Ritual impurity, the topic discussed in the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, is one of the most complicated subjects in Jewish tradition.
However, perhaps the guiding light to understanding ritual impurity is the recognition of the fact that any time an object loses creativity, it becomes a vessel that emits ritual impurity.
For example, the “avi avot hatum’ah”, the most intense ritually impure object, is the object that represents the most creative entity in the world: a human being when he or she passes away. [Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Defilement by a Corpse, Chapter 1]
The most creative object in the world, when it can no longer function, becomes the greatest source of ritual impurity. And so in other instances, as well. For example, a deceased animal, which is creative, emits ritual impurity when it passes away (although it does not emit the same level of ritual impurity as a human being when he or she passes away).
In other words, ritual impurity highlights the idea of the loss of creativity.
In this week’s Torah portion, Tazria, we are introduced to the idea of ritual impurity in the context of childbirth: “אישה כי תזריע”, when a woman conceives, “וילדה זכר”, and gives birth to a male, she is ritually impure for a whole period of time, “שבעה ימים”, seven complete days. [Leviticus 12:2]
This is because when the woman becomes pregnant, she is actualizing her potential to produce life. So when she gives birth, she loses the creativity she had been carrying in her womb, and therefore, ritual impurity setas in.
And three verses later, the Torah states: “ואם נקבה תלד”, and if she gives birth to a female human being, “וטמאה”, she is ritually impure not for one cycle of time, not for seven days, but “שבועיים”, two weeks. [Leviticus 12:5]
And that’s because when a woman is carrying a female, she is not simply developing a fetus that represents a human life, she is carrying a fetus that has the potential to also create life. Thus, when she gives birth to a female, she is now emitting a dual level of impurity, because her level of creativity rose twofold when she was pregnant.
Ritual impurity reminds us that our responsibility in this world is to create “taharah”, purity. We create purity in this world when we are creative beings that can change the world, when we respond to “tum’ah”, ritual impurity, with “taharah”, by engaging and doing magnificent things in this world.
And therefore, this Torah portion is read before the holiday of Pesach, which reminds us that with freedom comes responsibility. With freedom comes the capacity to create purity in the world, to be creative beings in this world, to change our destiny, the destiny of our families, the destiny of our people and that of society.