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The Chassidic Dimension - Volume 3
Interpretations of the Weekly Torah Readings and the Festivals.
Based on the Talks of The Lubavitcher Rebbe,
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson.


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Maintaining Spiritual Purity

In the Torah portion Shemini,[1] we learn about spiritual impurity as it pertains to food. The Rambam[2] explains that a number of conditions must be met before food becomes spiritually impure:

Regarding food in general: a) it must be specifically intended for human consumption; b) the food must first have been soaked in liquid.

Furthermore, plants can only become impure after they are uprooted; as long as they are attached, even if by only one thin root, and as long as that root serves to convey nourishment, they are incapable of becoming impure.

All Torah laws serve as lessons in man's Divine service, for besides the actual laws, there are spiritual lessons to be learned therein as well.[3] How are we to understand the above laws in terms of our spiritual service?

The entire concept of spiritual impurity only exists in relation to holiness. Since the forces of unholiness receive only a minimal life-force from above, they constantly seek to increase their vitality. This is done by latching onto an individual who has a greater degree of holiness than they, and making that person sin. The individual's consequent descent into spiritual impurity and unholiness gives the dark forces an extra measure of life.

It thus follows that only food intended for human consumption can become spiritually impure. That is, only the spiritual aspects of man are subject to impurity. For, in a broader sense, "food" alludes to all of man's needs,[4] and the true life of man is his soul, with its spiritual needs - its food - being Torah study and the performance of mitzvos.

Then comes the second condition: that even this spiritual level is not subject to impurity until it is "soaked in liquid."

How are we to understand this?

Liquid, with its propensity for flowing from on high,[5] denotes beneficence, wherein he that is on a higher plane descends to one who is on a lower level. In spiritual terms, this refers to an individual who does not keep his spirituality to himself (i.e. he is not "arid"), but descends and shares with those on lower levels.

Thus, when "man's food," his Torah and mitzvos, display the characteristics of liquid and descend to his fellow so that his neighbor too can become more spiritual, this increases his own measure of holiness. As a result, unholiness tries even harder to secure nourishment from such a person.

But this would mean that the more a person seeks to spiritually benefit not only himself but also his environment, the more exposed he will become to the blandishments of unholiness! This seems patently unfair.

This complaint is removed by the third condition: Plants, as long as they are attached... are incapable of becoming impure. In spiritual terms, this means that, as long as a man's service remains attached to its source and root in his soul's essence, he cannot become impure.

All of a Jew's spiritual actions derive from their "root and source," the essence of his soul, from whence emanates his Jewishness, his unshakable faith in G-d and his capacity to serve Him with total self-sacrifice. At this level, it is impossible for a person to become impure.

Man's "food," i.e., his spiritual service, must thus be constantly connected to its "root," the essential aspect of his soul. It is not enough that the "root" remains whole; the faith and self-sacrifice stemming from it must permeate his spiritual activity.

When a Jew lives in this manner, even if all that remains is "one thin root" (i.e., all other roots have - Heaven forbid - been sundered), the person can rest assured that he will derive nourishment from his soul's essence. For, since this remaining root is attached to the soul's essence in a manner by which growth can be nurtured, the individual can be confident that he will remain unsullied and pure.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXVII, pp. 74-78



  1. (Back to text) Vayikra 11:33-38.

  2. (Back to text) Hilchos Tumas Ochlin, 1:1, 2:1.

  3. (Back to text) See Kuntres Limud HaChassidus ch. 11ff.; Igros Kodesh, Vol. III, of the Previous Rebbe, p. 219ff.

  4. (Back to text) See Sanhedrin 38a - "That he may be able to immediately begin his meal," and commentary of Rashi, ibid., - "That everything be ready for him...."

  5. (Back to text) See Taanis 7a.

For G-d's Sake!

In the portion of Shemini, the Torah prohibits eating the lower forms of terrestrial life so that a person will "not make himself disgusting."[1] The Rambam[2] lists many other loathsome and unhygienic things that the Sages prohibited for the same reason. At the conclusion of these laws, the Rambam states: "Whoever scrupulously observes these things brings about within his soul a great measure of holiness and purity, and cleanses his soul for the sake of G-d, as the verse states:[3] 'You shall sanctify yourselves and be holy.' "

Since, as the Rambam himself states,[4] these prohibitions involve things that "most people find loathsome," why was it necessary for our Sages to prohibit them?

The Rambam addresses this question by stating: "Whoever scrupulously observes these things brings about within his soul a great measure of holiness and purity, and cleanses it for the sake of G-d," i.e., that Jews should observe these prohibitions not only because doing so comes naturally, but because it affects the holiness and purity of the soul.

Although physical cleanliness is seemingly secondary to spiritual purity, the two are related, and so physical cleanliness also brings about within the soul "a great measure of holiness and purity." For physical cleanliness makes a person more fit to receive the spirituality and refinement that emanates from his soul.[5]

While the overall reason for this law is now understandable, we must still learn why the Rambam states: "Whoever scrupulously observes these things... cleanses his soul for the sake of G-d." What is the meaning of the words "for the sake of G-d"?

By adding this phrase, the Rambam indicates the special measure of spiritual elevation that is gained by a person who is scrupulously observant in keeping these laws. When he avoids foods not only out of his natural sense of loathing, but because the Sages have prohibited them, he shows that his manner of spiritual service is such that it is "for the sake of G-d alone" - entirely without ulterior motive.

When a person serves G-d by performing other mitzvos, doing so because G-d has so commanded, there is no proof that he is doing so entirely "for G-d's sake," without any personal motive. Perhaps he is performing a mitzvah "for the sake of G-d alone," simply because he has not yet attained an understanding of the mitzvah's importance. Thus, for want of proper understanding, he performs the commandment "for the sake of G-d alone."

It is only when a person observes laws that he surely would have observed in any case, yet does so only from a desire to fulfill G-d's will - for "so have the Sages declared" - that we are sure he is entirely dedicated to G-d's will, and that all his spiritual service is "for the sake of G-d alone."

The Rambam alludes to this as well, when he states: "and cleanses his soul for the sake of G-d." The Rambam's intent in these words is not that the person cleanses his soul from any evil and impurity that may have adhered to it. Rather, coming as this does after the person has already "brought about within his soul a great measure of holiness and purity," the Rambam is speaking about the ultimate spiritual cleansing, whereby we cleanse ourselves from all feelings of ego and sense of self, so that our spiritual service is "for the sake of G-d alone."

The Rambam implies as much when he says: "Whoever scrupulously observes these things brings about within his soul a great measure of holiness and purity, and cleanses his soul for the sake of G-d." That is, the closer a person comes to G-d, the more he realizes the dire need to remove from himself every vestige of selfishness in spiritual service, so that he may attain such a degree of spirituality that his entire spiritual service is "for the sake of G-d."

Based on Likkutei Sichos Shemini, 5749



  1. (Back to text) Vayikra 11:43.

  2. (Back to text) Conclusion of Hilchos Maacholos Asuros.

  3. (Back to text) Vayikra 11:44.

  4. (Back to text) Ibid., 17:29.

  5. (Back to text) See Sefer HaMaamarim Kuntreisim, Vol. II, p. 323a.

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