We see, throughout Sefer Vayikra (the Book of Leviticus), discussion of tum’ah. The word is translated as “impurity,” but that word does not accurately explain the concept. Talking to the Levey kids about it, I made a joking comparison to the “cheese touch” from “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” Anyone who touched that slice of moldy cheese on the basketball court at school could only lose the cheese touch by touching another kid in the school, and it was transmitted. The new kid was tamei, and to be avoided at all costs! Sefer Vayikra discusses tum’ah mostly as something that bars one from entering the Mishkan or, in later years, the Temple, or from touching (and certainly from eating) sanctified animals or foods meant for sacrifice.

Tum’ah is first mentioned in Parashat Shmini (Lev. 11:23-44) in the context of animals that Jews are forbidden to eat. Their carcasses transmit tum’ah.

Three kinds of tum’ah are mentioned in Parashat Tazria: the tum’ah of childbirth is twofold. A woman’s bleeding as part of her reproductive physiology (including childbirth) makes her t’me’ah to her husband, meaning that sexual relations between them are forbidden until this phase of tum’ah passes. Her tum’ah in regards to sacrificial worship continues beyond this time.

The third kind of tum’ah mentioned in Tazria, and discussed further in next week’s parashah, Metzora, is that of the disease tzaraat. The various kinds of skin lesions and outbreaks that constitute tzaraat, and the process of quarantine and taharah, purification, become the main topic of discussion. The discussion of tum’ah of disease segues into a discussion of tum’ah incurred through bodily emissions, both healthy and abnormal.

Following these discussions, Parashat Acharei Mot describes the sacrificial rites of Yom Kippur, the holiest and most severe in terms of the priest’s need to be entirely free of tum’ah, as his ritual cleanses his family and all of Israel from tum’ah incurred by sin.

All of this discussion of tum’ah culminates in Parashat Kedoshim which contains a mix of ethical laws and laws against idolatry. This means that ultimately, holiness is the goal, and that being free of tum’ah is a prerequisite. Mitzvot are ultimately a path towards achieving holiness, sanctification of oneself as a Jew to none but the Creator of the universe. Keeping oneself tahor (“pure”) in different ways: ethically, physically, and ritually is the Torah’s method of guiding a Jew to live in a state of holiness, and to live up to God’s exhortation that we be a holy people and a nation of priests.

As we acknowledge the first of Nisan this Shabbat, we commemorate the completion of the Mishkan; the place of holiness, the place where tum’ah and puritymatter the most. Two weeks from now, we will spend eight days purifying ourselves of chametz, remembering our being brought out of slavery in Egypt in order to be sanctified to the One of Being. In advance, I wish you a chag kasher vesameach, a happy and kosher holiday.

Shabbat Shalom!

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