“And you shall stay day and night for seven days at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. You shall observe the Lord’s command, so that you will not die, for thus I was commanded.” (Leviticus 8:36)This portion describes the seven day ordination of the first priests. There are connections to the creation story, i.e. that it took seven days, that creation of a priest is parallel to the creation of the world, and following God’s process is a matter of life and death. We see later that Aaron’s sons do not follow the form and die. And interesting, Aaron doesn’t appear to blame God for their demise.
It is interesting that saving a life is one of the most important precepts of Judaism*, yet God frequently threatens to take lives when people stray from doing what they were told. In fact, we are led to believe that death comes to humans because Adam and Eve did not listen to God.
Is this a contradiction? It would be easy to make the argument that it is. The argument that it is not a contradiction is more interesting. There is a physical sense of being alive. Your heart pumps and your lungs breathe. But if are straying from your path, are you really alive, or are you just using up oxygen? “...and you will die...” suggests not that God will kill you... but simply that you will not be alive... you will be shunned from your community.
The Torah says, “and one shall live by the commandments,” on which the Talmud comments, “and not die by them.”
And finally, to confuse the issue (perhaps):
“(There is) a time to be born and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:2)
*—This is a good description of “saving a life”:
Martyrdom is not part of Judaism as it is in some other faiths. Buddhists who light themselves on fire, Christians who whip themselves (or are crucified), Muslims who suicide bomb are all putting other values in front of saving a life.
- Life always takes precedence over death. If a funeral procession meets a wedding procession at a crossroads, the wedding procession has the right of way.
- Graveyards are called “land of the living,” because people go to visit there, and because of the living spirits. At least, that's what I think.