Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Purity and Man

Well, I think it's time I picked up מנחה טהורה, Rav Daniel Wolf's book on Seder Taharot...

The Centrality of Man in Severity of Tumah

One interesting point Rav Wolf makes in the opening chapter is about the pattern in how Tuma is passed between objects, with a decreasing severity the further they get from Mankind:

נראה כי ההסבר לדיני העברת הטומאה מבוסס על השקפה שלפיה האדם הוא מרכז עולם הטהרות. לפיכך, דברים מקבלים טומאה על פי מידת קרבתם לאדם ומעמדם כמשמשיו.

As such, the greatest level of Tuma is a dead body, while at the other end of the spectrum, objects that belong to nature cannot become impure:

  1. A Person can become Av Hatuma in life or Avi Avot Hatuma(Rashi's term) in death
  2. A metal kli, which requires a high technological level to make, can also become Avi Avot Hatuma
  3. Ohel, Moshav, and Mishkav serve Man so they can become an Av
  4. Other Kelim can become an Av depending on how closely they serve Man
  5. Earthen Kelim "serve the servants of Man" i.e. hold food and water. Therefore they can't become an Av
  6. Food Serves sometimes serves man directly, sometimes through a kli, so it can become, at best, Rishon
  7. Drink only serves man though a kli, so there is a machloket whether they can become Tamei. The Rambam says that only the 7 important liquids can mideoraita.

 A Lesson in Mindfulness?

The laws of Tumah and Taharah create an aura of respect and awe around the service of God. They raise the bar on our avoda of bringing Korbanot, Trumah, and visiting the Temple Mount.

At the same time, I wonder if there is a broader moral lesson here. We are taught to keep track of the purity/impurity of our bodies, our creations, and even our food. Perhaps this mindfulness, this consciousness of purity in the service of God, are meant to spill over to our broader pursuits, ultimately touching on the realm of טומאת הנפש.

Purifying the Impure

Continuing on in Mincha Tehora, Rav Wolf points out a similar pattern with regards to purifying Tamei items. The closer they are to Man, the easier they are to purify. As Rav Wolf describes it, "החמור בטומאה הוא קל בטהרה":

  1. Avot Hatuma are purified in a Mikva
  2. Earthen Kelim are purified only once broken
  3. Food is purified by making it inedible
  4. Impure drinks cannot be purified

This somewhat counter-intuitive result has interesting implications. It seems that the laws of טומאה וטהרה put everything on an axis of Man vs. Nature. That which is closer to Man falls under our realm of responsibility to keep pure or to purify, while that which is Natural is outside our sphere of influence.

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