The Rebbe tells of two sages traveling in a coach on a mission to help Jews in a distant community. They were speaking words of Torah and as such, they were accompanied by angels. The horses, on the other hand, were going to their destination to receive their fodder, while the wagon driver was motivated by thoughts of his paycheck. The sages had a mission to accomplish and the angels, well, who can know what spurs them.

When describing this setting, the Rebbe would conclude: “Because the horses were thinking about their fodder, are the angels not angels?”

The mindset that prevails within our world does not enable us to appreciate spiritual reality, but our lack of appreciation does not obstruct the existence of that reality. Concepts like purity and impurity are real. They describe forces as potent — indeed even more potent — than forces in our material realm. Mortals, however, cannot perceive them openly.

Parshas Tazria

This week’s Torah reading focuses on the concept of ritual purity and impurity. Our Rabbis explain the distinction between the Torah’s prohibitions and its laws of impurity as follows: Prohibitions guard against evil that our minds and hearts can appreciate. The laws of impurity, by contrast, protect against a dimension of evil which we cannot comprehend. As the Midrash states: “It is a statute which I (G‑d) ordained, a decree that I instituted.”

Although the evil associated with a prohibition can be appreciated more readily, there is a more severe dimension associated with impurity. For since the evil associated with impurity is not easily discerned, it is much more difficult to guard against and to eradicate. To cite an example, when a person eats non-kosher food, he has performed a transgression and must repent. Nevertheless, even before he repents, he may enter the Temple and bring a sacrifice.

Casually coming into contact with an impure substance can change an individual’s personal state and isolate him from holiness. For example, were a person to touch a dead lizard, he would be forbidden to enter the Temple or partake of a sacrifice.

Moreover, just as ritual purity is a quality which cannot be grasped by our mortal intellect, it affects the levels of our souls that transcend reason and understanding. It has an effect on the dimensions of our being that are connected to G‑d above the level of logical thought.

Looking to the Horizon

At present, the entire Jewish community is ritually impure, for throughout the ages, since the destruction of the Temple, it has been impossible to maintain a state of ritual purity. For example, one of the fundamental sources of impurity is contact with a human corpse. To restore a person to a state of purity after such contact, a priest must sprinkle water mixed with the ashes of a red heifer upon an impure person. Since the destruction of the Temple, these ashes have not been available and therefore our entire people are impure.

This will be one of the first achievements of Mashiach after rebuilding the Temple — to restore our people to a state of purity. When that is accomplished, our relationship with G‑d will be lifted to an entirely different level.