The Hebrew word for “purity” is tohar, and the adjective which describes a pure object or person is tahor. In the following teaching, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch discusses the deeper meaning of this word:
Tohar is related to tsohar, which means: transparent; something whose particles are homogeneous and allow rays of light to pass through them. A pure object – the tahor – is receptive, and the Divine light penetrates it. A pure person is one who is receptive to the spiritual, to the Divine; one whose mind, heart, and body are suffused with the Divine light. (Commentary to Genesis 7:2)
As the above teaching of Rabbi Hirsch indicates, a state of purity enables us to receive the Divine light. The soul that the Compassionate One implanted within us is pure; thus, it is already capable of receiving the Divine light, as it is written, “The soul of the human being is the lamp of the Compassionate One" (Proverbs 20:27). The goal of our spiritual path is to also purify the mind, heart, and body, so that our entire being is suffused with the Divine light. We receive this Divine light through Torah, the Divine wisdom, as it is written, “Torah is light” (Proverbs 6:23).
Unfortunately, there are some individuals who have immersed their minds, hearts, and bodies in the “pollution” of the decadent culture which affects much of modern life. Their minds, hearts, and bodies are therefore covered with layers of impurity which make it difficult to receive the Divine light. If we are honest with ourselves, we will realize that the decadent culture of our age has to some degree affected each of us; thus, we all need to engage in a process of “teshuvah” – spiritual return and renewal – which can cleanse us from the impurities that are limiting the ability of our entire being to receive the Divine light.
Some people feel overwhelmed by the decadence, and they feel that there is no way in which they can begin the process of teshuvah. They say to themselves, “How can I begin the process of teshuvah and absorb the light of Torah, when I am surrounded by layers of impurity?” They should not despair, for the one who begins to do teshuvah creates an opening which enables the spiritual light of Torah to enter. The Torah then acts as a powerful and purifying cleanser which can wash away the remaining impurities. To better understand this process, we need to realize that just as Torah is a spiritual form of light, so too, it is a spiritual form of water; thus, when one begins to study Torah, one has also begun a cleansing process which will enable more and more light to enter! A source for this idea can be found in the following teaching from “Tanna D'vei Eliyahu” - an ancient midrashic work which contains teachings from Elijah the Prophet which were revealed to Rabbi Anan:
“Come and see how great is the power of Torah, for it purifies the transgressors of Israel when they do teshuvah, even from idolatry, as it states, ‘I will sprinkle pure water upon you, that you may become cleansed; I will cleanse you from all your contamination and from all your idols’ (Ezekiel 36:25). And ‘water’ refers to Torah, as it states, ‘All who are thirsty, go to the water’ (Isaiah 55:1). In addition, ‘purity’ refers to the words of Torah, as it states, ‘The words of the Compassionate One are pure words’ (Psalm 12:7).” (Tanna D'vei Eliyahu 18:78)
Tanna D'vei Eliyahu also compares Torah to a “mikveh” - a body of natural, purifying waters (18:77). When we totally immerse ourselves in the mikveh, we become pure, and when we totally immerse ourselves in the study of Torah, we become pure.
The waters of the sea are also a mikveh. This awareness can give us a deeper understanding of the messianic prophecy which compares Torah - the purifying knowledge of the Compassionate One - to the purifying waters of the sea:
“For the earth will be filled with knowledge of the Compassionate One as water covering the sea bed” (Isaiah 11:9).
Maimonides discusses this universal prophecy in his Mishneh Torah, and he states, “The occupation of the entire world will solely to know the Compassionate One” (12:5). All humankind will be immersed in the “sea” of Torah - the purifying Divine knowledge.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
A Related Message:
The Steipler Gaon, a leading sage of the 20th century, received a letter from a yeshivah student who was experiencing deep pangs of remorse over sins which he had committed. The following are excerpts from the sage’s letter of response:
I have received your letter and I share in your pain…With regard to the past, do not give any thought to it at the present time. Of paramount importance is that you toil in the study of Torah, the Torah of the living God, our Rock and Creator, Blessed is His Name.
…Do not say: “My soul is sullied; the Torah cannot attach itself to one so earthly as myself.” Heaven forfend to think this way! Every word, every bit of logic of Torah is kodesh kodashim (the holiest of holies), the knowledge and will of Hashem, Blessed is His Name. When it becomes ingrained in one's mind, one becomes sanctified beyond measure with the sanctity of Torah; one’s body and mind become like a sacred Torah scroll. Ultimately, the sanctity of Torah will, with Hashem's help, rescue you from sin and from sinful thoughts. ...The study of Torah lishmah (for its own sake) is the primary way to undo the damage caused by sins. This is especially true of study that is intense and energetic, for it atones like a Temple offering. (Karyana D'Igarta Vol. I)
The above comments from the letter of the Steipler Gaon appeared in, “A daily lesson from “Chofetz Chaim: Lessons in Truth,” a project of Mesorah Publications and the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation.” To subscribe, write to:firstname.lastname@example.org and write “Subscribe” in the Subject Heading.