There is a troubling irony in our modern treatment of the laws of impurity. On the whole, in the absence of the Temple, these laws are no longer relevant to every day life. The one very important exception is the laws of niddah, menstrual impurity, which remains in effect, defining and challenging the most intimate aspects of people’s lives to this day.
But here’s the irony. If all of the laws of purity were still practiced, we probably wouldn’t have any problem differentiating between them, and maintaining as distinct the unique laws of each type. As chapter 15 emphasizes, not all impurities are created equal.
But because niddah is the last vestige of purity law, it has, over time, folded within itself aspects of other, more demanding types of impurity. This is troubling in a practical sense, causing the time that a couple can’t be intimate to extend significantly every month, and in some cases, causing serious challenges to bearing children. It’s also troubling philosophically, erasing a fundamental distinction between types of impurities that the Torah intends to make.
Chapter 15 makes this crystal clear. Four paragraphs, four different situations, the first two of men, the second two of women. The first and last paragraph speak of impurity caused by an abnormal emission. These very clearly contrast the middle two paragraphs, which speak of impurity caused by a normal emission. The difference is seen immediately in the amount of text devoted to the abnormal cases, 24 verses, as opposed to only 9 which deal with normal impurity. More fundamentally, abnormal impurity requires a 7-day time-out of purity, and then the bringing of sacrifices to achieve atonement. Normal impurity just takes time, and a good cleaning.
As if to ensure that the banality of this impurity is not lost on the reader, the Torah finishes its treatment of the topic with a law which leaves out some very important information. If a man sleeps with a woman during her niddah impurity…he too becomes impure. No mention of what the Torah will explain in three more chapters, that this action is abominable, and punishable by karet, and defiles the land, etc, etc. Within the context of chapter 15, the point seems to be- sometimes people are impure. That’s a fact of our lives which have occasional brushes with small tastes of death. It needs to be observed, respected, and moved on from in good time, and without too much pomp and circumstance. In today’s practice of niddah, we’ve lost the natural, low-key attitude the Torah presents us, and the price we pay is high.
This is my own little insight about the 929 chapter of the day, in 300 words or so. I’d love to hear your comments and start a conversation
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