Leviticus/Vayikra - Shemini
March 2008, Contributed by Asher ben
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A large portion of this week's Torah portion 'shemini' is dedicated
to laws that were given to "differentiate between the impure and the
pure." These include many of the Kosher laws but also the laws of
ritual impurity. Today we'll have a closer look at the laws of
impurity of food and the lesson we can learn from it.
The law is that in order for food to become `tameh, impure, it has to
fulfill several conditions.
1) Only food fit for human consumption, ma'achal Adam, can become
2) Before the food comes into contact with the impure object that is
giving over its impurity, it has to have been in contact with water
(or certain other liquids). This contact must have been after the
food was disconnected from its life source i.e. by plants after they
are cut and by animals after they die. (Otherwise there wouldn't be a
point in making this condition. After all, plants have to be watered
in order to grow!)
3) The food has to be completely disconnected. If a plant still has
one little root in the ground that might keep it alive, it cannot
Hashem created, and constantly sustains, the heavens and the earth.
He created a world with good and evil, life and death. Since the
creator of it all is Hashem, they all must have a purpose. The
purpose of evil is to be a challenge and sometimes to serve as a
reminder to bring us back to the right path. Life and everything else
associated with good is obviously more important in this world. G-
dliness, purity and good is life. Evil, sin and bad is death.
Since the good is more important it receives a stronger 'life force'
from above. Impure forces on the other hand have to suffice with very
A beggar once explained why he was relocating his `work' territory
from the subway trains to the casinos in Las Vegas. Instead of
collecting nickels and dimes for many hours every day, he would wait
for a lucky gambler to make a few thousand and then ask for fifty
dollars in one shot.
Similarly impure powers tend to attach themselves to sources of great
positive powers in order to suck more energy.
Every night when we go to sleep our soul goes up to heaven. Only a
small part of our life force remains in the body. At that time evil
forces (which we don't physically feel but who do bother us on a
spiritual level) stick to us. When the soul returns most of it gets
pushed away. Only part of it remains. For that reason we have to wash
our hands first thing in the morning before we touch anything. Only
Jewish people have to do this. Non-Jewish people do not have a
Neshama and therefore the tuma (impurity) will not stick to their
Now let's take a look at the different conditions needed to render
The first condition was that it needs to be food fit for human
consumption. Ma'achal Adam.
`Food' refers to all our physical needs.
"Man was created in the image of Hashem."
There are several ways of saying man in Hebrew. When the term `Adam'
is used it is to stress the part which is 'Edameh le'elyon'. The part
which resembles Hashem. When we use physical objects to serve G-d, we
use them as food for our `Adam' part, our soul. They become food for
the "Adam who sits on the chair"- (Hashem the way he is being
described by the prophet Yechezkel.)
Only food fit for human consumption can become impure. Only when
there is G-dliness involved there is a change impure forces will get
The second condition: The food has to be touched by water.
Some of the characteristics of water:
-Water flows from high to low. From the mountains to the rivers, to
-In the body, water delivers the different energies derived from food
an air to their right address.
-Water makes things stick together. (Think of making a dough.)
One can do all the mitzvot in a `dry' way, just going through the
motions without enthusiasm. Better would be with some `water'. Just
like water goes down to lower levels so should we reach out to people
who, at this point, seem to be lower than us in their observance of
the Torah. We should travel around the different parts of the body -
to which the Jewish people as a whole is compared- and teach everyone
on his or her level. By doing that, ultimately we will have
people `sticking around us' who will start to follow our way of life,
the ways of Torah.
Impure forces don't get too excited about `dry' Jews. The active ones
who bring holiness into this world have the biggest chance of coming
into contact with impurity.
Now one may ask: If being good, and especially helping others to be
good, attracts impurity, shouldn't it be better to keep low profile?
At least then there is a smaller chance to become impure!
The third condition gives the solution to that problem.
As long as there is a little root connected to the original life
source there is no talk about impurity. Even contact with water,
which is not impure by itself but only makes it possible for the item
to become impure when it gets into contact with an impure object, has
Our Neshama (soul) is a `part of G-d' which doesn't get affected by
any impurity. There is one thing one is allowed to do before washing
his hands in the morning. Saying "Modeh Ani, I thankfully acknowledge
You". This prayer goes straight from the essence of the Jew to his
creator and cannot be contaminated by anything. This is the core of
the Neshama that always stays connected with Hashem. This is what
made the secular Jews who were asked to convert by the Spanish
inquisition jump into the fire with cries of Shema Yisrael on their
lips. This is what made people march to their deaths in the gas
chambers singing Ani Ma'amin- I believe with perfect faith.
We can have food fit for human consumption after it was touched by
water but as long as it is still connected to its source that doesn't
We can eat and sleep to derive strength to serve Hashem and we can be
involved in outreach in an impure environment but as long as we
constantly remember that we do this because we are here to serve
Hashem and not for side motives there is no problem.
One can study Torah to impress others with his wisdom and open an
outreach center to get his picture in the local newspaper. That is
Torah has to be studied and mitzvot have to be fulfilled because that
is Hashem's will. When we keep that in mind, when we stay in touch
with our Neshama, our part of G-d, we can keep our `food' pure. The
halacha is that even one little root is enough of a connection,
nevertheless the mishna advises us to be like "a tree with many roots
and little branches which cannot be thrown over by the strongest
wind." The more we think about our soul and its divine purpose the
smaller the chance we will get disconnected which might bring to
May we soon merit the coming of Moshiach when (as Hashem promised) "Ï
will take away the winds of impurity from the land". Speedily in our
Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll
Stone Edition Chumash and from
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash
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