According to what is written in this week’s parsha we are obligated to bury certain things even though they are not dead.
In preparing the Jewish people for their entry into the Land of Israel, the Torah commands us: “Destroy all the places where the gentiles that you are driving out worshipped their gods, whether they were on high mountains or on hills, or beneath any leafy tree. Raze their altars, smash their pillars, burn their idolatrous asheirah trees, and demolish the images of their gods. Obliterate the names (of their deities) from that place. Do not do this to the L-ord, your G-d!”
Based on the above verse, the Gemara teaches that just as it is a Biblical obligation to destroy idols and everything associated with them, so too is it a Biblical violation to destroy anything containing G-d’s Name (Shemot).
It is a well-known practice to properly disposing any worn-out Torah literature and holly objects by burying them in the ground (Geniza).
From here we learn that G-d’s Name is holy and must be treated with the utmost respect. We cannot erase G-d’s Name or discard it, one actually has to go to great lengths to preserve it with sanctity. In addition, we must treat all Holy Scriptures as well as other sacred objects with the utmost regard, even after they are all worn-out. This is why old siddurim, books or writings about Torah topics, mezuzot, a Sefer Torah and no-longer valid tefillin are buried rather than merely thrown in the garbache. [There is plenty information written about these halachot for all we need to know about the proper disposal of sacred objects, including what needs to be buried and what doesn’t.]
We can learn a very important lesson from the laws of Shemot about how to treat our fellow Jew. If we think about how amazing is that a sofer (scribe) can take the hide of an animal, turn it into parchment, write on the scroll all the Scriptural verses of the Torah with G-d’s Names in them, and it becomes so holy to the point that when the Torah scroll gets worn out and unfit for use, then its status as Shemot obligates us to bury it in the ground?! How did the skin of an animal all of a sudden become such a holy object to be treated with the greatest reverence and respect?
The truth is that this should not surprise us at all, for we are all living “Torah scrolls”.
The Gemara states: “One who is in the presence of the deceased when the soul departs is obligated to perform kriah (rend one’s garment as a sign of mourning). To what may this be compared? To a Torah scroll which is burned up, for which one is obligated to perform kriah …”
What the Gemara is teaching us is here is a fantastic lesson. Each and every one of us is much like a Torah scroll. A Torah scroll begins as an animal hide, and we too start off in this world as very physical beings, just like an animal. Yet, just as the words of the Torah are inscribed on that animal hide, turning it into a holy object, so, too, do we strive to study Torah, perform mitzvoth and correct our character traits throughout our lives so that by the time that our bodies are all “worn-out” and “no longer fit for use” they will have become “holy”, just like a Torah scroll, and out of respect for that holiness, will be buried in the ground. So let’s remember that just as we treat our old siddurim and other worn-out Shemot objects with respect and reverence in deference to their holiness, our friends and neighbors and family members are equally holy and must be treated with the same respect.