We often find ourselves lost in the maze of complicated laws concerning "tumah" and "tahara" that the Torah details in Parshiot Tazria and Metzora. Even though it is not easy to understand the reasoning for these laws, the internal structure of these Parshiot is quite easy to follow.
In Part II, we outline the flow of parshiot from Parshat Shmini through Metzora and attempt to explain why they are located specifically in this section of Sefer Vayikra.
As Board #1 shows, each of these five chapters deals with a topic related in one form or manner to "tumah" (spiritual uncleanliness).
Not only do these parshiot discuss how one contracts these various types of tumah; they also explain how one can cleanse himself from these tumot, i.e. how he becomes tahor. For the simplest type of tumah, one need only wash his clothing and wait until sundown (see 11:27-28,32,40). For more severe types of tumah, to become tahor one must first wait seven days and then bring a set of special korbanot.
This entire unit follows a very logical progression. It begins with the least severe type of tumah, known as "tumah erev" - one day tumah (lit. - until the evening), and then continues with the more severe type of tumah, known as "tumah shiva," seven day tumah. Within each category, the Torah first explains how one contracts each type of tumah, then it explains the how he becomes tahor from it.
The outline in Board #2 summarizes this structure. Note how each section of the outline concludes with a pasuk which begins with "zot torat...":
About the Outline
I recommend that you review this outline as you study the Parsha. Note that even though the details are very complicated, the overall structure is actually quite simple.
Note also how the Torah summarizes each section with a phrase beginning with "Zot torat... - this is the procedure (or ritual) for..." [See the previous shiur on Parshat Parah in which we discussed the meaning of the word Torah in Chumash.] The repetition of key phrases such as these is often helpful towards identifying the internal structure of parshiot in Chumash.
Our division of the outline into two sections, one-day tumah and seven-day tumah, may at first appear to be a bit misleading for we also find many cases of one-day tumah in the second section. However, the cases of one-day tumah in the second section are quite different for they are caused by a person who had first become tamey for seven days. Therefore, we have defined them as 'secondary' tumah in that section.
[Tumat keri (15:16-18) may be another exception since it is an independent one-day tumah; however it could be considered a sub-category within the overall framework of tumat zav.]
[See also further iyun section for a discussion why the one-day tumah section includes kashrut laws.]
Why the Interruption?
Now that we have established that chapters 11-15 form a distinct unit that discusses the laws of tumah and tahara, we can return to our original question - why does this unit interrupt the natural flow from Parshat Shmini (chapter 10) to Parshat Acharei Mot (chapter 16)?
The concluding psukim of this unit can provide us with a possible explanation. As we have noted in our outline, this entire unit contains an important finale pasuk:
"V'hizartem et Bnei Yisrael mitumatam... And you shall put Bnei Yisrael on guard [JPS - see further iyun regarding translation of 'vhizartem'] against their tumah, lest they die through their tumah by defiling My Mishkan which is among them." (see 15:31)This pasuk connects the laws of tumah and tahara to the laws of the Mishkan. Bnei Yisrael must be careful that should they become tamey, they must not enter the Mishkan. In fact, the primary consequence for one who has become tamey is the prohibition that he can not enter the Mikdash complex. There is no prohibition against becoming tamey; the only prohibition is against entering the Mishkan should he be tamey.
Hence, the entire tahara process as well is only necessary for one who wishes to enter the Mishkan. If there is no Mishkan, one can remain tamey his entire life with no other consequence (see further iyun section).
With this background, we can suggest a common theme for the first 16 chapters of Sefer Vayikra - the ability of Bnei Yisrael to enter the Mishkan, to come closer to God. Let's explain.
The first section of Sefer Vayikra, chapters 1-7, explains how and when the individual can bring a korban and how they are offered by the kohen. The next section, chapters 8-10, records the special Mishkan dedication ceremony, which prepared Bnei Yisrael and the Kohanim for working in and using the Mishkan. As this ceremony concluded with the death of Nadav and Avihu for improper entry into the Mishkan (when offering the "k'toret zara"), Sefer Vayikra continues with an entire set of commandments concerning tumah and tahara, chapters 11-15, which regulate who can and cannot enter the Mishkan. This unit ends with laws of Yom Kippur, which describe the procedure of how the "kohen gadol" (high priest) can enter the most sacred domain of the Mishkan - the Kodesh K'doshim.
Even though these laws of tumah and tahara may have been given to Moshe at an earlier or later time, once again, we find that Sefer Vayikra prefers thematic continuity over chronological order (see shiur on Parshat Tzav). First, the Sefer discusses who cannot enter the Mishkan. Then it explains who can enter its most sacred domain.
Zehirut - Being Careful
Up until this point, we have discussed the technical aspects of the structure of this unit in Parshiot Shmini, Tazria and Metzora. Is there any significance to these laws of tumah and tahara today as well?
The simplest explanation is based on our parallel between the Mishkan and Har Sinai. Just as Bnei Yisrael's encounter with God at Har Sinai required special preparation, so too man's encounter with God in the Mishkan. It would not be proper for man just to 'hop on in' whenever he feels like entering the Mishkan. Instead, each time an individual plans to offer a korban or enter the Mishkan for any other reason, he must prepare himself by making sure not to come in contact with anything which would make him tamey. Should for any reason he become tamey, he must wash his clothes and wait until the next day. Should he himself contract a major type of tumah such as tzara'at or zav, then he must wait at least seven days and undergo a special ritual which will make him tahor.
All of these complicated laws cause the man who wishes to visit the Mishkan to be very careful and constantly aware of everything he touches, or carries, etc., thus enhancing his spiritual readiness for entering the Mishkan.
Today, even without a Mishkan, man must still make every effort to find God's Presence, even though it is hidden. Therefore, man's state of constant awareness and caution concerning everything that he says and does remains a primary means by which man can come closer to God, even though no Bet HaMikdash exists.
For Further Iyun
A. In relation to the translation of the word "v'hizartem et Bnei Yisrael..." (15:31), see Ibn Ezra. He explains that the word does not stem from "azhara" = warning, but rather from the word "nazir," to separate oneself ["zarut"]. Then "nun" simply falls which is noted by the dagesh in the "zayin." See Ibn Ezra inside!
B. Since this section of chapters 11-15 discuss various laws of tumah and tahara, one would expect it to include the laws of tumat meyt (caused by touching a dead person). Instead, the Torah records these laws in Parshat Chukat, Bamidbar chapter 19. It appears as though that parsha was 'spliced' from this unit and 'transferred' to Sefer Bamidbar. This parsha is one of many parshiot in Sefer Bamidbar that would appear to 'belong' in Sefer Vayikra instead. Im yirtzeh Hashem, we will explain the reason for this in our shiurim on Sefer Bamidbar - "v'akmal."
C. At first glance, the section in our unit that discusses one-day tumah (chapter 11) appears to be discussing "kashrut" (dietary laws) more than tumah, for it details which animals are permitted or forbidden to be eaten. However, the dietary laws are mentioned here because one becomes tamey should he eat the meat of an animal that is tamey.
To prove this, simply compare this parsha to the dietary laws in Parshat Re'ay (see Dvarim 14:1-21). There we find only dietary laws and not laws of tumah and tahara. Therefore, laws such as "basar v'chalav" are mentioned in that parsha, while the laws of tumah are not!
D. These laws that discuss who can and cannot enter the Mikdash are sometimes referred to as Hilchot Biyat Mikdash (see Rambam Sefer Avodah). Obviously, these laws apply only when a Mikdash exists, as there is no other consequence of 'becoming tamey' other than limited entry to areas containing Sh'chinah.
Nonetheless, there are several circumstances when it is still necessary to know these laws. For example, entering Har HaBayit even when there is no Mikdash requires that one not be tamey. These laws also relate to eating trumot and ma'asrot.
E. See 11:44-45:
"...v'hitkadishtem, v'yehiytem k'doshim, ki kadosh ani v'lo t'tam'u et nafshoteichem.... ki ani Hashem ha'maale etchem m'eretz mitzrayim, l'hiyot lachem l'Elokim, v'heyitem k'doshim... l'havdil bein ha'tamey u'vein ha'tahor..."This finale of the section explaining one-day tumah connects the theme of Sefer Shmot, that Hashem took us out Egypt in order that we become His nation, to the laws of tumah and tahara. To become God's nation, we must be like Him. Just as He is "kadosh" (set aside, different), we must also be "kadosh."
Man's spirituality begins with his recognition that he is different than animal. Although man and animal are similar in many ways, man must realize that he was set aside by God for a higher purpose. God blessed man with special qualities in order that he fulfill that purpose. [See Rambam in Moreh Nvuchim I.1 regarding the definition of tzelem elokim. It is not by coincidence that the Rambam begins Moreh Nvuchim with this concept.]
These laws of "tumat ochlim" teach Am Yisrael that they must differentiate between man and animal, and between different types of animals. By doing so, man will learn to differentiate between divine and mundane, between "tamey and tahor," and finally between good and bad, right and wrong, etc.
F. In previous shiurim, we explained how the cycles of seven found in Chumash relate to our need to recognize the hand of God behind nature. Why do you think that we also find cycles of seven in the laws of tzara'at, zav, and zavah, which appear to be the exact opposite, that is abnormalities in nature?