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Parashat Shemini

Purity and Impurity

In addition to the long list of forbidden foods, Parashat Shemini gives us a grave warning lest we touch carcasses and become impure. "And for these you shall be unclean; whoever touches the carcass of them shall be unclean until evening." (Leviticus 11:24)

Why is it that we must be so careful about impurity that the Torah even warns us against touching impure things?

We also find permitted food in this Parashah. Don't permitted foods have the power to "neutralize" the impurities of the forbidden foods?

Generally speaking, there is something interesting about the laws of purity.

When something pure comes in contact with something impure, impurity and not purity is the active factor, and thus the pure becomes defiled and we cannot say that the impure is purified.


Let me give you a trivial example.

If I enter a pool of mud, I will get dirty, but if I enter a pool of soap ….. I won't come out clean unless I scrub myself.

And why not?

Because cleanliness requires much more of an effort than uncleanliness. A man can become dirty within a minute, but a "real" bath, takes half an hour.

A similar thing happens with clothes.

A piece of clothing can get dirty without our even noticing, but a serious laundry takes at least a half an hour.

The explanation: uncleanliness is a given while cleanliness is a process.

A similar thing happens with purity and impurity (even though there is no connection between impurity and dirt).

Purification is a long process. We are speaking of a process that requires a lot of effort on man's part, and it is a process with difficulties and even momentary failures. Permitted foods do not have the power to "neutralize" the impure, for a man is not purified as a result of eating ritually slaughtered beef or kosher chicken.

It doesn't work that way. (It is not written even once in the Torah "whoever touches pure food, becomes pure himself").

Avoiding the eating and touching of forbidden foods is an essential step towards a pure life of holiness.

And thus it is written towards the end of the Parashah following the long list of forbidden foods: " shall therefore sanctify yourselves, for I am Holy; neither shall you defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing on the earth" (Leviticus 11:44).

Holiness is not a given.
Holiness is a project.
Holiness is a challenge.

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