The Untouchable by Rabbi Darren Blackstein


Upon the completion of the presentation of the laws of Kashrut in Parshat Shemini, the Torah now chooses to discuss childbirth at the beginning of this week’s Parsha.  We are told that Moshe is to tell Bnai Yisrael that when a woman conceives and gives birth, she will have Tamei status for a certain amount of time (ויקרא יב:ב).  Clearly troubled as to the connection between Kashrut and childbirth, Rashi on this Pasuk (שם בד"ה אשה) quotes the statement of Rabbi Simlai in the Midrash in Vayikra Rabbah (פרשה יד סימן א) who says that just as the forming of man came after that of all the cattle, beasts, and fowl during the days of creation, so too the Torah explains the laws of man’s Tamei status after describing those relating to the cattle, beasts, and fowl.  In other words, the Torah is presenting the laws here in the same sequence that we find these beings created during the six days of creation.  However, Rashi does not elaborate at all on this idea.  The door is left open for us to gather the impact of this Midrash with relation to our Parsha, for on the surface it seems to be merely a comment on the literary construction of the Pesukim, bereft of any other messages.

At the end of Parshat Shemini, the Torah says, “להבדיל בין הטמא ובין הטהור” “To differentiate between the Tamei and the Tahor”  (יא:מז).  Hashem is telling us that our mission is to distinguish between Tamei and Tahor.  Not only must we be able to tell the difference, but also to react and act differently towards each.  One is to be avoided; the other is to be drawn closer, and in this case, even eaten.  Keeping this in mind, we can now approach our Parsha, Parshat Tazria, where childbirth is introduced.  One of the Halachic results of childbirth is that the mother experiences a state of Tumah.  In light of this, we now see that the connection between the Parshiyot is not the relationship between Kashrut and childbirth, but between one kind of טומאה, and another kind of טומאה.  The first kind of טומאה  is one which seems to take a physical form.  Certain animals areטמא , as the Torah states many times,  טמא הוא לכם as regarding the camel, for example (פסוק ד). 

It seems that this form of Tumah is generated by the animal’s physical make-up, and the animal is therefore understandably Tamei from a physical point of view.  That is to say, Hashem has branded this particular animal as Tamei.  The animal cannot go to the Mikva and emerge ritually clean. 

This is not the case, however, regarding the Tumah of a person, namely, a mother.  Her טומאה is much more abstract because it can be eliminated by immersion in a Mikva.  One might erroneously say that this טומאה is also physical because it seems to be generated by the discharge of blood.  The Torah says in our Parsha that there is “ דמי טהורה”  “The blood of her cleanliness” (יד:ד), and ostensibly there is blood of Tumah too.  This does indeed seem to put the טומאה and the טהרה in some physical category.  The Rambam, perhaps in anticipation of such a notion, mentions a beautiful Halacha in his Mishneh Torah (Hilchot Mikvot, Chapter 11 Halacha 12).  He writes that it is a דבר ברור הגלוי, a clear and revealed concept, that Tumah and cleanliness are decrees from the Torah.  He writes that they are not of the topics that are perceptible through mankind’s knowledge and that they are thus in essence Chukim, laws which are difficult to comprehend.  The Rambam continues to prove or demonstrate his point by saying that ritual immersion for Tumah is also such a law because this Tumah is not some form of filth that can be washed away with water.  This is simply the decree of Hashem, and the whole matter is dependent on, כוונת הלב, the heart’s intention.  We see from this statement of the Rambam just how intangible and incomprehensible the concepts of spiritual Tumah and cleanliness are.  It is also possible to say a similar theory even regarding Tamei animals.  Even though a species may be branded as טמא, it may be that the physical signs are just that, meaning signs and not causes.  For example, lacking a split hoof and not chewing the cud would not be causes for Tumah, but warning signs for us to be able to differentiate for our purposes which animals are טמא  , because we cannot actually see the טומאה .

This being the case, we can understand the connection between the laws of cattle, beasts, fowl, and the laws of mankind that Rabbi Simlai spoke of in the Midrash (ibid.).  He was not referring to random laws, but rather to the concepts of טומאה and טהרה which run through all of Hashem’s creations.  It is crucial for the Jew to be sensitive to the concepts of טומאה and טהרה because these ideas lie at the heart of Judaism.  As the Rambam (ibid.) says, they are dependent on our heart’s intention.  Without this  כונה we lose the ability to differentiate not only between  טומאה and  טהרה but also between right and wrong, and between good and evil.  All of these concepts are untouchable and intangible.  We rely on our parents, teachers, and ultimately on Hashem and His Torah to sensitize our hearts concerning these concepts.

As for the Torah presenting these laws relating to mankind after those relating to animals, as was the order during the six days of creation, this idea may be a source for that which we echo in Tefillat Shacharit every day when we say: “המחדש בטובו בכל יום תמיד מעשה בראשית” “And in His goodness, He always renews every day the act of creation.”  We state that Hashem is renewing creation every day; the process of creation is thus something that is on going.  One might have thought that creation is something that happened at one point in time, and is forever buried in history, but Rabbi Simlai comes to tell us the contrary.  Included in the idea of creation is not merely that which was done to construct an intelligent, populated world.  Creation also represents a constant connection between us and Hashem.  The Torah is our life-blood and our source for constant connection to Hashem.  Rabbi Simlai reminds us of this by stating that just as the formal creation process happened in a certain order, so too are the laws of the Torah fashioned in such an order.  Through the performance of what the Torah asks of us, we constantly re-establish our connection to Hashem, just as He does with us.

Transformation by Jerry Karp

Silence is Golden by Yoni Shenkman