Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Tazria
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Hana Bat Haim

Parashat Tazria

Spiritual Sensitivity and Susceptibility


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

Tazria-Metzora 3 Iyar 5764
Our two parshiyot deal with a variety of tumot, which we usually translate as impurities. Tumah comes in different forms and stems from different sources. It can come from contact with the dead or from being afflicted by tzara’at, which can loosely be translated as leprosy. Our tendency is to think that the more tamei something is, the more defiled and lowly it is. But the truth is almost the opposite, as we will briefly demonstrate.

Tumah usually involves two objects. One is the source of the tumah which has the potential to bring tumah to another object (m’tamei). The recipient of the tumah is mitamei. If one looks at the halachot relating to either side of the equation, he will see that there is more tumah where there is more kedusha.

Corpses are a primary source of tumah. If it is the corpse of an animal, there is a serious level of tumah (av hatumah). If the corpse is human, then there is an even higher level of tumah (avi avot hatumah). The source of the tumah is actually not something defiled but is a physical object which has lost some of its kedusha. As dignified as a corpse is and as much as we must safeguard its dignity, when the soul leaves the body, the body’s spiritual level goes down. A man and a woman become tamei, respectively, when those elements that have the potential to bring new life, and with it more kedusha, are lost to the body. Even when there is a happy ending to the story and new life is created (i.e. birth), the body from where the life emanated (the mother) is bereft of that life, which will now function as a separate entity. So, the object which is m’tameh is not evil or defiled but represents a step down from a past level or potential. Stepping down is a spiritual danger, and those that come in contact must take steps not to be adversely affected by the relative letdown.

Regarding recipients of tumah, we find a similar phenomenon. Regular objects become tamei only when they can become a sheni l’tumah (twice removed). Lower than that, the tumah is not "registered." But terumah can become a shlishi l’tumah (three times removed) and kodashim (sacrifices) can even become a r’vi’ee l’ tumah (four times removed). This is because the more holy something is, the more sensitive and susceptible it is. Following the aforementioned thesis, we can explain as follows. The more potential something has, the more spiritually dangerous it is when its full potential is not actualized. The Torah warns us to make sure that not even the slightest level of a spiritual letdown should infiltrate those things that should remain on the highest level.

As we address the main form of tumah that our parshiyot discuss, we can see that the same applies by it. Tzara’at is a painful but crucial warning system of the presence of spiritual deterioration. This system was a special gift to Bnei Yisrael to help them maintain their level. While different forms of leprosy have precedent in the natural world, the tzara’at of the house and the clothes are full miracles (Ramban on Vayikra 13:47). Therefore, only in Eretz Yisrael do the houses have the spiritual potential that would enable such laws of tumah to exist. Let us strive to maximize the potential of our homes in Eretz Yisrael by using them virtuously as the base for Torah, mitzvot, and chesed.

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