"But if water is put upon sown plants, and any of their carcasses [of the aforementioned animals] falls on them, they become defiled for you." (Lev. 11:38)

"They become defiled for you": A plant used for food can only become susceptible to ritual defilement if the following three conditions are met:

  • It must be intended for human use, not animal.
  • It must have become wet (even if it has since dried).
  • It must be entirely severed from the ground. As long as it is still attached to the ground by even the smallest root, it is not susceptible to ritual defilement, even if it becomes wet.

..."defilement" is distance from G‑d...

Allegorically, "defilement" is distance from G‑d, the opposite of "holiness", or closeness to G‑d. One of the axioms of Jewish theology is that the closer we approach G‑d, the greater the danger of "defilement", i.e. of falling from the heights of spirituality into the depths of estrangement or depression. In the words of the sages, "the greater a person is, the greater is his evil inclination." (Sukkah 54) In moral terms, this graduated moral challenge is necessary in order to preserve free choice and therefore reward and punishment. If our progress in spiritual refinement were to leave us correspondingly less morally challenged, we would progressively lose our free choice, and concomitantly any reward for our resistance to evil.

In the imagery of Kabbalah, the forces of evil subsist on a very meager amount of Divine life force; they therefore persistently seek to siphon off Divine energy from holiness by dragging people into sin; thus, the holier the person or setting, the greater the effort these forces exert to corrupt them.

This does not mean, of course, that we should shun spiritual growth in order to be "safe" from the dangers inherent in the climb toward holiness – there could be no greater victory for evil than that! It only means that we must be sure to take the required precautions.

This dynamic is reflected in the three conditions for ritual defilement just mentioned:

* Food for humans: "Human" food, in this context, refers activities that nourish the Divine soul, whereas "animal" food refers to activities that sustain the human / animal soul. The Divine soul’s "food" is the study of the Torah and the performance of the commandments. The purpose of studying the Torah and fulfilling its commandments is, of course, to bring us closer to G‑d, but, as just mentioned, the closer we get to G‑d, the greater the forces of evil try to divert, delay, or derail us.

* Liquid: "Liquidity" in this context means (a) the nature of liquid to flow downward, alluding to our ability to bring holiness to the lowest spiritual levels; (b) the fluidity that distributes the nutrients derived from the food we eat throughout the body, alluding to our ability to properly integrate the spirituality of the Torah and its commandments into our very being; and (c) the viscidity liquids, alluding to our ability to make Jewishness "infections" to others. These are all qualities that we should aspire to in our relationship with G‑d, but, here again, the more we evince them, the more the forces of evil exert themselves against us.

The essence of our soul never becomes defiled...

* Uprooted: However, as long as the plant is connected to the ground, none of these factors are relevant. Spiritually, this means the one precaution we can take to immunize ourselves against the machinations of evil is to remain rooted to our source – to the essence of our Divine soul. The essence of our soul never becomes defiled, for it is constantly united with G‑d. When the essence of our soul is roused from its dormancy and is manifest in all of our thought, words, and deeds, we are immune to defilement.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, vol. 27, pp. 74-78
© 2001 Chabad of California/www.LAchumash.org