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Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Shemini – Leviticus 9:1-11:47

Now that she’s getting older and more aware, my daughter sees how careful I am about what I eat, listen to, and watch. So what she saw the other day in an episode of the Flying Nun surprised her. Sister Bertrille (Sally Field) went into I nightclub where Go-Go dancers performed in cages. Having grown up immersed in 1960s television I didn’t realize how the scene might impact her. Parsha Shemini explains why I need to be more aware:

And any earthenware vessel, if any of them [creeping crawling things] will fall into it…you will break it. (Vayikra/Leviticus 11:33)

Do You Know This Is Making You Sick?

This Sabbath’s parsha tells how to perform the Temple service and about the death of Aaron’s two sons. Then it explains how to dispose of the day’s offerings, the dispute between Moses and Aaron, and the laws of kosher animals, fish, birds, and creeping crawling things.

The Spiritual Nature of Things

Tumah and tahara (translated as spiritual impurity and purity) are hard to understand. The idea that utensils can look fine but be spiritually contaminated doesn’t compute. They're not alive and don’t have a soul.

My daughter and I are reading A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. In it we learned that the famous equation E=MC2 shows that everything in the universe is energy. What better proof of G-d’s existence than that? Though inanimate objects aren’t alive, we’re connected to them through the common energy of existence. Viewed this way, spiritual impurity can be contracted and transmitted by any substance.

When a creeping crawling creature falls onto a utensil of wood or garment of leather or sackcloth you just have to wash it. Why do you have to break an earthenware vessel when the same thing happens? Shouldn’t this affect everything the same way?

Utensils and garments made from wood, leather, and sackcloth are valuable for their function and materials. You can buy a garment and recut the leather or fabric to make something else out of it. But earthenware only has value when formed into something. The dirt from which it is made is worthless. What’s in it and its use determine its value.

What Makes You Sick

Adam, the first human, was formed from clay. His name comes from the Hebrew word adamah, which means dirt or earth. (According to DataGenetics, the elements that make up a human body are worth only $160 as of 2011.) We are vessels of earthenware. While the spark of the Divine in your neshamah (soul) is infinitely valuable, for your body what counts is what you put in it.

If you fill yourself with tumah, whether it is forbidden creeping crawling creatures or ideas G-d abhors, you will defile yourself. The only way to get rid of this contamination is to break the vessel, you. Perhaps that is why near death experiences have such a dramatic effect on people. Similarly, you must tear yourself down to get rid of destructive habits. Then you can rebuild your character or behavior in the proper way.

People focus on the physical causes of sickness. But mental and spiritual disorders profoundly affect your wellbeing. From that perspective, what you see and hear is as important as what you eat.

How has a spiritual malady affected your health? Please comment below.


Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. It is named after the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

What verse in the Old Testament would you like to know more about? Ask a question and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

© , Kevin S. Bemel, All Rights Reserved

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