Dear Readers,

Life is a never-ending cycle of low points that meld into high points, only to revert back again. Every day, we experience night, only to awake to the energy of day. We work during the mundane six days of the week and then bask in the holiness of Shabbat. The winter season ushers in lifelessness while the summer rejuvenates.

In parshat Metzorah, we are introduced to the halachic terms of tumah and taharah. Some of these lows and highs of life can be defined by these terms. Loosely translated, tumah means “impurity,” and taharah means “purity.” These terms have nothing to do with physical cleanliness, but are wholly spiritual concepts.

Tumah would more correctly be defined as an absence of holiness, while taharah would mean a state of readiness to receive or be imbued with holiness. Though sometimes tumah can be caused intentionally by sinning and pushing G‑d away from one’s life, many forms of tumah are inborn in the rhythm of life itself, and have no association with sin, or negativity, at all.

The severest source of tumah is a corpse. Bereft of its soul to provide holiness and vitality, the body remains in a state of void, and, therefore, in a state of impurity. Anyone coming in contact with a dead body is likewise considered ritually impure.

Similarly, during sleep, the soul temporarily leaves the body to ascend on high (therefore, sleep is considered 1/60th of death). Upon awakening, the hands, through which the soul departs, are considered tameh until they are ritually washed. Though the hands are not dirty, they must be purified since the body experienced a void of holiness.

The ultimate purpose of tumah, or of any concealment of G‑d’s revelation—a low on life’s cosmic wheel—is to achieve a higher level by transforming it. For the bottom of life’s cosmic wheel portends the top, and not only affect the topmost part, but is an integral part of it.

Sleep furnishes strength for the hours of wakefulness. Weekdays supply the framework for change and creativity, so that we can absorb blessing and peace on Shabbat. Similarly, throughout exile, we have the opportunity to uproot negativity so that we can attain the era of redemption, when we will reveal the Divine essence of creation.

During menstruation, a woman has the status of tumah. This is a built-in component of her natural monthly cycle, demonstrating her descent from a peak level of holinesswhen she has the ability to conceive a new life through the union with her husband.

Tumah doesn’t imply sinfulness, degradation or inferiority. On the contrary, it emphasizes the great level of holiness inherent in woman’s G‑dly power to create and nurture a new life, and underlines the holiness of a husband and wife’s intimate union. Since a woman possesses this lofty potential, she also bears its void; hence, her status as tameh. She experienced “the touch of death,” so to speak, with the loss of potential life, as reflected by her menstruation.

Through the natural rhythms of her body, a woman keeps re-experiencing her wondrous G‑dly power to create.

Chana Weisberg

Editor, TJW