This Shabbat is a double parashah reading. There are times when we read two parashot instead of one to sort of “catch up” so that we stay on the annual schedule. We read out of sequence for the Pesach Shabbat, and now we are reading two parashot so we can get back on schedule.
These parashot deal with cleanliness of women after childbirth, as well as leprosy (which might be any skin-related infection or disease, from leprosy to a rash of some sort that looks similar) on people, clothes and even their homes (perhaps this is a form of mildew? We know today there are some forms of mildew that are deadly.) Finally there are the laws about issuances from the body, such as oozing sores and chronic loss of fluids. The readings tell us how to identify the contagious from the non-contagious forms, and what sacrifices should be made to complete the cleansing of the person or article that was unclean.
What I want to talk about is really simple- it has (pretty much) nothing to do with these laws, but it does have it’s basis in why we have these laws.
The reason for these laws is….I don’t know why. Do you? Obviously, we don’t want people with contagious diseases being allowed to walk amongst the non-infected, but why does a girl birth require a longer period of waiting before being cleansed than a boy? How can killing an animal and placing it’s blood on my ear, thumb and toe clean me?
These laws fall into the category (for me, at least) of Chukim: laws for which we do not understand the reason. And what I want to say about these today is simply this: it doesn’t matter why. That’s right- do you really think that understanding why God gave us these laws and what their meaning is all about will get you any closer to salvation? All it can do is satisfy our curiosity, and (maybe) make us feel a little more desirous to obey. I think we can easily understand that these laws of cleanliness are another form of making sure the people of God are separated from the rest of the world, of clean not being soiled by the unclean, where our physical cleanliness represents our spiritual cleanliness.
But, again, if we ask the “Acid Test” question, “How does this affect my salvation?”, the answer has to be that understanding the reasons behind these laws will not “save” us. Obedience is how we get blessings, but it is faith alone that saves us. Faithful observance is how we demonstrate our faith, so it doesn’t matter why God wants a woman to wait a month after giving birth to a girl but only two weeks after a boy before she presents herself to the Kohan for cleansing. It doesn’t matter why we wait outside the camp 7 days and not 10, or 3, or at all. It doesn’t matter why God gave us these laws and it doesn’t matter why He wants us to do these things.
What does matter is that He tells us these are to be done. That’s it; that’s all we need, and all anyone should be concerned about. I once read that any god that can be understood by the mind of Man is not worthy of the worship of Man. I think that’s a great statement- it certainly makes sense to me. If I can understand God’s purposes, and I can understand all that He does and why, how much more “holy” can He be than me? The Bible tells us God is holy and high above us, that our holiness is but filthy rags compared to His holiness. I mean, just looking upon His presence will kill us! So how can I expect, in any way, to understand Him? To be at the same level with God, intellectually or spiritually, to make sense of everything He says and demands?
How many people have you met during your lifetime that drive themselves crazy (and eventually those around them, too) worrying about things that they have no right or need to worry about? Don’t they drive you nuts, along with themselves, when they worry about the price of eggs in China, or how someone may feel about something that someone else might do or say? If I do this, then someone, somewhere, might have some problem with it so I better not do it. Oy! I hate that! There’s nothing wrong with being compassionate, but don’t waste compassion on self-doubt and a poor self-image. And don’t waste your intellectual and spiritual energy trying to make sense of something that you will never understand. Stay focused on what you need to do to keep yourself right with God.
These laws in Leviticus, as well as other places in the Torah, are given to us by God to separate us from the rest of the world, to show us how to be holy because He is holy and because we are to represent Him; they are to guide us in our everyday lives with regard to worshipping God and treating each other. That’s it. That’s all we need to know.
And if that isn’t enough for you, then the strength of your faith is what you should be worrying about, and not why turtle doves can be an acceptable substitute for lambs.