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Impurity is Not a Sin – Parshat Acharei Mot*

Impurity is Not a Sin – Parshat Acharei Mot*

Being ritually impure doesn’t sound like something we would want to be. Though some ‘extreme’ enthusiasts might do it for the sport, most of us probably wouldn’t volunteer. On the other hand, being impure doesn’t reflect any kind of blemish – so, aside from Kohanim (priests), maybe we don’t really need to refrain from becoming ritually impure.**

Not only is there little reason to refrain from being impure (Tamei), there are even instances mandated by Jewish law to become Tamei. One example is marital relations and a second is the case of an abandoned corpse.  Every husband is required to have marital relations with his wife even though through doing so, they will both become Tamei.1 In the case of a corpse lying abandoned, it is incumbent upon the finder to care for it; even though through doing so the caretaker will become Tamei.2

We, therefore, find nothing unusual that in Parshat Acharei Mot, Hashem does not remove His presence even though many in the nation are Tamei.3 Impurity doesn’t bother him. Sin bothers Him. If there were many sinners, then God would hide His presence.4

Ritual impurity, usually dealing with a physical kind of ‘brush with death’, as Rabbi Soloveichik describes the concept of tumah,5 does not anger God. Spiritual impurity stemming from sin, does anger Him.

Being Tamei, then, implies dealing with a form of death even as we continue to live.

Being Tamei, then, may even be a blessing for us. It allows us to realize our own mortality even as we are healthy. In fact, it seems that the healthier we are, the more we come into contact with situations which create impurity.

Being Tamei, then, can help us see the value of our lives and the importance of how we view the time we spend here. We are born to search for meaning in our lives and challenged to behave accordingly.6 These gentle, and not so gentle, reminders are meant to help us along our way to a fulfilling life.

 

Notes

*During the following weeks, there will be a one-parsha difference between Israel and other countries. LogoParsha will be following the Israeli custom. This week’s edition is late.

**Note: ritual impurity (Tumah) is a Biblical term which we will not try to define here. We will, however, explore it and see how it can serve us. It is a broad topic with many different examples and ramifications discussed mostly in Vayikra, chapters 11-22.

  1. Vayikra 15:18
  2. Berachot 19b
  3. Vayikra 16:16. See Rashi’s comment which highlights this concept.
  4. Devarim 31:17-18. Note also that sin brings to the person a spiritual form of impurity
  5. Although I did not find a direct source, I found this concept quoted in Rabbi Soloveichik’s name by different authors.
  6. Viktor Frankl, in his bestseller, Man’s Search for Meaning, describes the search for meaning as the prime motivating force in humans.
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