Thought for Shabbat – April 20, 2018
It is easy to dismiss this week’s Torah reading as less important than others, and maybe just a little gross. After all, it deals with topics such as leprosy and other forms of impurity known generically as tumah. A woman becomes impure after childbirth. A person becomes impure after coming into contact with a corpse. A person can develop leprosy after engaging in evil, improper or unwarranted speech. Even a home or one’s personal possessions can achieve this status of tumah.
To try to explain why a woman might be impure after childbirth, Rabbi Jan Urbach retells a statement from the Kotzker Rebbe who says that when a woman is giving birth, God is present in a heightened intense fashion. But when the baby is born, the spirit of God, the Shechinah, leaves, and with the leaving of the Shechinah, there is a state of impurity left behind.
The same concept holds true when a person dies. As a result, a kohane, a priest, is specifically prohibited from coming into contact with a corpse to the point that a kohane is traditionally not permitted even today to attend a funeral unless the funeral is one of a specific set of seven close relationships. In fact, it is the kohane, who through his holy status, is the one who can bring God and healing back to the person who has been affected. And clearly, when a person engages in evil speech, God is not present in those words.
But taking this discussion further, how does one explain the ability of homes and inanimate objects to become impure? If we are to say that impurity is the product of the absence of God, how does an entire brick and mortar house become impure? Can an entire house be absent of the presence of God? Of course it can. Our possessions and homes are extensions of our spirit.
We may believe that our physical status in our community is determined by our possessions and our ability to accumulate them. The nicer the house, the greater the status. The more jewels, cash and finery, the greater the status. But if God is not present in our accumulation of wealth or present in our daily activities in the shrines we built for ourselves, then those are unholy places and unholy possessions.
Fortunately, the Torah teaches us that the state of impurity can be removed even from inanimate objects. While the kohane’s ritual to restore purity is not available to us today, we can accomplish this goal on our own. We can bring the spirit of God into our homes and even our possessions by engaging with God in our homes in a positive, spiritual and ethical way. This Shabbat, let each of us determine to bring God into our homes and places of business in good times and in bad times. Is God everywhere? Yes. But bringing God into our lives and our homes is up to us. God is waiting for our invitation. And we don’t need to worry about the response. God will say, “Yes”.
Rabbi Yaier Lehrer