Whoever touches the dead body of any human being shall become
tameh for seven days. He shall purify himself with it on the third day and
on the seventh day, and he shall become tahor.
Death and its Cure1
Be’er Mayim Chaim: We understand that the Torah incorporates many different
readings in a single verse. It is plausible that our verse alludes to the
process of teshuvah.
The reason for this ought to be apparent. When a person sins, the aveirah
that he bears results in a kind of death, until he purges himself of it.
Chazal make this explicit: “Evildoers are considered dead even while they
are still physically alive.”2 At it spiritual core, death is not
simply the absence of life, but is a kelipah named “death.” This kelipah – a
spiritual structure seemingly devoid of any significant spiritual content –
truly lacks real vitality, which is a function of spiritual worth and value.
Possessing none of its own, this kelipah exists only through its flimsiest
connection to ruchniyus, which is a consequence of Hashem’s presence on some
level inhering in everything without exception.3
Chazal teach that every aveirah accompanies the one who committed it,
staying with him on the way to the Day of Judgment. Specifically, the
aveirah persists in the form of a kelipah that does not simply fall away.
The chronic evildoer is laden with these kelipos through the legion of sins
he has performed. He is coated and encrusted with so many of these
death-kelipos that he can be considered dead himself. The consequences of
this are two-fold. He becomes captive to the kelipos that surround him, and
subservient to them. His life is therefore no longer his own. Moreover, he
damages the way the spiritual worlds interact with our lower world. The
kelipos that surround him are receptive to any spiritual nourishment. In
effect, they draw away the Divine ohr sent to this world for positive
purposes, and divert it to strengthen their negative existence.
Realizing how he has become mired in sin, and the calamitous effect this has
had on him, body and soul, a would-be penitent has two chief options.
The first is Torah study, purely for the sake of Hashem, without any
admixture of lesser intentions. When a person attaches himself to Torah, he
has in effect attached himself to HKBH Himself. If the attachment is strong
enough, he wrests himself away from the dominion of the kelipos, and enters
into His domain.
The second is the full observance of Shabbos, in all its detail. Chazal
testify5 that one who fully observes Shabbos is forgiven even
for overt idolatry. The supernal kedushah of Shabbos that is made available
from on high is so powerful that kelipos simply cannot attach themselves to it.
The reciprocal relationship between the ohr of Shabbos and the kelipos
underlies our definition of prohibited melachah on Shabbos. All of those
melachos are sourced in kelipos. Before Adam sinned, the earth produced its
bounty without human effort. As a consequence of the first sin, the earth
and its inhabitants were cursed with 39 curses. Each curse is related to a
melachah. When the future tikkun comes about, the land of Israel will once
again produce cakes and wool garments,6 i.e. without the
assistance of human labor. The 39 melachos will have become irrelevant.
In this vein, we can reexamine our pesukim: “Whoever touches the dead body
of any human being,” i.e. when a person has sinned, and therefore made
strong contact with the death-kelipos, “He shall become tameh for seven
days.” The seven are the seven lower sefiros, the sefiros of activity. All
of them become not only defiled, but become conduits carrying Hashem’s ohr
to dark places. “He shall purify himself with it on the third day and on
the seventh day.” He can rid himself of his ghastly burden through the
mitzvos of three and seven, i.e. the study of what the gemara7
calls a Torah of threes, and the observance of the laws of the seventh day.
If he follows this formula, then “He shall become tahor.”
1. Based on Be’er Mayim Chaim, Bamidbar 19:11
2. Berachos 18B
3. Without that connection, it could not exist.
4. Avodah Zarah 5A
5. Shabbos 118B
6. Shabbos 30B
7. Shabbos 88A
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