Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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2 Iyar 5761 - April 25, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Impurity -- a Testimony for Sanctity

by L. Jungerman

Said R' Simlai: Just as the creation of man followed that of the animals, beasts and fowl in time, so are the laws applying to them enumerated in the Torah following those of the animals, beasts and fowl. This is why it is written in the previous parsha, "This is the `Torah' of the beast and the fowl" and afterwards, in our parsha, "And she [the new mother] shall be impure for seven days" Vayikra Rabba 14). We must understand the connection between the creation of man and the laws applying to him as well as the significance that his pertinent laws appear in the Torah after those relating to beast and fowl.

The Gaon of Nitra, R' Shmuel Dovid Ungar Hy'd, elaborates on the importance of this fact in his work Neos Deshe: Why, indeed, was Man created after all living creatures, from great to small? Rabbenu Bechaye offers a simple explanation in the introduction to his commentary on the Torah. "Man and his helpmate were created on the sixth day, and were preceded by every form of life, even the lowliest ones. He is the consummation, to show that everything was really created for his sake, for his use. He is the epitome and purpose of creation, and if he is the finishing touch, it is because he was the original premise and promise of the Divine plan."

Thus is it always: the means precede the goal, the toil is exerted for the sake of the meal. Whoever toils on erev Shabbos shall eat on Shabbos. Man, therefore, is the end purpose, while all the other creations serve as the medium designed to enable him to achieve his mission in this world. "For it is a great elevation for all creatures when they serve the perfect man; as he aspires towards perfection, he uplifts them all together with him," says the Mesillas Yeshorim.

Therefore, only when the setting was ripe, the backdrop prepared, was Man inserted into the picture as the climax. It was his task to elevate all of Creation in his process of drawing nearer to perfection, that is, to sweep it up along with him.

If so, explains the Gaon of Nitra, this is the same reason why the laws of impurity and purity of man in this week's portion follow the laws of impurity and purity of animals in the previous parsha. It highlights the difference between the two states, for we see a distinctive disparity between the laws of the latter and those of the former. No creature is considered impure in any way so long as it is still alive. The only impurity [tum'o -- not prohibition as food] that relates to animals is only applicable to their carcasses. They are not subject to the impurity of leprosy or bodily emissions. Man, on the other hand, can become tainted in a number of ways, as enumerated here in the Torah.

The essence of the disparity lies in the nature of the difference between man's creation and the creation of other living things. Man is the prime reason; every other thing is subsidiary. Impurity is the result of a lack, of a fall or lapse in holiness, for where holiness is missing, there does impurity gain access. This is why impurity cannot apply to animals -- they cannot attain purity or holiness. The only fulfillment and holiness that living creatures can achieve in their lives is through providing the needs of man and filling the will of their Creator Who designed them for a specific purpose. And when their job is finished, when they die, their remains become impure. When the small degree of holiness they embodied leaves their bodies, impurity finds access.

Man, the epitome of Creation, choice handiwork of Hashem, is wholly consecrated. Each breath he takes is virtual praise of his Creator. Therefore, by him, there are many things that can cause impurity, for any contradiction to his holiness, any flaw in the aura of purity that envelops him, is an aperture for the seeping in of impurity. We cannot understand the finer aspects of the particular things which the Torah determines cause defilement, but the basic premise they share is that they contaminate the pervasive atmosphere of holiness in some way and allow tum'o a foothold.

This is the reason why gentiles are not subject to the impurity resulting from leprous lesions as the Torah determines them (Maseches Negoim 3:1). Since non-Jews are devoid of kedusha, the diminishing of their value is too negligible to cause impurity.

The Ohr Hachaim provides a striking example regarding the impurity caused by the dead. Chazal determined that the dead of the gentiles and their graves do not cause impurity. Initially, this is surprising: can it be that a dead Jew is more contaminating than a dead gentile? He compares this to a barrel of honey which, when emptied of its contents, draws swarms of flies and insects, whereas a hollow barrel does not attract any insects when it is opened. When the pure soul of a Jew exits from his body, impurity fills its place for it now has access, but when a gentile dies, the transition is almost imperceptible and tum'o is hardly attracted to fill the gap.

We can now better understand the significance of why the laws of mortal impurity follow those of the impurity of animals -- it comes to teach us the essential difference between the two. A Jew is wholly pure and any diminishing of his essential purity is a direct invitation for impurity, whereas animals and even gentiles do not enjoy a higher pervasive level of purity to begin with, aside from their general purpose of creation, their role in the overall design of the world. Therefore, only the total absence of life, when they can no longer serve their purpose in this world, can confer a measure of impurity.

The Maharal expresses this idea in his explanation of an incident brought in the gemora when, in the time of the churban, R' Yochonon saw a woman of high station gathering barley grains from animal dung. He burst into tears at the sight and exclaimed, "Fortunate are you, Israel, that when you fulfill the will of the A-mighty, no nation or race can touch you, but when you defy His will, He delivers you into the hands of the very animals of a lowly nation." Asks the Maharal, "Why is the expression `fortunate' used in this context when we see to what depths they are reduced? Is this something to applaud?"

Yes, he answers, because it highlights the essential superiority of the Jewish people. When any entity in this world, whether from the animal or vegetable kingdom, is blemished, it does not drop one level but completely disappears, is invalidated. A living creature does not become something from the vegetable kingdom nor does a withered plant become something dry but inanimate; rather, they exit from the scene and become totally nullified into oblivion. Their advantage during their lifetime was not simply a higher level of existence, not inanimate with value- added. Instead, it is a question of a state of being during their period of existence, and a cessation of reality when they exit the scene of life.

Similarly, Israel is not like any other nation with value added, not merely a higher species but a totally different entity. Were it not so, they would not plummet so low, to such a degree, when they sinned. The fact that when they do, they are delivered to the animals of their lowly captors, testifies a hundredfold that they have a unique status.

Fortunate are you, O Israel!

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