Volume 4 Issue 27
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
As the laws of the korbonos (sacrifices) progress through the ensuing
week's Torah portions, we find more and more complex issues that deal with
esoteric spirituality. The concept of animal sacrifice is difficult for us
to comprehend, and the sages of yore, included Maimonides and Nachmanides
deal with the concepts, rationale and purpose of them in great detail. This
week, in addition to defining the various laws that distinguish different
types of sacrifices, the Torah tells us of the concepts of tumah and
taharah, loosely translated as spiritual purity and impurity. Of course,
these laws have nothing to do with sanitary conditions, rather they define
a state of spirituality that varies with the state of life and death. The
Torah tells us that the meat of a sacrifice that will contact any tamei
(impurity) shall not be eaten.
The law is that when tahor meets tamei, pure meets impure, tamei prevails
and lowers the tahor to a state of tamei. The Kotzker Rebbe, Rabbi
Menachem Mendel Morgenstern, was bothered: why so? Why is it that tumah
depreciates taharah? Why is it not the opposite? When purity meets
impurity, it should automatically purify it? Let the impure become elevated
with its contact with purity.
Rabbi Shaul Kagan, of blessed memory, was the Rosh Kollel (Dean) of Kollel
Bais Yitzchok in Pittsburgh, PA. In addition to his being a brilliant
Talmudic scholar, he was very witty. As a member of the Kollel, I was a
student of his, and he once related the following story to me:
A man was committed to an insane asylum due to his aberrant behavior.
After months of treatment the doctors felt he was cured and allowed him to
leave. The man, however, refused to go. "I will not leave this institution
unless you sign a document that I am sane," he declared. The doctors had
given him a clean bill of mental health and figured they might as well
acquiesce to the strange demand.
Not long after his release, the man went for a job interview. After
answering the questions quite impressively, the man leaned toward his
prospective boss and asked in earnest. "Now that you asked me about myself
may I ask you a question?"
The interviewer replied, "Certainly!"
"Mr." the former mentally-ill patient began, "are you normal?"
The supervisor was a little taken aback but replied, "I surely think so.
Why do you ask?"
"You see, mister," declared the applicant while proudly displaying his
signed document, "you only think that you are normal. I have a certificate!"
The Kotzker Rebbe explained that when it comes to the world of pure and
impure there are facts we know for certain, and there are particulars we
can never be sure of. The world of purity, unfortunately is not as assured
as the world of impurity. We may think something is actually pure, we may
assume that it is untouched and unhampered. However, we may never truly
know the truth. We do not know its history; where it went; what it touched
or what affected it. We are shocked with horror at the deeds of youngsters
who were deemed innocent and pure, or leaders who should guide us on high
moral ground. We thought they were tahor. Unfortunately, however, what we
may think is pure, innocent and holy is sometimes not.
Tumah, impurity, on the other hand, is well defined. We know with certainty
what is not pure and holy. It has a certificate. Therefore, explains the
Kotzker Rebbe, when bona-fide tumah attaches to something that is at best
hopefully and assumedly pure, definite impurity prevails and defiles that
what was assumed tahor.
When asked if an item is kosher, I have heard others reply. I know that it
is under supervision. I hope that it is kosher! In a world of
mixed-messages and confusing signals, we can try to cling to perceived
purity. And we can hope and pray that the role-models and values that we
have chosen are the correct ones. But we surely can keep away from those
ideas and actions that are clearly defined as impure. Those deeds can leave
an impact powerful enough to taint the purest of neshamos (souls). And we
can avoid them. After all, they have a certificate!
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