middot cleanliness torah unsmudging the soul

unsmudging the soul

Written by  rav rafael

art-handsThe book of Leviticus (Vayikra) contains a set of passages (chapters 12-15) often skipped in our study due to their unpleasant nature.  I am ever fascinated by the laws of purity contained in these pages.  The Holy One teaches Moses who may come near the Divine Presence which is manifest in the Tabernacle. One must be tahor (pure/clean) in order to come near the Mishkan.  Tahor denotes not a physical purity, but a purity of soul, a cleanliness of spirit.  The opposite spiritual state, tamei (impurity & separation) indicates that a barrier has been placed between the human soul and the Divine.

The kohen shall look at the lesion on the skin of his flesh, and [if] hair in the lesion has turned white and the appearance of the lesion is deeper than the skin of his flesh, it is a lesion of tzara'at. When the kohen sees this, he shall pronounce him unclean. (Lev. 13:3)

The Torah teaches us many things that cause us to remain separated from Hashem.  There are several things which can cause us to be distanced temporarily, many of which are normal and necessary parts of life.  Whether through proximity to the dead, childbirth, or intimacy, we give up our tahor state to tend to the most basic of human deeds.  During these times we recede from Hashem’s close presence for a time and then reascend to commune with Him.

In these days without a Holy Temple, how do we understand our own spiritual purity?  Tamei and tahor have limited meaning to us in our present state.  For this I will draw on the lesson of the metzorah, the Torah’s description of a Jew afflicted with the spiritual disease of tzara’at (see Lev. 13).   The Chassidic masters describe this individual as a “runaway soul.”  Though the disease has manifestations in the walls of a home, clothes, and the skin, the Sages teach us that it is caused by an individual’s bad middot (character traits).  The discolored patches represent a spiritual deadening that occurs due to sin.  This is a physical sign of a spiritual problem run amuck.

Life and death are in the hands of the tongue. (Prov. 18:21)

The punishment of tzara’at is a result of the sins that are most damaging to a community. Though primarily associated with the sin of slander, gossip, and other aspects of lashon hara (evil speech - see Numbers 12), it can also be associated with sins of bloodshed, false oaths, sexual immorality, pride, robbery, and selfishness.  The process of seclusion outside the camp helps the person understand the devastating impact his actions or words have had on other people.  The offender is provided with a way back into the community through repentance and submission to the spiritual authority.

G-d desired the Children of Israel to live up to their calling as a holy nation and a nation of priests.  This meant that people who were weak spiritually, who were causing damage to people around them, needed to be removed, encouraged to repent, and then reinstated slowly into the camp.  The purity of our thoughts, speech, and actions have a direct impact on our personal, home, and community life.  The cleaning process starts from within.  Messiah Yeshua has some clear lessons for us as he stood against the hypocrites of his generation:

How terrible for you, hypocritical soferim and Perushim! You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but their insides are full of the bones of the dead and all tum’ah. In this way you appear righteous in the eyes of sons of men, but your insides are full of hypocrisy and evil.  (Matt. 24:27-28, DHE)

May we be purified on the inside as well as the outside.  For more on Yeshua’s lessons of purity, read here.


Gospel references taken from Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels (DHE)®, © Copyright Vine of David 2010. Used by permission.

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