Parashat Tazria – Metzora 5772
Here are the questions that I have been struggling with this week.
1. What is tumah?
2. Without the Beit HaMikdash, is tumah important?
3. In some circumstances it is the role of a kohen to determine if a person or object is tamei. At other times, no kohen is involved. Why the difference?
I must confess that I’ve never felt like I had a firm grasp on the concepts of tumah and tahara. I was hoping to achieve more clarity this week.
There are a few things that I can say.
I can say that it is not a good idea to translate tumah or tamei as “unclean” and tahara or tahor as “clean.” Those translations imply that tumah and tahara are physical concepts.
It is clear that tumah and tahara are entirely spiritual concepts. In some sense, when a person or object becomes tamei it has moved away from kedusha.
In our world, the Beit HaMikdash is the most kadosh of all places. No tamei object or person is allowed to enter until it has become tahor.
The process of becoming tahor depends upon the type of tumah that was experienced. Becoming tahor usually involves complete immersion in a mikvah, a pool of water. The coming out of the water is described as a type of renewal and rebirth.
Since God is kadosh, it follows that a person who is tamei is experiencing a measure of separation from Him. Sadly, the person may not feel that separation, but it is still very real.
The following story is recounted in the Gemara (Baba Kama 41b):
Shimon Ha’amsoni (or as others read, Nehemiah Ha’amsoni) used to expound every ‘eth’ in the Torah.
When, however, he reached, (Devarim 6:13) “eth the Lord your God you shall fear”, he abstained. [He could not equate the fear due to God with the fear due to any creation.]
His disciples said to him: Rabbi, what is to be done with all the expositions of ‘eth’ which you have already given? [If this “eth” cannot be expounded, then it stands to reason that the others also cannot be expounded.]
He said to them: Just as I have received reward for the expositions so shall I receive reward for the abstention.
This is how I feel. If I try to say more about the topic of tumah and tahara today, then I will be overstepping my bounds.
Please share your insights in the comments.
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