A Grain of Sand

"I will multiply you as the stars in heaven and as the sand upon the shore." - Genesis 22:17

"I can see the master's hand in every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand." - Dylan, Every Grain of Sand (on Shot of Love)

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Torah Portion, Tazria II: Holy Mouldy

Well, sort of.

In my previous post, which you should now have committed to memory, I mentioned that in the Torah there is both ritual and moral purity/impurity. We can probably all get our minds around moral purity: the idea that if we do something immoral we are somehow tarnished. Maybe you think that belief involves an unhealthy level of repression, but at least you understand it.

Ritual impurity in the Torah is a bit more far out. If a person comes into contact with a defiling substance they become ritually tamei (impure). They must maintain separation from things that are holy until they become tahor (pure) by being declared so by a priest. And impurity can even grow (like mould) on the structure of a building or on clothing.

We may occasionally get the feeling that someone has done something so morally questionable that being in their presence makes us say "I have to take a shower." Examples of this include close contact with car salesmen (I can say this because I was a car salesman one summer) or encountering a particularly awful moment of political desperation such as when Hillary Clinton tried to scrap together some votes by running an adsuggesting that the nation's children would be in danger if she were not elected President (I can say this because I had to take a shower after seeing that ad).

But this is just a response to the heebie-jeebies (and I do mean heebie). In the Torah, though, certain materials (such as a corpse, emissions from sexual organs, and the skin irregularities described in this week's portion) actually render a person incapable of attaining holiness until
the individual has been purified.

How can holiness be compromised by the material (as opposed to the moral)? The idea seems strange to us because in our scientific era, all matter is understood to be essentially the same. It may look different, and some matter may cause illness in humans, but under the surface, if you get to the electro-magnetic core of things, it's all just protons, neutrons, electrons, atoms and molecules.

So, skin disease, contact with a corpse, or emissions from the body are the things that cause ritual impurity. In the scientific world view they do not diminish us: that would be absurd. They are merely various kinds of matter coming into contact with other matter - there is no meaning to these encounters.

Each of these three things might alienate us from our bodies. They are all irregularities that disrupt our capacity to look beyond ourselves. The bodily emissions are things that are tied to birth - seminal emissions from the man, or afterbirth and post-partum discharges from the woman. The miracle of birth draws attention to our ability to create - but also the raw materiality of our existence. While we may be amazed at the birth, parents also become more aware of their finitude. Contact with a corpse may shock us into a meditation on death. And irregularities and bodily deformities are stark reminders of our body's delicate nature.

Some commentators have pointed out that these ritual impurities center around death and life, and draw our attention to these things. Because God is eternal, God neither lives nor dies, remaining at once within the material of the universe and totally apart from it. God - the essence and source of holiness - has no spirit/material divide. Perhaps the moments that make us more aware of the gulf between what is eternal and what is finite about us we distance ourselves from God.

Eliav cries....gotta run

1 comment:

  1. Comments about Rabbi Josh’s blog: “Torah Portion, Tazria II: Holy Mouldy
    Rabbi Josh was speaking of ritual and moral purity. I think of ritual purity as selecting a clean unblemished sacrifice to be offer to the Lord God Almighty of Israel by a clean, morally pure priest on a clean alter.
    When I think of morally pure I think of being pure sexually. I believe being morally pure involves not being promiscuous and remaining decease free. Also I believe in keeping your discharge to a minimum.
    The Lord God Almighty of Israel speaks heavily about cleanliness and He even says that the sin against the Holy Spirit, which is the only unforgivable sin, is to say that the Lord God Almighty of Israel has an unclean spirit.
    Jesus committed the unforgivable sin by telling his Father, the Lord God Almighty of Israel, that He had an unclean spirit. In fact, Jesus, spoke of unclean spirits in his testimony about the Lord God Almighty of Israel. This does not mean that there are not beings that are unclean spirits. It just means that the Lord God Almighty of Israel is perfectly clean and pure.
    The angels were created for the various Body parts of the Lord God Almighty of Israel. Jesus was created from the Heart of the Lord God Almighty of Israel, leaving a way for mankind, who came from the earth of the Earth, to have a transfusion of the blood of the Lord God Almighty of Israel’s blood.
    This does not mean that Jesus’ blood was not contaminated in the environment of the people of Earth, but it makes it possible with his sacrifice for all people to share in the infinite supply of the pure blood of the Lord God Almighty of Israel.
    I would have to amend Rabbi Josh’s statement “The miracle of birth draws attention to our ability to create”. We cannot create, but we can participate in the initiation of the Lord to Create and we can then help sustain, nurture and heal his creation.