Thursday, July 12, 2007

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Contaminated Land

by Reb Gutman Locks of the Old City, Jerusalem, Israel at Mystical Paths

This week we read two Torah portions, here's a word of Torah on the second half of this week's dual reading, Numbers 33 - Masei...

In this portion of the Torah, we are warned that when we go up into the Land of Israel, the repercussions of sin will be much greater then they were before. For instance, a sin such as murder will ”contaminate the land in which you dwell … .” [iii]

The laws regarding contaminations are quite complicated. For instance, we learn about what can become unclean and what cannot, what spreads the uncleanliness and what does not, what can be cleansed and what cannot be cleansed. One area of the law that is clear, however, is that something connected to the ground, such as a plant or a house, does not become unclean from the most severe form of uncleanliness, which is the uncleanliness that comes from contact with a dead body.

So the question has to be, if something connected to the ground cannot become unclean, how is it that here we are warned that the land itself can become unclean?

The answer is, all of those laws regarding uncleanliness were referring to physical uncleanliness, and the warning regarding the land refers to spiritual uncleanliness.

There are many spiritual aspects to the laws of physical uncleanliness. For example, if the uncleanliness shows up on a bridegroom, we push off his isolation requirements until after his seven days of marriage celebrations. This does not make physical sense, in that the seven days of celebrations bring many people in contact with him. If he is contaminated, there certainly is no physical reason to allow him to push off his isolation.

Another example is when a house is about to be declared unclean. Although houses themselves cannot become unclean from contact with a dead body, they can become unclean due to a spiritual affliction.[iv] We are told that we can quickly bring all of the vessels that are in the house outside so that when the house is declared unclean, those vessels will remain clean. Again, we see that this does not make physical sense and is allowed only because of the spiritual aspects of uncleanliness.

However, with the uncleanliness concerning the contamination of the Land of Israel, the Torah is referring to a type of contamination that is entirely spiritual. When there is sin in the land, the land itself becomes spiritually unclean. This means that such things as seeing the spiritual perspective and learning Torah will become much more difficult than when the land was pure. In such a place, it will seem that God is hiding more. Good deeds will become rare, and kindness will all but disappear.

When Cain, the first person born, murdered his brother, God said, “The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground!”[v] The sins of the generation are not just in the people who do them but reach the land itself.

One of the commandments incumbent upon all people of the world is to ensure that there are just courts in their land. If there are not just courts in your land, and if you cannot change this, then it would be wise to consider moving to a different land.

We see that being righteous in an unrighteous place is not enough. Either we must change the place where we live, or the place where we live will change us.

[iii] Num 35:34
[iv] Lev 14:33
[v] Gen 4:10

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