Causes of Impurity

This week's Torah reading speaks about the ritual impurity imparted by a woman in the niddah state. Our Sages explain1 that this impurity came as a result of G‑d's curse after the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge. This implies that the niddah state is not a natural phenomenon, but a result of sin, a sin so severe that it is considered the source of all subsequent sins.2

A deeper appreciation of this concept can be gained by understanding the nature of Divine retribution. Consider another punishment humanity suffered because of the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge: our expulsion from Gan Eden. This punishment was not merely the penalty meted out for the sin, but instead as are all expressions of Divine retribution3 a direct result of the sin itself. The Garden of Eden was a place which could not bear the existence of evil. By eating from the Tree of Knowledge, Adam internalized evil within his being. In this state, he could no longer remain in the Garden.

Similarly, with regard to Divine retribution as a whole, it is written:4 "Your evil will chastise you," i.e., the suffering visited upon man is a natural consequence of sin.

This principle also applies with regard to the punishment Chavah received, the niddah state. This punishment is a direct result of the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge. The evil created through the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge becomes the blood which renders a woman a niddah. Therefore the woman becomes ritually impure.

The Jewish people are "a holy nation";5 and each individual is entirely good. This applies not only with regard to the G‑dly soul, but also with regard to the animal soul. By nature, the animal soul has no desire for forbidden things. (On the contrary, its inherent desires focus only on things which are permitted.6) Therefore as soon as bodily evil becomes a significant entity,7 a Jewish body cannot hold it within itself and discharges it.8

Nevertheless, the very fact that evil exists within a Jewish body is a sign that something is lacking (the lack having been caused by the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge). Therefore the person is deemed impure.

The Ultimate Analogy

There is a debate among the Rabbis as to whether the prohibition against marital relations while a woman is in the niddah state is a side effect of her impure status or a separate prohibition. There is strong support for the second approach.9

Man and woman, all the elements of their being, and all the laws applying to them, are a manifestation of the relationship between G‑d and the Jewish people.10 For they, like every other entity in this world, are an echo of their spiritual source.

Extending the above analogy, the niddah state refers to Jews in a state of sin, when they are banished from their natural home.11 While in this state, there are aspects which relate to the concept of impurity. Nevertheless, with regard to establishing a connection with G‑d the fundamental desire of every Jew12 and the objective of his observance of the Torah and its mitzvos the obstacle is not one of impurity,13 but rather a prohibition.

Distinctions Between Prohibitions and Impurity

The distinction between a prohibition and impurity can be explained as follows: Prohibitions guard against a type of evil that can be appreciated by mortal intellect or emotion. For example, forbidden foods14 dull the sensitivity of the heart and mind.15 Even when exceptions are allowed, e.g., a pregnant woman who smells the fragrance of forbidden food and is aroused, and is therefore granted permission to taste it,16 partaking of such food still imparts undesirable tendencies.17

Impurity, by contrast, refers to a dimension of evil which cannot be appreciated by mortal hearts and minds. Instead, it is as the Midrash states:18 "It is a statute which I (G‑d) ordained, a decree that I instituted."

For this reason, most of the Torah's prohibitions remain pertinent in the present era, while the laws of ritual impurity by and large applied only in the time of the Beis HaMikdash. Whenever one can appreciate evil, one must take precautions against it. Evil which we cannot detect, however, and which is deemed evil solely by virtue of G‑d's decree, conflicts only with the high levels of holiness revealed in the era of the Beis HaMikdash. It does not disrupt the reduced levels of holiness revealed in the present era.19

For this reason, most of the few laws concerning ritual purity which are practiced today20 pertain to priests. Since they are endowed with an extra measure of holiness, they must protect themselves from ritual impurity. Moreover, even priests are not enjoined against contact with all forms of ritual impurity.21

Although the evil associated with a prohibition can be appreciated more readily than the evil associated with impurity, there is a more severe dimension associated with impurity. For since the evil associated with impurity is not easily discerned, one will not eradicate it through teshuvah as quickly as one would correct error involving those matters specifically forbidden by the Torah.22

Moreover, as reflected by the fact that ritual impurity is a quality which cannot by grasped by mortal intellect, it mars the levels of soul that transcend reason and understanding.23

In this context, it is explained that with regard to the relationship between the Jews and G‑d, the evil generated through sin and on a more general level, the Sin of the Golden Calf, which parallels the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge is comparable to a prohibition and not to a matter of impurity, i.e., it affects our conscious powers, and not the essential powers of the soul. The essence of the soul remains vigorously united with G‑d.

Two Supports

Support for the notion that the ban on sexual relations during the niddah state involves a prohibition and is not a result of impurity can be drawn from the following:

a) With regard to the laws of niddah, we employ the principle: "In a case of doubt, the more lenient view is followed."24 Tosafos25 notes that with regard to questions of impurity in a private domain, we find that even when several doubtful factors are involved, the more stringent ruling is followed. Why then is the more lenient ruling followed with regard to questions regarding the niddah state?

Tosafos answers that the leniency is granted only with regard to relations between a woman and her husband. This indicates that the laws governing those relations are matters involving prohibitions and not impurity.

b) On the verse:26 "And she shall count seven days," our Sages comment:27 "by herself;" she alone is responsible. From this, our Rabbis28 derive the concept that the statements of one witness are accepted with regard to the Torah's prohibitions.

This supports the argument that the prohibition against sexual relations with a niddah involves a prohibition, not impurity. For laws regarding impurity cannot be derived from laws regarding prohibitions. This applies even when the statement of one witness would be accepted with regard to matters of impurity.29

The Analogue in our Relationship With G‑d

Every particular regarding a Torah concept is precise, and the laws that apply in the realm of Nigleh, the revealed dimension of Torah law, have parallels in P'nimiyus HaTorah, the Torah's mystic teachings. This also applies with regard to the fact that the niddah state is considered to involve a prohibition and not a matter of ritual impurity.

The Jews are described30 as "one nation on the earth." This implies that even as they are involved with matters of this earth, they remain within G‑d's domain, where His oneness is expressed. As mentioned above, even while sinning, a Jew's soul remains faithful to Him.

Because a Jew's soul is close to G‑d, one might think that even when there is a question of evil, one should be judged impure. Nevertheless, as mentioned above, the spiritual parallel to the niddah state, a Jew's distance from G‑d, is not a matter of impurity, but can be likened to a prohibition, i.e., the lack and the distance from G‑d involves only one's conscious powers, intellect and emotion. As our Sages say:31 "A person will not commit a sin unless he is possessed by a spirit of folly." At that time, he neither understands nor feels G‑d's greatness.

Admittedly, the evil connected with a prohibition does temporarily interrupt a Jew's connection with G‑d. But when there is only a question as to whether a prohibition has been violated, this does not interfere with the connection between the Jews and G‑d.32

With regard to the second support cited above: The difference between one witness and two witnesses can be explained as follows. The significance of the testimony of two witnesses depends on a court, for it is the power of a court which gives weight to their testimony. For that reason, as long as witnesses do not make their statements in the presence of a court, they can retract them.33

The acceptance of the statement of one witness, by contrast, depends on his chezkas kashrus, the assumption that he is an acceptable witness. This is a reflection of the influence of his G‑dly soul. Why is he believed? Because every Jew has a chezkas kashrus.34

With regard to the chezkas kashrus , the acceptability of the woman (the Jewish people) to her husband (G‑d), there is no need to take the matter to court, neither an earthly court nor a heavenly court. One can rely on the Jews' G‑dly souls.

When a Jew heaves a genuine sigh because of his undesirable conduct, he does not need a court to clear him of culpability. And then, as is required of a husband, G‑d provides him with sustenance and clothing, and unites with him, as it is said:35 "Israel and the Holy One, blessed be He, are all one."

(Adapted from Sichos Yud-Tes Kislev, 5715)