The opening subject matter in this week’s Torah reading deals with the existence of impurities in Jewish and human society. In our world today, especially in the realm of the intelligentsia, there is a great deal of chatter and worry about the pollution of our atmosphere. When the threat of global warming proved to be unfounded, the environmentalists amongst us changed the focus of their dire warnings, about the extinction of our planet, to now be under the new slogan of climate change. There is very little if any scientific evidence to support their claims that the world as we know it will disappear in the very near future because of fossil fuels, carbon emissions and the natural behavior of cows. Nevertheless, it is clear that all of us have to be against pollution of the atmosphere.
The pollution referred to in our Torah reading is of a different nature completely. It concerns itself with the impurity that comes from death and not from life, from sin and the non-performance of good deeds and noble aspirations. It prohibits the priestly descendants of Aaron from willfully rendering themselves to be impure. This is a matter of ritual law, but it is also a matter of a value system and a personal and societal outlook.
All of us, not only the priestly class of Israel, are to avoid whenever possible both physical and spiritual impurity. This type of impurity pollutes the atmosphere that we live in subtly. Its influence upon us is inescapable and tragically, many times, permanent. God demanded of us that we be a holy nation, but spiritual, mental and physical pollution will always prevent us from reaching that desired goal. While it is difficult to maintain cleanliness of body and clothing in a physically polluted world, it is even more difficult to maintain cleanliness and purity of thought, dress and outlook in a very polluted emotional, mental and spiritual world.
By removing all previous inhibitions, mores and social manners of Western society, built up over generations, regarding speech, dress, public and private behavior, a terrible cloud has enveloped society. Since the Jewish people exist in the main within the confines of Western society, with its attitudes and behavior patterns, there is no question that we also have been dirtied simply by existing.
The advanced technological achievements of our time have unfortunately been put to the service of those individuals and ideas that intend to make us impure for their own personal, political or economic gain. They have done so with fancy sounding slogans that espouse all types of freedom, but really impose upon those who disagree with them the tyranny of enforced conformity.
In many parts of the world today, especially in the Far East, people wear masks over their noses and mouths to prevent the air pollution that surrounds them from being inhaled. There is no question that we all need such spiritual masks as well to allow us to counter the destructive pollution and impurity of much of the norms of the society that we live in.
Rabbi Berel Wein