Do Times Change?
by: Rabbi Jeremy Rosen
The Torah continues with chapters concerned primarily with events that caused disruption or displacement to the normal functioning of the human body, both male and female. Sometimes this applied to sickness or disease. Other examples were the flow of bodily liquids. In addition, touching or being in the same room as a dead person also put one into a different state.
Such states primarily affected priests who could not perform their duties in the sanctuaries until they went through a process of purification. But it also prevented ordinary Israelites from coming into these special areas. Otherwise outside, and in the normal course of daily activity, being in one of these different states had no impact on daily life.
The only part of this that survives today is that women after their periods and seven clear days, go to the Mikvah before resuming intimacy. And Hasidim now have adopted the mystical tradition of starting every day with immersion.
No one who was Tamey was a pariah or forced out of normal life unless one had a contagious disease. One of the roles of the priests as the medical experts of those days was to examine and evaluate states of illness and displacement and recommend cures or corrections.
For most of Jewish history all this has been inapplicable. We have had no Temple and therefore the laws of Temple purity have lapsed. Technically today we are all in this state of not being able to enter holy places. But otherwise, despite our state of “impurity” we all lead normal lives.
So why do we spend so much time reading and some studying these ancient rules? Part of it is simply our interest in and commitment to our cultural and religious history. An interest in our past and how we have changed. There is a poetic nostalgia in recording and looking back at how our ancients acted and what mattered then. But it is also important as a lesson for us now.
It teaches us to be aware of our different physical and mental states. And this should make us more sensitive to the states that others might be going through. These chapters include sections that deal with how the body changes during childbirth, how relationships can be destroyed through deceit, how some of us choose to be more particular or punctilious in our personal lives. It is a lesson in awareness of the varieties of human conditions, states and behavior and how we can, if we choose, raise our games, try to be better and more sensitive people.
These ancient rules all focus in the end on how to be a better, more aware human being. The methods change over time. The goal remains the same.