Parashas Chuqas

When looking at the mitzvah of tzitzis for parashas Shelach (Toras Aish: Vol. 1, No. 4, Mesukim MiDevash) we discussed at the color of tekheiles. This week’s parashah opens at the opposite end of the spectrum, the red heifer. As a preface, here is a very brief review of the relevant concepts.

We noticed that man feels torn between two poles: his physical desires, and his spiritual ones. But in order to feel pulled, the identity, the “I” that is feeling, must be a third entity that the two are actually pulling upon. This entity is active, a creator “in the image of G-d”, self-aware and the seat of free will. The physical and spiritual components are mere creatures of their respective realms, they feel like helpless subjects to the forces of their respective universes.

R. SR Hirsch found this concept key to understanding a number of the symbols that Hashem uses to communicate to man. In particular, the Torah has only three words for colors: adom, red; yaroq, green-yellow; and tekheiles, blue. (All other color words refer to particular colored objects. For example, “argaman” doesn’t mean “purple” it means “purple wool”.) These primary colors represent those same three pieces of the human condition. In our discussion of tzitzis we focused on blue. Tekheiles is the color of the sky. It is the end of the spectrum, and hints at the unseen beyond. Therefor it is the color of the Beis Hamiqdash and describes the special relationship between G-d and Israel. Tekheiles is used as a tool to inculcate within us the role of the spiritual man.

The parah adumah, the Red Heifer, brings us to the meaning of red. “Adom” is from “adamah“, earth. It is the closest to the energy that gets absorbed by matter. Therefor, red represents the physical man and the universe he lives in. With this background, we’ll try to under stand some elements of the mitzvah of Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer.


What does it mean to be tamei or tahor? When the Torah discusses the subject, it uses the avoidance of tum’ah as a goal in itself, not as something that needs further justification. The explanation Hashem gives us for certain animals being non-kosher is merely “tamei hu lachem – it is tamei to you.” (Vayikra 11:4) Elsewhere, we find tahor used to mean pure; for example, pure gold is repeatedly called “zahav tahor.” (e.g. Shemos 25:31) But what is it that is pure, and from what kind of adulteration is it pure?

The Ramchal defines the personal attribute called taharah:

Taharah is the correction of the heart and thoughts… Its essence is that man shouldn’t leave room for the inclination in his actions. Rather all his actions should be on the side of wisdom and awe [for the Almighty], and not on the side of sin and desire. This is even in those things which are of the body and physical.

- Mesilas Yesharim Ch. 16

To the Ramchal, taharah is purity of the “heart and thoughts”. The tahor man has “no room for the physical.” It is the purity of the deciding mind from the physical creature.

To cast the words of the Ramchal into the terms we discussed in the introduction, taharah and tum’ah focus on the relationship between the physical and the mind. Taharah is the purity of the mind from physical prejudices. Tum’ah is its adulteration, so that the decision making process can not be freed of the physical urges.

This is mussar’s description of a personality trait called “taharah.” The halakhah‘s concept seems to derive directly from it. Rav SR Hirsch describes the tum’ah of a dead body:

A dead human body tends to bring home to one’s mind a fact which is able to give support to that pernicious misconception which is called tum’ah. For, in fact, there lies before us actual evidence that Man must — willy-nilly — submit to the power of physical forces. That in this corpse that lies before us, it is not the real human being, that the real human being, the actual Man, which the powers of physical force can not touch, had departed from here before the body — merely its earthly envelope — could fall under the withering law of earthly Nature; more, that as long as the real Man, with his free-willed self-determining G-dly nature was present in the body, the body itself was freed from forced obedience to the purely physical demands, and was elevated into the sphere of moral freedom in all its powers of action and also of enjoyment, when the free-willed ruling of the higher part of Man decided to achieve the moral mission of his life;

- Commentary on Lev. 11:47

R. SR Hirsch portrays the tamei object as one that causes the illusion that man is nothing more than a physical object, an animal, a helpless subject to physical forces and physical desires. In reality,

death only begins with death, but that in life, thinking striving and accomplishing Man can master, rule, and use even his own sensuous body with all its all its innate forces, urges, and powers, with G-d-like free self-decision, within the limits of, and for accomplishment of, the duties set by the laws of morality; …

“Thinking striving and accomplishing Man,” the conscious man, should use the “sensuous body with all its innate forces, urges, and powers,” the physical man, as a tool for doing good. The object which halachah calls tamei is that thing which will cause mussar’s tum’ah to awaken itself within the mind. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The mind that is prejudiced by physical needs and urges can not fully choose its own destiny.

Since the tamei is that which reinforces the idea that man is a being of mere physicality, tum’ah is only associated with the dead bodies of animals “whose body-formation is similar to that of Man, primarily the larger mammals.” The shemonah sheratzim, the only smaller animals that are tamei, are vertebrates “that live in the vicinity of human beings,” the weasel, mouse, mole, etc… All these are animals we see about us, living much as we do. The animals that closer resemble man have stricter rules of tum’ah. Similarly, menstruation and sexual emissions, which also cause tum’ah are things that happen to man, unwittingly, “willy-nilly submitting to the power of physical forces.”

In contrast, to become pure we immerse in a miqvah. The root of the word “miqvah” is ambiguous. The straight-forward definition would be “a gathering of water,” which a miqvah is in a very literal sense. But the word can also be read “source of hope.” Perhaps this is an allusion to the idea that it provides us with the faith that we are not mere creatures of the laws of biology, but can rise above those laws to master our own fate.


The sprinkling waters of the Parah Adumah consists of five ingredients: the red cow, a spring of hyssop, a piece of cedar wood, red wool, and water.

The parah is a work animal. However, to be usable for the mitzvah, this cow must never have been harnessed. It represents the physical man, which, in the state of tum’ah, is not controlled by the creative mind. For this reason, the parah must be pure red – the color of unadulterated physicality.

After the cow is burnt is referred to by a new noun – “sereifah“, a burnt thing. The first step to becoming tahor is destroying the notion that man is and ought to be an uncontrollable animal.

To this is added the hyssop, the cedar and the scarlet wool. The three are tied together by the wool to make a bundle. The hyssop is of the smallest plants native to Israel, it grows in the cracks of neglected walls. The cedar is among the tallest and proudest. This contrast is reduced to ash, showing the meaninglessness of ego and conceit, the flaws that conscious, self-aware beings are prone to.

The wool is called “tola’as shani”. “Shani” is from “shanah”, changed. The focus is on the fact that it is no longer what it was. That which was once white, a clean slate, is now red, overrun by physicality. These three are added to the “s’reifas haparah” – the entity that is mostly destroyed, but still retains some of the “parah”-ness.

This bundle is burnt to show the second step toward taharah. After the physical man is brought into control, we rid the mind of the effects, the flaws, caused by this contact.

The last ingredient is “mayim chayim”, living or “raw” water. Similar to the waters of the mikvah, the Parah Adumah water must be collected from nature. Water, the archetypal fluid, demonstrates change. By being “raw” the water is connected to the waters of creation, described in Bereishis 1:2-3.

This is the last step to reach taharah. Now that we have eradicated the error that man is a creature, a victim of physical forces, and the secondary effects of that error on the mind, we must be reborn (mayim), hopeful (mikvah) and committed to a new future.

© 1995 The AishDas Society

Politeness and Taharah

The word “polite” comes from the Latin “politus” via the Old English “polit”, to polish. Polish is itself of the same derivation.I think this is a very telling statement about Western Culture. Politeness is about perfecting the surface. It doesn’t demand a change of the self, but putting up the appropriate front for others.

This is the key to a contrast Stephen Covey (most famous for “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People“) makes between his approach to self-help and the majority of the field. His book is about finding your core values and seeing how to implement them — including improving your relationships. To give an example Covey doesn’t make explicitly, Dale Carnegy deals with improvement by giving pragmatic and surface-polishing approach, “How to Win Friends and Influence People“.

In Mesukim MiDevash for Chukas, I identified the Jewish approach to the relationship between mind and the physical world with taharah. Taharah is also the term used for the purity of a metal — the menorah must be made of (pure gold). zahav tahor. Taharah, then, is the lack of adulteration of the mind with prejudices caused by the body. Free to choose when to pursue its physical needs and desires, man can consciously control his relationship to the physical world and the people we encounter in it.

Judaism looks to create ba’alei chessed, people who relate to this world primarily in terms of its opportunities to give and share with others. Not to simply be polite and act inoffensively. Which doesn’t quite work; backstabbing while smiling and using just the implications is a feature of “polite society”. But to actually have a relationship with the other.

Tum’ah and Taharah

[From this week's Shabat B'Shabbato by Machon Zomet. I found this devar Torah to be particularly Aspaqlaria-esque. See also my take on tum'ah from Mesukim MiDevash on Chukas.]POINT OF VIEW
Ritual Impurity and Purity
Prof. Shalom Rozenberg

I will take this opportunity to discuss the significance of ritual purity and impurity in Jewish thought. To do this, I will relate the matter to the three basic concepts of the Torah: creation, revelation, and redemption.

Creation lowered nature and the entire universe from the realm of absolute authority. According to the approach of the idol worshippers, both mankind and the deities are powerless against the arbitrary fate which controls all of nature and mocks it. The belief in a Divine power established an alternative approach to the concept of creation. According to this approach, the Almighty is not part of the world and is not under its control. He created it. And this leads us to revelation, the giving of the Torah.

Archimedes was showing great wisdom when he claimed that according to the laws of physics if he had a balance point outside of the earth and a long enough lever he could move the earth from its position. When the Almighty said to Moshe, “here is a place, with me” [Shemot 33:21], he gave man just such an Archimedean point. Resting on this point with the use of the lever of prophesy, it is possible to move the world from the point of view of ethics. According to the approach of the idol worshippers, mankind should learn ethics from nature, where the law of the jungle is the supreme rule. The Torah has given us a different perspective, that of the Almighty. We must be critical of nature and sometimes struggle against its indifference to suffering. The Torah “preceded” the world and takes priority over it.

The next step is redemption. Nature is not moral and it is not a proper model. The command “Do not kill” that descends from heaven will in the future bring peace to the entire world, including the animal kingdom. The ruthless wars of the jungle will in the future come to an end. Redemption issimilar to returning to the Garden of Eden, a world of peace, as is written by Yeshayahu: “A new baby will play at the hole of a serpent, and a weaned child will move his hand toward a snake’s nest” [11:8]. Even the serpent, the symbol of evil, will make peace with mankind and will have respect for the weak and vulnerable. The world can be different, without sickness or death, a place where “death will be eliminated forever, and G-d will erase the tears from every face” [Yeshayahu 25:8].

Death and the Temple

This ideal world is reflected in the Temple. Ritual impurity represents tragic reality, described in the Torah as expulsion from the Garden of Eden. At the center of the tragedy is the concept of death. This serious impurity is related specifically to man, because of his greatness and glory. Man is “gavra,” a person, subjective and active. Death transforms him into “cheftza,” an inanimate object. This steep descent is symbolized by the concept of “tum’a,” ritual impurity.

A dead body is indeed at the highest level of “tum’a,” but there are other phenomena that are symbols of death, such as tzara’at — leprosy — and zav — an impure flow — in addition to blood flow of a woman and the sperm of a man. These are not absolute death but only partial. Tzra’at is a symbol of the death of organs of the body. The blood of nida and wasted sperm are death of a potential life. The main details of the laws of ritual impurity stem from these principles.

How does one become impure? One becomes impure when he becomes involved with death. The type of involvement is set by the normal life style. The greatest expression of social living with another person is dwelling together in the same tent or house. A person becomes impure when he is in a “tent” together with a dead body. Material objects mainly become impure through their normal use, every object in its own way, leading to the acts of touching and carrying. In general, it can be said that when death, total or partial, interferes in the normal sequence of human life, ritual impurity occurs.

Purification, on the other hand, is linked to a return to the original world, before the sin. This primal world is characterized by water in different forms: it is always water that was not drawn by man, and in some cases it is the fresh water of a spring. It is as if we return to the water which covered all the earth before the dry land was revealed, before man was created. This water is a symbol of renewed birth, of rejuvenation that G-d provides for man. The Temple is a model of the Garden of Eden, a model of the world of the future, and this explains the connection between the laws of ritual impurity and the Temple. Death is not allowed to enter into the Temple. It is forbidden for a chain of events that included death to leave any impression on the Temple. Death must remain outside the Temple.

We must be careful not to judge ritual impurity according to the common categories of nature. In some ways, it can be compared more to a legal concept than to a dangerous negative energy. But it is really much more than that. Tum’a is a phenomenon that ideally should not have appeared in the world at all. In some ways, the laws of ritual impurity are a protest against cosmic reality. Morality cannot be derived from nature. Morality stems from revelation, from the Divine point of view. Nature must be redeemed, and ritual impurity should disappear from the world. It is wrong to accept the unredeemed reality as it is and to surrender to it. Nature as it exists is not a judge but rather should itself be judged.

And this leads us to the existential principle so well expressed by the Chassidic approach: “As long as the candle continues to burn, it can be repaired.” And the world is in need of repair. This is also a principle that we can learn from the laws of ritual impurity and purity.

[This is actually a mussar vort. Rav Yisrael Salanter passed a shoemaker working late at night. He asked the shoemaker why he was working so late, and the response was as above. Rav Yisrael learned from this that the job of personal repair is lifelong. The soul is compared to a candle, "neir Hashem nishmas adam -- the candle [lamp] of Hashem is the soul of man.” (Mishlei 20:27). As long as the candle continues to burn, it is still possible to make repairs. (Dov Katz, Tenu’as haMussar) -mi]

Tum’ah and Taharah, part II

Rav Y Henken replied to my previous entry on this subject (repeated here for the benefit of Google). He wrote:

See in my “New Interpretations on rhe Parsha” (Ktav) and also Shu”t Bnei Banim vol. 4 maamar 22.

Q. Why is a woman in childbirth considered to be ritually impure?

A. That is a difficult question. Vayikra is full of laws of tumah and taharah. One of the six orders of the Mishnah is devoted to them. But there is little discussion of the meaning behind ritual impurity, and why it should be forbidden in the Temple.

To be sure, tumah is often connected with death and decay, and as such can be seen as antithetical to the idea of haShem, the living G-d. This would explain why the most potent source of tumah is the human corpse, and why various types of animal carcasses transmit impurity. Similarly, leprosy and certain diseases of the reproductive tract that cause tumah are forms of decay. The menstruant woman is impure because menstruation marks the waste of the ovum, the loss of a potential life.

The rock on which this explanation founders, however, is childbirth. Why is a woman impure after childbirth? Nothing seems further from death and decay than bringing a child into the world. Even if birth involves an element of illness for the mother, why should that outweigh the emergence of a new being?

The answer, it seems to me, is that not only death and decay are opposed to the idea of G-d, but birth as well. HaShem does not die, but neither is He born. The flux of human life, birth and death together, is antithetical to G-d’s immutable and eternal nature. Tumah represents the waxing as well as the waning of life and has no place in the Sanctuary, the abode of the Eternal. For that reason a woman in childbirth is impure, for nothing is less G-d-like than the cycle of generation.

This can explain several of the laws of purity and sacrifices. Why is a woman impure for one week if a boy is born, but two weeks if she gives birth to a girl? Because the female is the more visible link in the reproductive chain.

Why is it forbidden to add leavening and honey to meal-offerings (Vayikra 2:11)? Because these substances accelerate the formation of chametz: chametz waxes and swells more than matzo but quickly goes stale, whereas matzo can keep indefinitely. Chametz therefore symbolizes mortal existence, and has no place in the sacrifices.

Finally, why is chametz forbidden on Pesach? Because Pesach is the holiday of belief in G-d, we must avoid leaven, which symbolically contradicts His unchanging nature.

Notes

1. Commentators are cautious in ascribing reasons for tumah and its categories; for example, see Sefer HaChinuch, no. 159 (Chavel ed. no. 152). In Moreh Nevuchim 3:47, Rambam wrote that impurity exists simply in order to make the Sanctuary off-limits to most people.

2. For a summary of the types of impurity see Otzar Yisrael, s.v. tum’ah vetaharah, and Encyclopaedia Judaica, s.v. ritual impurity.

3. See Ramban, commentary to Vayikra 12:1.

4. Contrast this both with Christianity and the cult of the chief Canaanite deity, Baal, who was believed to die each year during the dry season and to be reborn with the first rains.

5. By contrast, the preservative salt is required for all sacrifices (Vayikra 2:13).

6. See below (in “New Interpretations on the Parsha”) Pesach, pp. 190-192.

My own take, from an essay on parah adumah (which further elaborates on the theme):

What does it mean to be tamei or tahor? When the Torah discusses the subject, it uses the avoidance of tum’ah as a goal in an of itself, not as something that needs further justification. The explanation Hashem gives us for certain animals being non-kosher is merely “tamei hu lakhem — it is tamei to you.” (Vayikra 11:4) Elsewhere, we find tahor used to mean pure; for example, pure gold is repeatedly called “zahav tahor.” (e.g. Shemos 25:31) But what is it that is pure, and from what kind of adulteration is it pure?

The Ramchal defines the personal attribute called taharah:

Taharah is the correction of the heart and thoughts… Its essence is that man shouldn’t leave room for the inclination in his actions. Rather all his actions should be on the side of wisdom and awe [for the Almighty], and not on the side of sin and desire. This is even in those things which are of the body and physical.
– Mesilas Yesharim Ch. 16

To the Ramchal, taharah is purity of the “heart and thoughts”. The the tahor man has “no room for the physical.” It is the purity of the deciding mind from the physical creature.

To cast the words of the Ramchal into the terms we discussed in the introduction, taharah and tum’ah focus on the relation ship between the physical and the mind. Taharah is the purity of the mind from physical prejudices. Tum’ah is its adulteration, so that the decision making process can not be freed of the physical urges.

This is mussar’s description of a personality trait called “taharah.” The halachah’s concept seems to derive directly from it. Rav SR Hirsch describes the tum’ah of a dead body.

A dead human body tends to bring home to one’s mind a fact which is able to give support to that pernicious misconception which is called tum’ah. For, in fact, there lies before us actual evidence that Man must — willy-nilly — submit to the power of physical forces. That in this corpse that lies before us, it is not the real human being, that the real human being, the actual Man, which the powers of physical force can not touch, had departed from here before the body — merely its earthly envelope — could fall under the withering law of earthly Nature; more, that as long as the real Man, with his free-willed self-determining G-dly nature was present in the body, the body itself was freed from forced obedience to the purely physical demands, and was elevated into the sphere of moral freedom in all its powers of action and also of enjoyment, when the free-willed ruling of the higher part of Man decided to achieve the moral mission of his life;
– Commentary on Lev. 11:47

R. SR Hirsch portrays the tamei object as one that causes the illusion that man is nothing more than a physical object, an animal, a helpless subject to physical forces and physical desires. In reality,

death only begins with death, but that in life, thinking striving and accomplishing Man can master, rule, and use even his own sensuous body with all its all its innate forces, urges, and powers, with G-d-like free self-decision, within the limits of, and for accomplishment of, the duties set by the laws of morality; …

“Thinking striving and accomplishing Man,” the conscious man, should use the “sensuous body with all its innate forces, urges, and powers,” the physical man, as a tool for doing good. The object which halachah calls tamei is that thing which will cause mussar’s tum’ah to awaken itself within the mind. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The mind that is prejudiced by physical needs and urges can not fully choose its own destiny.

Note that tum’ah robs oneself of bechirah by being convinced — adulterating bechirah, if you will — of the idea that man is merely a subject, not an object. In the terms of the Gra’s Peirush al Kama Agados — purity of the ru’ach (soul as wind, as actor) from the nefesh (the animal soul).

The notion of subject vs object and its relationship to cheit’s power to be metamei is also discussed by Rav YB Soloveitchik in a 1974 teshuvah derashah. See our R’ Dr Arnold Lustiger’s, “Before Hashem You Shall be Purified”, Ohr Publishing, 1998.

The Rav starts with R”H 29a, where R’ Nachman says that someone who is half slave, have freeman (e.g. a slave who was owned by two partners, and subsequently freed by one of them) can not fulfill the mitzvah of hearing shofar from his own blowing. As a non-Jewish slave becomes a Jew when freed, such a person is half Jewish. Unlike other mitzvos, where he can fulfill the mitzvah himself — e.g. he can daven for himself, and need not rely on a fully Jewish chazan.

RYBS explains that blowing shofar is different because the mitzvah is not in the blowing, but in the hearing. The berachah reads “…who commanded us to hear the sound of the shofar.” Inherent in the mitzvah is two kinds of individuals, the tokei’ah (the blower) and the shomei’ah (the listener), the nosei (mover) and the nisa (moved). An active subject and a passive object.

It’s not halachah that splits the individual in this way, it’s sin. Sin splits the personality into tamei and tahor components. The call of the shofar is the nosei awakening the nisa, calling across that chasm created by sin to restore unity, to bring us closer to the image of the Singular Nosei in Whose “Image” we were created.

The message of the shofar is that all is not lost. That no matter how much ruach one is mitamei, the core remains. Teshuvah is always possible. “For on this day, He will place kaparah atonement upon you, to make you tahor from all your sins; before Hashem you will become tahor.

If taharah is purity from the idea that man is merely a physical being, an object that is “forced [into] obedience to the purely physical demands”, than kaparah is the containment of that idea. Placing a kapores, a lid, upon the nefesh, man’s mammalian nature. Through kaparah one cordons off the animal within oneself, but did not yet address the damage to one’s decision-making due to habit.