Friday, April 1, 2016

Shmini- Purification


Akh ma'yan uvor mikveih-mayim yiyeh tahor v'nogei'a b'nivlatam yitma.
However, a spring or cistern will be [stay] clean, but one who touches their carcass will be unclean. (Vayikra 11:36)
Sefer Vayikra is filled with all the laws dealing with Temple rites and the conditions surrounding them. Among those rites, the issues of purity and impurity, taharah and t'mei'ah, are of utmost importance. The laws of purity often appear to have a science of their own. Pure, holy objects and rituals make others impure. The flow of impurity follows its own rules, and contaminates all it touches.
There is one exception, naturally flowing water. There is something innately holy and pure about naturally flowing water that cannot be duplicated, not by tap water, nor by anything else.
Water is the most basic building block for life. We are created in water, and when we die we return to water. Without it, crops cannot grow. Without it, life ceases. Its discovery on other planets is cause for major celebration because it offers a possibility that we are not unique in the universe.  Yet too much water, or water at the wrong time or season kills. It is a universal solvent. It bores through rock. It creates energy.  Water is a powerful substance, and sacred in every religion.
Mikveh water, holy water, baptismal water, mayim achronim (literally last waters: a ritual washing after eating immediately before reciting Birkat Hamazon), water pouring ceremonies, rain dances, prayers for rain and dew, sacred rivers. D'varim compares teaching to rain, falling to nourish those who learn from it like rain nourishes the earth (32:2). The Talmud says, "There is no water except Torah (Baba Kama 17a). We are surrounded by sacred water and symbolism.
Free flowing, natural water, meaning not drawn by bucket or pipes, cannot be made impure. A lizard may fall into a mikveh, making it temporarily unclean, but is fine once the lizard is removed. The status of the water remains unchanged. Even the presence of a corpse cannot affect the water. The corpse must be removed, making those who touch it [the corpse] tamei, but once gone, the water remains unchanged.
As the only substance to be forever tahor, pure, it also purifies. Mikvayot are filled with naturally flowing water. The water serves as a safe space, a womb from which to be reborn and purified from all that makes us impure.
Shabbat shalom.