Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky
A Life of Holiness and Purity
Sefer Vayikra begins with the halachos of korbanos, specifically Parshas Vayikra and the beginning of Tzav elaborate on the korbanos themselves. Tzav then concludes, and parshas Shemini begins, with the application of these laws as the dedication of the Mishkan is completed. Sefer Vayikra then continues with a seemingly different focus; the second half of Parshas Shemini discusses the halachos of tumah and taharah. The laws of kashrus are connected to this area of halacha and are therefore presented in the overall context of these laws as well. Ritual impurity of food, vessels, and the institution of the mikvah to purify people and vessels conclude Parshas Shemini. Continuing with this theme, Parshas Tazria and Metzorah deal at great length with the intricacies of a person becoming impure in various ways. The relevance of the laws of tumah and taharah in Sefer Vayikra, which is primarily dedicated to laws governing the Mishkan and later the Beis HaMikdash, seems obvious, since from a halachic perspective that the laws of impurity are most significant in the context of the Mishkan and korbanos. Sacrifices that become impure are disqualified and individuals who are impure may not come to the Mishkan. Perhaps, however, there is another message that the Torah is hinting at by placing the laws of purity and impurity in the context of the korbanos.
The Rambam teaches us that the rules that govern korbanos as well as tumah and taharah are fundamentally part of the category of mitzvos known as chukim. The chukim have no apparent reason that is comprehendible to man. Even though the ultimate reason for the chukim are only known to Hashem, the Rambam suggests that there are lessons that we can derive from the symbolism of these otherwise incomprehensible mitzvos. Following this approach, perhaps the relationship between korbanos and tumah can teach a lesson that is relevant to us.
Kedusha is the defining feature of all korbanos. Korbanos are offered by a sanctified individual, a Kohen, in a holy place, the Beis HaMikdash. The eating of all korbanos is governed by kedushas z'man and kedushas Makom, sanctity of time and sanctity of place. The category of korbanos known as kodshei kodoshim are even holier than kodshim kalim and are bound by stricter rules of holiness of time and place. Offering and partaking of a korban is an experience of kedusha, and all kedusha emanates from Hakadosh Baruch Hu Himself. We are commanded to be holy because Hashem is holy. Eating korbanos is described by Chazal as eating from the table of Hashem. It is precisely korbanos being so holy that requires them to be free of all impurity. Neither the Kohen who offers them, nor the Yisrael who eats them, can be impure. If the meat of a korban comes into contact with something impure, it must be burned. Experiencing Hashem as we involve ourselves in a holy activity cannot occur in a state of impurity.
This concept speaks to us even outside the realm of korbanos. We seek holiness as we connect to Hashem in many ways. The words of Torah study are holy and our mitzvah performance is referred to as "kidshanu b'mitzvosov", we are sanctified by His mitzvos. Our tefillos correspond to korbanos and our shuls are described by Chazal as miniature batei mikdash. Shabbos and yom tov are times of kedushas zman, and each such time begins with the recitation of Kiddush. All of these moments of spending time with Hashem, the ultimate source of kedusha, can only be experienced properly if they are devoid of tumah. Purity of thought, speech, and action are critical for a life of kedusha. Chazal teach us that one who wants to purify oneself will be assisted by Hashem in doing so. May we all merit that special assistance as we grow in our kedusha.