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Friday, September 17, 2010

Yom Kippur, Tumah, Taharah, Downfall and Purification

ויקרא פרק טז (ל) כִּי בַיּוֹם הַזֶּה יְכַפֵּר עֲלֵיכֶם לְטַהֵר אֶתְכֶם מִכֹּל חַטֹּאתֵיכֶם לִפְנֵי יְקֹוָק תִּטְהָרוּ:

Leviticus Chapter 16 (30): For on this day He will atone for you to purify you from all your sins; purify yourselves before God.

It is erev Yom Hakippurim and I am thinking about tahara-purification. As the above verse implies, we are striving to reach this state of purification particularly on this day. 

The laws of purity/impurity are vast and complex. Mostly they are not studied today even in yeshivot. In practical halacha the last vestiges of these laws are found in hilchot Niddah and the laws of washing one's hands before eating bread. 

But I will point out something you may already know: The Torah gives us many laws dealing with purities and various types of animals are considered impure. However, only human beings can become ritually impure and impart ritual impurity while alive--all other animals which give off impurity do so only when they are dead. 

So there is a correlation between taharah/purity and life; conversely there is a relationship between tumah/impurity and death. 

The m'tzora, for example, imparts tumah in much the same way that a dead human body does--even under a roofing without touching. So the m'tzora is kind of like 'dead man walking.' 

The m'tzora got his/her tumah, according to Chazal, for speaking ill of others (lashon hara). 

Thus, while one may think the laws of purities is removed from human relations they are in fact intimately entwined. 

Tumah can come upon one without knowledge or, more often, through carelessness. However, the Torah gives various methods of taharah/purification so that one may regain their prior state. 

Tomorrow evening the people of Israel will experience a collective taharah/purification. It will not last--that is part of the human condition. We sin, we are careless and worse. 

But there is always a way back to our previous state. Yet it is not precisely the previous state we reach but a higher level, like the next level on a spiral, which we only can reach because we fell before. 

Wishing all a g'mar chatima tova :)

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