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Sanitizing Our Souls in the Pursuit of Purity

If one were to examine the fundamental precepts of Judaism, there is one concept that seems to be pervasive throughout our history and prevalent in multiple facets of our religious observance. Taharah, ritual purity, is one of the hallmarks of our practice as Jews and manifests itself in a variety of ways across the religious spectrum.

As we prepare to celebrate the holiday of Chanukah, we remember the wondrous military victory that B’nai Yisrael enjoyed, and recall the vital role that purity played in that miraculous conquest. When the Greeks entered the Beit Hamikdash, they took great joy in destroying the sanctity of that holy site and deliberately defiled all of the oil that was used to light the Menorah. When the Chashmonaim bested the Greeks and were once again able to enter the Beit Hamikdash, they were only able to locate one single vessel of oil which still retained its purity and could therefore be used in the Menorah. As we all know, Hashem intervened and ensured that the single flask of pure oil lasted for eight days. No matter how dire the circumstances, the Jews understood that only oil that was tahor and which carried the seal of the Kohain Gadol could be used to properly serve Hashem.

The concept of purity plays a predominant role in times of tragedy and sadness as well. We were all devastated by the terrorist attack that recently took place in Har Nof, and claimed the lives of several innocent men who were engaged in tefillah. Even before the initial shock had abated, the Har Nof community sprang into action and took steps to maintain a degree of purity and honor for the victims and their families. Members of ZAKA, an organization that does incredible work in times of crisis, arrived at the scene of the attack and proceeded to gather the severed body parts and the blood that was spilled in order to ensure that there was a proper burial.

The fact that this horrific attack took place in a shul, which is ordinarily a place where we feel safe in the sanctuary of Hashem, was particularly jolting. Yet we needed to put our emotions on the back burner while steps were taken to reinsert purity into the shul by engaging in the process of taharah, which is how Jews prepare the body of a deceased for burial. The taharah, which is a process of purification, is referred to as a chesed shel emet, a true act of kindness.

The integral role that purity plays in Judaism is best symbolized by the mikvah. Throughout Jewish history, mikvaot were used to attain a sense of taharah. In the time of the Beit Hamikdash, Bnai Yisrael, including the kohanim, was required to immerse in a mikvah to achieve spiritual cleanliness prior to entering the Temple. Ahead of receiving the Torah at Har Sinai, the Jews had to go into a mikvah before they could be in the presence of Hashem. Before they could be inducted into the kehunah, Aaron and his sons went into a mikvah.

The importance of the mikvah and attaining a degree of spiritual purity is still very much evident today. Whether it is an individual who is in the process of converting to Judaism, a chatan or kallah before their wedding, or someone who purchases new dishes and kitchen utensils, our mikvaot are the nucleus of our pursuit for purity.

One of the primary functions of the mikvah is the pivotal role that it plays in Taharat HaMishpacha, the laws dictating our conduct relative to family purity. This complex and detailed set of edicts, which helps enhance our familial relationships and interactions with our spouse, is a shining example of the importance that Hashem places on us realizing taharah in our lives on a regular and ongoing basis.

Parshat Kedoshim begins with Hashem telling Moshe to speak to B’nai Yisrael and say to them “kedoshim tihiyu,” you shall be holy. On its face, it is a somewhat amorphous directive that could mean different things to different people. Rashi proffers that this command means that Jews should refrain from transgressions and abstain from activities that run counter to what Hashem wants us to do. However, the Ramban opines that the mandate to be kadosh refers to acting with a degree of holiness even when engaged in activities that are permissible. His interpretation of “kedoshim tihiyu” is that Jews must institute safeguards to ensure that they do not act like a “naval b’rshut ha-Torah,” a glutton who lives his or her life within the parameters of the Torah and halacha.

Regardless of how we achieve kedushah, whether it is through abstinence as Rashi suggests, or by moderating our behavior at all times, even when we are theoretically engaged in a permissible act, as suggested by the Ramban, there is no question that we have a duty to be holy and to live a life of purity and sanctity.

As we light the Menorah this Chanukah and commemorate the extraordinary miracles that Hashem performed for B’nai Yisrael, we should also spend some time focusing on the purity of our very essence as Jews, which is a key element of this joyous holiday. Our future as a community and as a people can be greatly enriched if we make a concerted effort to strive for kedushah and purity in all that we do.

Becky Troodler is the Assistant Principal Middle School, Yeshivat Noam.

By Becky Troodler

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