open our eyes and pay attention to meisei mitzvah, the various mitzvos that are being neglected and forgotten.