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The Value of Life

The Value of Life

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In Judaism, spiritual purity is a desirable factor. This has nothing to do with hygiene and personal cleanliness; it is a spiritual state called taharah—what we will call “purity.” The opposite of taharah is tumah, which we call “impurity.”

But the truth is, it’s very, very difficult to give an accurate English translation to these two terms—taharah and tumah—simply because they do not exist in the English language. These concepts do not exist any place other than in Torah, and therefore foreign languages don’t have the capacity to provide good synonyms for them.

At any rate, the Torah describes many situations that can impart this state of impurity to a person. Among these is contact with a dead body. This is why when one attends a funeral, G‑d forbid, one washes one’s hands before entering one’s home, pouring water on each hand alternately, six times in total; this is a spiritual formula for removing impurity from your hands. A person from the priestly family (a kohen) is not allowed to go to a cemetery at all, except under special conditions.

Another situation that can cause a person to become spiritually contaminated is the biblical disease of tzaraat (which was signified by patches of discolored, dead skin). Yet another situation which causes impurity is birth. When a woman gives birth, she contracts a spiritual impurity.

There are various other situations, which the Torah describes, that also cause impurity. The common denominator of all these kinds of impurity is that they are all somehow related to the concept of death. Even childbirth is associated with death, not because of the dangers involved, but simply because the mother who carried the child for nine months had an extra soul in her—an extra life—during the pregnancy. During pregnancy, a woman is extra-pure. But when the child is born and leaves her body—even though the child is independently alive outside the mother’s body—then as far as the mother’s body is concerned, there was a loss of life. This loss of life is the reason for her temporary state of spiritual impurity.

Similarly, when a man has discharged seed from his body, this seed can potentially impregnate a woman and cause a child to be born; there is a potential for life in every drop of seed. Every time a man lets his seed out, even if his wife becomes pregnant, he becomes impure. When a woman has her menstrual period every month, that egg which died, if it had become impregnated, could have become another person. Therefore, there is a vestige of death every month, when a woman has her period. And that is why she has the impurity.

We can see how Torah values life—how the highest thing in Judaism is life. The Torah itself is called “a Tree of Life.” Where there is life, there is holiness and purity, and where there is death or the loss of life, there is impurity.

Though a person may be alive today, there was once a period when he wasn’t alive, and there will be another period when he won’t be alive. But to be really alive even when one is alive, it is not sufficient to just live. “You who cleave to G‑d are all alive today,” a verse states. An evil person—even while he’s still alive—is called dead. Breathing and having your heart pumping do not denote life. What the Torah considers life is connected with Torah, with Judaism. The righteous man is called living even when he has passed away from this world—because he clung to the Source of Life.

By Nechoma Greisman, based on the teaching of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory.

Nechoma Greisman was an educator, counselor and speaker who reached thousands of women through her classes and books. Tragically, at the age of 39, hours after giving birth to her tenth child, Nechoma was taken from this world, leaving an enormous and irreplaceable loss to Jews worldwide.
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Michael Petek Brighton, England May 13, 2016

Tumah and the Sanctuary What I find fascinating is that the human reproductive system cannot function normally in a Jew without inducing ritual impurity, so that the Dwelling of G-d is defiled if someone goes in there in a state of impurity.

Suppose the human reproductive system is designed naturally to shut down if a person enters the Presence of the Author of Life, as though the powers of nature give way to Him as they fall down and worship Him.

Consider an all-powerful King who visits a province. The provincial Governor would not dare to execute any act of government as long as the Kin is present to do it in person. Reply

Daniela Mitrovic Pompano Beach, FL December 13, 2012

The Mikveh is one of the most wonderful Jewish experiences I've ever had. It's transforming. While you prepare, you have time to get into the proper mindset. When you get naked to dunk, you become sort of vulnerable. Then, when you finally get in, it's like home. I love everything about the ritual. You walk away feeling lighter than when you entered. Reply

Sarah Bashin Manhattan, NY June 26, 2012

alrighty then... Firstly, I am a bit surprised that this article has only received 9 other comments which span all the way back to July 13th, 2009.

I think it would be most enlightening to have more information and opinions on this subject shared over the internet. I sincerely appreciate all of the comments which have been posted.

Thank You, Reply

Rabbi Shmary Brownstein Chabad.org via lubavitch.lu March 22, 2012

To Anonyme The laws of purity and impurity are very precise, and apply in certain situations but not in others. We do not extrapolate from one situation to another to apply laws of impurity to it. There is no ritual impurity connected with the mentally ill per se, or with any illness. The situations of impurity are basically those stated in the article, and no more. Impurity through the dead means only from corpses, not those who we might figuratively call dead. In general, it is important to remember that the laws of purity are not a value judgment of the person who has the impurity, they do not mean the person is sinful, and the impurity is always temporary, ending when the proper purification rites are performed. These laws are merely restrictions in limited areas of life, i.e. entering the Temple, touching sacrificial food and utensils, and in the case of Nidah, the sacred marital union. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma March 16, 2012

how can work with the mentally ill make anyone impure? For me, having seen JOB, that story, repeatedly in the Clinics, as a psychiatric social worker, and having worked with the severe mentally ill, well it's a privilege, and often those most sensitive in life fall down, and are terribly hurt. So why would that have anything at all to deal with impurity?

I think the world needs more sensitivity and not less, and in any way designating people who are suffering as impure, well, for me, that is just so wrong, and actually an impure thought. Reply

Anonyme paris, france via lubavitch.lu March 16, 2012

impure Does it mean that working with people who are suffering very bad ( not all patients, I'm speaking about those who can't get any treatment 'cause the western world still didin't understood their affection) in psychiatric hospitals makes you impure? ( you really do feel the death to their contact, death meaning that everything is destroyed or going to unfortunatly) Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma March 13, 2012

to agree to disagree Many Jews do respect the dignity of the dead and but they do not observe all these mitzvot, and I would say purity, in its depths, has to do with the heart of man, as to man "kind", and that it's a soul matter. This is a sole matter between G_d and man, or woman, his Creation. i have an Orthodox cousin who observes these rules, but I am not Orthodox and have no problems feeling spiritually pure, in being who I am, namely in being totally ethically observant, and always sensitive to the needs and welfare of others. And if I fall down, as we all fall down, it is inadvertent, but I do deeply feel remiss and at that time, do have my own conversation with G_d, who in a very special way, is actually the author of all of our days, so on this plane we must live with that paradox. Reply

Shannan Dallas, TX March 12, 2012

Thank you! This post explained many mitzvot to me that I had never understood before now. I wish I could have known Mrs. Greisman because she was obviously a great woman. I am overjoyed and blessed to have even read her words. Reply

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman June 20, 2010

Re: spiritual impurity - man v woman Yes, a man would also have to attend to the mikvah if he wanted to enter the Temple Mount. Today, when that is not a possibility, men do not have to do so--although it is recommended and a common practice for chassidim.

A woman in nida, on the other hand, has an additional restriction that she cannot have relations with her husband until attending to the mikvah. Perhaps we could say that the womb itself becomes a Temple of Life. Reply

Joseph Gross Los Angeles, CA June 17, 2010

spiritual impurity - man v woman Thanks for including both genders occurrences of spiritual impurity.
Does he then go to the mikva like the woman after each occurrence?
"Every time a man has an issue, even if his wife becomes pregnant, he becomes impure"
if the seed became life - then why is it different then the womans period that now turned into life and she doesn't go to the mikvah after becoming pregnant? (is it because you don't know for sure if it was that seed/time?) Reply

Anonymous June 16, 2010

to linda when you scratch your hair, do you feel impure? probably not. but by doing that you contract a small amount of impurity. G-d knows when we're impure or not, it's not for us to second-guess him. Reply

linda longueuil, canada/quebec July 13, 2009

disagree I gave birth to 5 children and at any time, during or after, did I feel or be impure? Definitely not!! Reply

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