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Translator's Foreword

Vayikra

   Vayikra

Tzav

Shabbos HaGadol

Pesach

Seventh Day of Pesach

Shemini

Tazria

Metzora

Acharei

Kedoshim

Emor

Lag BaOmer

Behar

Bechukosai

Founders of Chassidism & Leaders of Chabad-Lubavitch

Glossary

Likkutei Sichot - Volume VIII: Vayikra
An Anthology of Talks Relating to the weekly sections of
the Torah and Special occasions in the Jewish calendar
by the Lubavitcher Rebbe Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson


Metzora

English rendition by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger

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Causes of Impurity

This week's Torah reading speaks about the ritual impurity imparted by a woman in the niddah state. Our Sages explain[259] that this impurity came as a result of G-d's curse after the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge. This implies that the niddah state is not a natural phenomenon, but a result of sin, a sin so severe that it is considered the source of all subsequent sins.[260]

A deeper appreciation of this concept can be gained by understanding the nature of Divine retribution. Consider another punishment humanity suffered because of the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge: our expulsion from Gan Eden. This punishment was not merely the penalty meted out for the sin, but instead -- as are all expressions of Divine retribution[261] -- a direct result of the sin itself. The Garden of Eden was a place which could not bear the existence of evil. By eating from the Tree of Knowledge, Adam internalized evil within his being. In this state, he could no longer remain in the Garden.

Similarly, with regard to Divine retribution as a whole, it is written:[262] "Your evil will chastise you," i.e., the suffering visited upon man is a natural consequence of sin.

This principle also applies with regard to the punishment Chavah received, the niddah state. This punishment is a direct result of the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge. The evil created through the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge becomes the blood which renders a woman a niddah. Therefore the woman becomes ritually impure.

The Jewish people are "a holy nation";[263] and each individual is entirely good. This applies not only with regard to the G-dly soul, but also with regard to the animal soul. By nature, the animal soul has no desire for forbidden things. (On the contrary, its inherent desires focus only on things which are permitted.[264]) Therefore as soon as bodily evil becomes a significant entity,[265] a Jewish body cannot hold it within itself and discharges it.[266]

Nevertheless, the very fact that evil exists within a Jewish body is a sign that something is lacking (the lack having been caused by the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge). Therefore the person is deemed impure.

The Ultimate Analogy

There is a debate among the Rabbis as to whether the prohibition against marital relations while a woman is in the niddah state is a side effect of her impure status or a separate prohibition. There is strong support for the second approach.[267]

Man and woman, all the elements of their being, and all the laws applying to them, are a manifestation of the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people.[268] For they, like every other entity in this world, are an echo of their spiritual source.

Extending the above analogy, the niddah state refers to Jews in a state of sin, when they are banished from their natural home.[269] While in this state, there are aspects which relate to the concept of impurity. Nevertheless, with regard to establishing a connection with G-d -- the fundamental desire of every Jew[270] and the objective of his observance of the Torah and its mitzvos -- the obstacle is not one of impurity,[271] but rather a prohibition.

Distinctions Between Prohibitions and Impurity

The distinction between a prohibition and impurity can be explained as follows: Prohibitions guard against a type of evil that can be appreciated by mortal intellect or emotion. For example, forbidden foods[272] dull the sensitivity of the heart and mind.[273] Even when exceptions are allowed, e.g., a pregnant woman who smells the fragrance of forbidden food and is aroused, and is therefore granted permission to taste it,[274] partaking of such food still imparts undesirable tendencies.[275]

Impurity, by contrast, refers to a dimension of evil which cannot be appreciated by mortal hearts and minds. Instead, it is as the Midrash states:[276] "It is a statute which I (G-d) ordained, a decree that I instituted."

For this reason, most of the Torah's prohibitions remain pertinent in the present era, while the laws of ritual impurity by and large applied only in the time of the Beis HaMikdash. Whenever one can appreciate evil, one must take precautions against it. Evil which we cannot detect, however, and which is deemed evil solely by virtue of G-d's decree, conflicts only with the high levels of holiness revealed in the era of the Beis HaMikdash. It does not disrupt the reduced levels of holiness revealed in the present era.[277]

For this reason, most of the few laws concerning ritual purity which are practiced today[278] pertain to priests. Since they are endowed with an extra measure of holiness, they must protect themselves from ritual impurity. Moreover, even priests are not enjoined against contact with all forms of ritual impurity.[279]

Although the evil associated with a prohibition can be appreciated more readily than the evil associated with impurity, there is a more severe dimension associated with impurity. For since the evil associated with impurity is not easily discerned, one will not eradicate it through teshuvah as quickly as one would correct error involving those matters specifically forbidden by the Torah.[280]

Moreover, as reflected by the fact that ritual impurity is a quality which cannot by grasped by mortal intellect, it mars the levels of soul that transcend reason and understanding.[281]

In this context, it is explained that with regard to the relationship between the Jews and G-d, the evil generated through sin -- and on a more general level, the Sin of the Golden Calf, which parallels the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge -- is comparable to a prohibition and not to a matter of impurity, i.e., it affects our conscious powers, and not the essential powers of the soul. The essence of the soul remains vigorously united with G-d.

Two Supports

Support for the notion that the ban on sexual relations during the niddah state involves a prohibition and is not a result of impurity can be drawn from the following:9

  1. With regard to the laws of niddah, we employ the principle: "In a case of doubt, the more lenient view is followed."[282] Tosafos[283] notes that with regard to questions of impurity in a private domain, we find that even when several doubtful factors are involved, the more stringent ruling is followed. Why then is the more lenient ruling followed with regard to questions regarding the niddah state?

    Tosafos answers that the leniency is granted only with regard to relations between a woman and her husband. This indicates that the laws governing those relations are matters involving prohibitions and not impurity.

  2. On the verse:[284] "And she shall count seven days," our Sages comment:[285] "by herself;" she alone is responsible. From this, our Rabbis[286] derive the concept that the statements of one witness are accepted with regard to the Torah's prohibitions.

This supports the argument that the prohibition against sexual relations with a niddah involves a prohibition, not impurity. For laws regarding impurity cannot be derived from laws regarding prohibitions. This applies even when the statement of one witness would be accepted with regard to matters of impurity.[287]

The Analogue in our Relationship With G-d

Every particular regarding a Torah concept is precise, and the laws that apply in the realm of Nigleh, the revealed dimension of Torah law, have parallels in P'nimiyus HaTorah, the Torah's mystic teachings. This also applies with regard to the fact that the niddah state is considered to involve a prohibition and not a matter of ritual impurity.

The Jews are described[288] as "one nation on the earth." This implies that even as they are involved with matters of this earth, they remain within G-d's domain, where His oneness is expressed. As mentioned above, even while sinning, a Jew's soul remains faithful to Him.

Because a Jew's soul is close to G-d, one might think that even when there is a question of evil, one should be judged impure. Nevertheless, as mentioned above, the spiritual parallel to the niddah state, a Jew's distance from G-d, is not a matter of impurity, but can be likened to a prohibition, i.e., the lack and the distance from G-d involves only one's conscious powers, intellect and emotion. As our Sages say:[289] "A person will not commit a sin unless he is possessed by a spirit of folly." At that time, he neither understands nor feels G-d's greatness.

Admittedly, the evil connected with a prohibition does temporarily interrupt a Jew's connection with G-d. But when there is only a question as to whether a prohibition has been violated, this does not interfere with the connection between the Jews and G-d.[290]

With regard to the second support cited above: The difference between one witness and two witnesses can be explained as follows. The significance of the testimony of two witnesses depends on a court, for it is the power of a court which gives weight to their testimony. For that reason, as long as witnesses do not make their statements in the presence of a court, they can retract them.[291]

The acceptance of the statement of one witness, by contrast, depends on his chezkas kashrus, the assumption that he is an acceptable witness. This is a reflection of the influence of his G-dly soul. Why is he believed? Because every Jew has a chezkas kashrus.[292]

With regard to the chezkas kashrus, the acceptability of the woman (the Jewish people) to her husband (G-d), there is no need to take the matter to court, neither an earthly court nor a heavenly court. One can rely on the Jews' G-dly souls.

When a Jew heaves a genuine sigh because of his undesirable conduct, he does not need a court to clear him of culpability. And then, as is required of a husband, G-d provides him with sustenance and clothing, and unites with him, as it is said:[293] "Israel and the Holy One, blessed be He, are all one."

(Adapted from Sichos Yud-Tes Kislev, 5715)

   

Notes:

  1. (Back to text) Eruvin 100b.

  2. (Back to text) See Shabbos 146a; Zohar, Vol. I, 52b. Note the explanation of this concept in the maamar entitled Al Kein Yomru HaMoshlim, 5691.

  3. (Back to text) See the introduction to the section Beis Acharon in the Sheloh, where this subject is discussed.

  4. (Back to text) Yirmeyahu 2:19.

  5. (Back to text) Shmos 19:6.

  6. (Back to text) Tanya, ch. 8.

  7. (Back to text) For until menstrual blood reaches the vaginal channel, a woman is not rendered impure (Niddah 5:1).

  8. (Back to text) There is a slight difficulty reconciling these statements with those of the Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Mahadura Basra, at the conclusion of sec. 4.

  9. (Back to text) See Asvin d'Oraisa, sec. 21. See also Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Yoreh De'ah, sec. 183 (Mahadura Basra, Hagaah, 789a); the responsa of the Tzemach Tzedek, Yoreh De'ah, Responsa 138, sec. 1; 139, sec. 3.

  10. (Back to text) See our Sages' interpretations of Shir HaShirim.

  11. (Back to text) This is reflected in the word niddah, which relates to the term nad, meaning "wander." See also the Targum which renders it as "removed."

  12. (Back to text) See Tanya, ch. 41.

  13. (Back to text) Even impurity does not prevent this connection, as it is written (Vayikra 16:16): "He who dwells among you amidst your impurity."

  14. (Back to text) Even when the prohibition is not indigenous to the food, but rather results from a person's thoughts or speech -- for example, a person who slaughters an animal in worship of a mountain (Chulin 39b) -- it breeds undesirable tendencies in a person's character. For example, the Midrash (Rus Rabbah 3:13) relates that when the mother of Elisha ben Avuia (Acher) was pregnant with him, she passed by a temple of pagan gods. She smelled the fragrance of the meat roasted as a sacrifice and had a powerful desire for the food. Fearful for her health and that of her child, the Rabbis permitted her to eat. And the influence of that food later gave rise to Acher's negative tendencies.

    These negative tendencies were not endowed as a punishment for the deeds of Acher's mother, for she did not commit a transgression; in such an instance, a woman is permitted to partake of forbidden food. As the wording of the Midrash: "they gave her from this food, and she ate" implies, she was granted permission by the Rabbis. It is unlikely that because the worship of false gods was involved, the Rabbis would have ruled that she should die rather than transgress.

    {The Jerusalem Talmud (Chagigah 2:1) states that she smelled incense offered to a false deity, and this gave rise to Acher's negative tendencies. According to that source, it is possible to say that Acher's negative qualities came as a punishment for his mother's deeds. See, however, Tosafos (Chagigah 15a), who maintains that the text in the Jerusalem Talmud follows that of the Midrash cited above.}

    Based on the above, we can appreciate the interpretation offered by the Shach and the Taz to the Ramah's ruling (Yoreh De'ah 81:7) that a woman who eats forbidden foods should not nurse a child. This applies even when the nursemaid is permitted to eat the forbidden foods because of a danger to her life.

    In this instance, it would be wrong to make a distinction between a severe prohibition like food offered to an idol, and pig's meat. On the contrary, it is apparent from this ruling that although the food offered to idols was forbidden only because of man's intent, even when one is allowed to partake of it, it brings about undesirable tendencies. Surely this concept applies with regard to eating pork and the like, when the undesirable tendencies are indigenous to the meat itself.

  15. (Back to text) See the commentary of the Ramban to Vayikra 11:13, and Sefer HaChinuch (mitzvah 73).

  16. (Back to text) See Yoma 82a, Shulchan Aruch HaRav 617:2.

  17. (Back to text) Although partaking of forbidden food imparts undesirable tendencies, when a threat to life is involved it is a mitzvah to partake. To cite a parallel, when necessary, one limb is amputated in order to save a person's life.

    This reflects the concept that the undesirable nature of the food remains unchanged, although it is permitted in this instance. This concept is also reflected in the Rambam's ruling (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Shabbos 2:1) that a threat to life causes the Torah's prohibitions to be dichuyah, "suspended," rather than hutra, "lifted." (The comments of the Rogachover Gaon to that halachah require further analysis.)

    There is a slight difficulty with the above thesis based on Tanya, Iggeres HaKodesh, Epistle 26, which states that when our Sages permit non-kosher food because of a threat to life, it becomes "absolutely permitted." It must, however, be noted that in that Epistle, the word "absolutely" is surrounded by parenthesis, and is lacking in certain of the early printings of the Tanya [indicating that perhaps the Alter Rebbe felt the matter required reconsideration].

  18. (Back to text) Bamidbar Rabbah, the beginning of Parshas Chukas; see also Rambam, Mishneh Torah, the conclusion of Hilchos Mikvaos.

  19. (Back to text) To cite a parallel: one may not partake of the sacrificial offerings while in a state of ritual impurity. One may, however, partake of ordinary foods. See Kuzari, Discourse 3, Sec. 49.

  20. (Back to text) Among the other laws of ritual impurity relevant today are those which apply to the water used for a mikveh and the schach used for a sukkah.

  21. (Back to text) Moreover, the priesthood is associated with kabbalas ol, a commitment which transcends intellect; this is the foundation of our Divine service. This is illustrated by the fact that the Mishnah (Berachos 1:1) associates the time for the recitation of the Shema -- a declaration of kabbalas ol -- with the time the priests partake of terumah. Since the priesthood serves such a purpose, it is necessary to take into consideration even the more sophisticated levels of evil associated with impurity.

  22. (Back to text) See the discussion of related concepts in the sichah of Parshas Vayikra in this series.

  23. (Back to text) See Likkutei Torah, Devarim 43c, and the conclusion of Parshas Acharei.

  24. (Back to text) As explained by the M'lo HaRoyim, Mareches Sefeika d'Oraisa, sec. 10, and others according to Tosafos (whose view is under discussion), this applies even with regard to Scriptural law. There are also more stringent views which include the Tzemach Tzedek (Responsa to Yoreh De'ah, Responsum 71; see also the conclusion of the maamar entitled Mitzvas Tumas Metzora in Derech Mitzvosecho), which maintains that according to Scriptural Law, in a case of doubt, one should follow the more severe opinion. Nevertheless, even according to these authorities, the fact that with regard to a sefek safeika -- a situation where the doubt is compounded -- a more lenient ruling is followed with regard to prohibitions, in contrast to the laws regarding impurity, indicates that even one doubt has an effect according to Scriptural Law.

  25. (Back to text) Bava Kamma 11a, entry D'ein.

  26. (Back to text) Vayikra 15:28.

  27. (Back to text) Kesubos 72a.

  28. (Back to text) Tosafos, Gittin 2b. See also the Tzemach Tzedek, Shaar HaMiluim, Chidushim L'Yevamos (17d-20b).

  29. (Back to text) The question whether we accept the statements of one witness with regard to questions of impurity in a private domain is discussed by the Shev Shemaitsa, Shemaitsa 6. (It is questionable if the doubt raised by the Shav Shemaitsa applies in the matter under discussion. Note the development of this concept by the Tzemach Tzedek, loc. cit.)

  30. (Back to text) II Shmuel 7:23.

  31. (Back to text) Sotah 3a; see also Zohar, Vol. I, p. 121a.

  32. (Back to text) See the sichah to Parshas Vayikra in this series, which explains that with regard to the soul's encompassing powers, a questionable violation of a prohibition is more severe than an instance in which a prohibition was definitely violated. This, however, relates to the concept of impurity and not prohibition.

  33. (Back to text) Jerusalem Talmud, Kesuvos 2:3; Tosefta, Sanhedrin 6:6; Tur and Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 29.

  34. (Back to text) See Sanhedrin 3:1.

  35. (Back to text) See Zohar, Vol. III, p. 93b.


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