December 9, 2021 |

Spiritual Momentum

When you find a typo in a document, it can usually be ascribed to insufficient proofreading or sufficient illiteracy. However, when the Torah misspells a word, as it does in this week's portion, we should be on our guard for deeper meaning. At the end of a long section dealing with the kosher laws, we read the prohibition against eating insects:

"Do not despoil your souls [by eating] any creepy-crawlies, and do not become impure on account of them, so that you will become impure through them." (Lev. 11:43)

In the previous 42 and ∏ verses, the Torah managed to correctly spell the word "impure" 31 times. But the 32nd time it brings up the word tamei (tav-mem-aleph), it drops the final letter aleph[1]. Though it does not change the meaning of the word, why does the Torah spell it 'wrongly'?

The Talmud (Yoma 39a) comments that the letter was dropped in order to allow for a secondary reading of the verse: "Don't read it as become impure through them ("v'nitmeitem") " but as "become blocked by them"(v'nitamtem"). In other words, says Rabbi Yishmael, "sin blocks up the heart of a human being." The Torah "mis-spelled" the word to show that if you think you can keep eating the transfats of sin your whole life and NOT get blocked up, you are wrong. Eventually, a lifestyle that discards the values of Judaism (its laws and ethics) will become a life that is blocked off from Judaism and from God.

It might not happen immediately. First, we "become impure on account of them" but then we become "blocked up" through them. Eventually, we can give ourselves a spiritual heart attack.

Luckily, the concluding verse (v. 44) shows that the opposite is true as well. If we embrace holiness and virtue rather than sin, we build up our spiritual health. As the Torah says: "When you sanctify yourselves", you will go on in the long run to "become sanctified."

The Rabbis have always been wise about spiritual momentum. Just as physics knows that objects at rest tend to stay at rest and objects in motion tend to stay in motion, the sages know that "mitzva leads to mitzva" and "sin leads to sin". Jews who keep their Torah in motion keep their souls in motion as well. Shabbat shalom!

[1] The actual word is "v'nitmeitem", which means "and you shall become impure" but the word "tamei" should be found in full within the word.


Rabbi Avi Heller

Joined: July 27, 2007

Originally from Denver CO, Rav Avi received a BA from BU and Rabbinic ordination and an MA in Bible from YU. Before joining MJE, he was Director of Jewish Education at BU Hillel, co-directed the BU Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus and was an Associate University Chaplain. He has been the...

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