Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Surviving in This World

The concepts of tumah and taharah are difficult for many people to understand.  Physical beings as we are, and especially as many of us understand the germ theory of disease, we would like to understand where tumah comes from and how it spreads in a physical sense.  Sometimes the rules make sense - a rishon touches something and makes it a sheni.  Sometimes they don't - a sheni touches a liquid and makes it a rishonTerumah can go to shlishi but chullin only sheni
The bottom line is that tumah is a spiritual, not physical phenomenon which therefore has rules that physically do not have to make sense.  However, there seems to be one rule about tumah that is physical: to remove it one generally requires an immersion in water.
This again leads back to the confusion with the physical.  We use water to wash off dirt.  We use water to wash off tumah.  If it's spiritual, how does a physical solution solve such a problem?
Rav Avraham Kook, ztk"l, on last week's parasha provides a deep answer.  He begins by recalling how the Chofetz Chayim, ztk"l, lived such a simple life that people were amazed by his frugality.  When asked about it, he noted that travellers rarely take much in the way of luggage along with them (he'd never met my wife's mother!) and he was just a traveller in this world, his true destination being Olam Haba.
Rav Kook notes that water, while in one sense a life-giving fluid, is in other ways totally hostile to the human body.  A person cannot live in water.  He literally can't breathe it and prolonged immersion would drown him.
From this, the Rav draws his analogy.  By immersing in water, a person leaves the comfortable material world he is used to and enters one which more closely resembles the one his soul is currently living in.
Our neshama, after all, being purely spiritual, is immersed in a completely hostile environment here in this physical world.  For the soul, it is like a physical body immersed in water.  Without the occasional coming up for air, it would totally drown and be extinguished.  By entering the mikveh we are reminded of what our soul is going through, the damage the contact with tumah has done to it.  This realization plays a role in the removal of the tumah from us.  We come up for air, refreshing our physical lives but it is by entering the mikveh that we refresh our soul by isolating it from our usual comfort zones.
This is a lesson well worth remembering.  Too often the physicality of our lives overwhelms us.  We forget our mission and become comfortable in an environment that is toxic to our true selves.  We values our houses, cars and other luxuries.  Instead of earning to live, we live to earn.
The mikveh reminds us that what makes us truly what we are is alien to this world and that our real yearning should be to return to our Father in Heaven.  Through immersion in the mikveh, the physical ritual provides us with the spiritual help.


Bartley Kulp said...

Actually even the rules of which type of water that may be used have no scientific logic. Any scientist will tell you that there is no differance between the water in Lake Michigan from the water that is pumped from Lake Michigan. Chlorine treatments aside and you get my drift.

One can use rain water caught in a cistern, but not rain water caught in a vat and carried to another location. These parameters are completely spiritual.

Dr Mike said...

It goes even further. Water which was originally moving must remain moving and water which was still must remain still. No jacuzzi in the mikveh!

Nishma said...

Your words remind me of an article by Lawrence Kaplan which presented a disagreement between the Chazon Ish and Rav Moshe Feinsteing regarding human nature. The former believed that human nature was contrary to Torah observance and, as such, the follower of Torah would be going against his/her nature and suffer the sadness the sadness that would accompany such a lifestyle. Rav Moshe, however, believed that Torah was in line with human nature and, while an observant life may present difficulties and challenges, ultimately the Torah lifestyle is in concert with human nature and one who follows this lifestyle will have a content or happy life. As it is often said about Rav Moshe, he hated when people said shverze zein a yid, it is hard to be Jewish. Living as a Jew should result in positive feelings and one is living a life in sinc with his/her nature.

This leaves me to wonder about how Rav Moshe would have responded to the words of Rav Kuk. The idea that this world is hostile to the neshama would seem to support the view of the Chazon Ish and challenge the words of Rav Moshe. Perhaps, however, not.

Rabbi Ben Hecht