Friday, January 16, 2015

Fact-Checking the Torah -- becoming tahor

We’re talking about tumah and your assignment was to read Leviticus 11, Leviticus 17:15, Numbers 19 and Deuteronomy 14.
We’re at the point where I can discuss how to turn something tameh into something that is tahor.
This only applies to people and utensils.  There is no way to turn tameh animals into tahor animals, or tameh food into tahor food.  Food has to be thrown away.  The animals designated as tameh in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 can never be credited as tahor.  I have already suggested why.  See if you can remember, and email me your guess.
When people are tameh, they must undergo a waiting period and then perform a positive act.  That act is immersion in a mikveh, a natural self-renewing body of water of a minimum volume.
When utensils are tameh, they undergo a scouring procedure if they can survive it.  Then they undergo a positive act; things that can survive fire are heated red-hot.  Things that won’t survive fire are immersed in a mikveh.
To us, the scouring procedure is used to clean the item before immersion, and we interpret that as cleansing in our modern sense as rendering the object hygienically clean.
That’s not true.  The scouring procedure removes whatever would get between the person and the water, the utensil and the fire or water.  Then the immersion is the positive act that renders the person or utensil tahor.
This is similar to the Red Heifer procedure.  When somebody on a battlefield comes in contact with a corpse, that person undergoes a waiting period and then is sprinkled with water containing the ashes of a red heifer.  See Numbers 19.  A single heifer that meets the specifications cannot provide enough of this water to completely immerse an entire army, let alone have water left for the next time.  The commandment is simply to sprinkle some of the water on the affected people.  It is a positive act to mark the end of the period of tumah, a closure ritual.
The same thing for immersion in the mikveh; it is a closure ritual.  At that point the person or utensil is no longer considered as excluded from its ordinary usage.  And it should be obvious now why food has to be thrown away; it would not survive the fire and it is not amenable to scouring, so it cannot be prepared for immersion in the mikveh.  The same is true for the tameh animals although there is another reason why they can never be tahor. 
All of this is connected to what I said before on another topic.  And there’s a contrary illustration on a topic I haven’t discussed yet.  For that, read Leviticus 5 thoroughly, and also Numbers 5:5-7 and 14:12.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

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