For the next couple of weeks, our Torah reading will attest to an ancient fascination, maybe even an obsession, with ritual purity–the Hebrew terms being tohorah and tumah. We see it this week in Parshat Tazria’, first in the context of childbirth, and then at length in terms of dermatological conditions.
There’s something profoundly egalitarian about these laws, archaic as they may seem to a modern reader. It’s not just the priestly class that must take precautions against tumah, ritual unfitness. All Israelites must strive to maintain this status.
That said, there are remedies for contact with tumah, not the least of which is immersion in water. Sometimes, the Torah mandates full-body immersion; other times, the washing of hands and feet suffices. Which brings us to one of a very few ritual remnants of this system–netilat yadayim, ritual handwashing.
What is the transformative power of water, and how do we use water as a metaphor for other core Jewish symbols? We’ll take a dip into this subject on Shabbat morning.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and Hodesh Tov,
Rabbi David Wise