This parashah deals exclusively with two forms of impurity; a woman’s impurity as a result of birth and the impurity of a skin disease, generally identified as leprosy.
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A woman is unclean after giving birth due to the bodily excretions that occur (which are discussed later in Chapter 18) and there is a specified time for her to remain in that state after the birth of a boy and another time period if the child is a girl; please don’t ask me why there is a different time for each because I have no idea. I just put it down to being a law that is considered Chukkim (laws which must be obeyed but we can’t understand why.)
There are also instructions regarding the breaking out of a skin disease, which (as I said before) is generally interpreted as leprosy. The Hebrew word used is T’zarat.
In both cases, since the person is unclean, they are removed from the camp for the specified time period. Once that time period is over they are to offer a sacrifice and then they can rejoin the camp.
In the case of T’zarat, the Cohen must examine the person to ensure that the breaking-out on the skin is not communicable.
The arguments made for these instructions deal on one of two sides: one argument is that they are given for health reasons, and the other is that they are strictly levitical, i.e. ceremonial/religious.
The health arguments are fairly simple to comprehend- if someone has a communicable disease, such as some forms of leprosy, then it makes sense to remove them from the general population. And with regards to the levitical reasons, the Torah is clear that no one in a state of uncleanliness or with physical deformities is allowed in the Sanctuary.
It should be noted that these impurities relate to the Sanctuary and not necessarily with everyday activities.
I believe what we should take away from this parashah is that God has his reasons for giving us the instructions in the Torah, and we don’t need to know why. I have made this argument many times during the life of this ministry of mine, and will (no doubt) repeat it again, and often.
As the line from the famous poem, “Charge of Light Brigade” goes, “Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die;…” Now, I am not suggesting that we should either obey the Torah or cash in our chips, but I do believe we are to obey not because we understanding God’s reasons but only because God said we should. He tells us over and over (and over) again throughout the Bible that when we obey him, we will live. That doesn’t mean just live now but live eternally.
Maybe we shouldn’t have sexual relations with a woman during her time of Niddah (again, this is in Chapter 18) because some studies show that Jewish women (who follow this instruction) have a lower incidence of cervical cancer. That’s good news, and certainly good reason for obedience to that instruction. But what if there was no study? What if there was no relationship, in the health arena, for this particular abstinence? Does that mean we should say God made a mistake?
Of course not. God doesn’t make mistakes, but we sure do. And the biggest mistake we make, in my opinion, is trying to understand why God gives us these instructions.
Human beings have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, which (in and of itself) is a good thing; but, just like too much of any good thing is not good, when we begin to pridefully believe we now understand why he gave them we are asking for trouble. Here’s my reason for saying this: based on my experience and understanding of human nature, once we think we know the reason for being told to do something if we do not really want to do that something, we rationalize reasons for ignoring that rule.
In other words, if I really don’t want to, I will make an excuse why I don’t have to, and knowing the “why” for the rule makes it easier to create that excuse.
The bottom line is this: there are health-related and levitical justifications for the instructions God gives dealing with impurity. And the truth is that if someone doesn’t want to obey, any excuse is just as good as any other excuse.
We have a choice- we can obey and choose life, or we can disobey and choose death. God has given us the right to decide where we spend eternity, and whether we understand his reasons for giving any specific instruction, or not, doesn’t matter to God. He knows what is in our hearts and minds, so say what you want and make any excuse you want; it can be logically, medically or legally justified, but it won’t make any difference to God.
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This being Friday, I wish you all Shabbat Shalom, and until next time L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!