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Shabbat Parashat Noach 5776

Ein Ayah: The Level to Welcome in the Impure

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 2:78)

Gemara: What was the status (pure or impure) of the tachash (the animal whose skins were used in covering the Mishkan) at the time of Moshe?


Ein Ayah: Pure and impure relates to good and bad in the world. However, those are relative terms, for all that Hashem does is for good, and therefore there is nothing in the world that does not have an ultimate purpose for good. 

Still, in the realm of ethics and fear of Hashem, there is a clear need to distinguish between good and bad. This is despite the fact that it is fundamental to philosophy to realize that there is nothing that is divorced from a connection in some way to a general good.

Mitzvot are designed to help people recognize the right path in life and the goodness in their hearts. This requires one to hate and degrade that which is bad and destructive to ethics, which must be unaffected by the theoretical knowledge that even bad has a purpose for good. Ethics requires a person to have a very palpable feeling of loathing evil and loving goodness. That is the reason that impure things cannot be used in “heavenly work,” as mitzvot were made to purify one’s being.

However, these rules are true in regard to one’s personal ethics and even to communal ethics in regard to the spiritual needs of the present time. Even though the present is a step toward the future, [when absolute truth will be accessible,] the present must still operate according to the rule that evil is to be cast off.

The generation of the Israelites in the desert was different, though, as it had rolled into it, all the essence of the future generations. After all, it was through their acceptance of the Torah on behalf of all generations, until now and beyond, that we have the standing that we have. This includes the people of the time when everything, including things that in the past were seen as belonging only to evil, will be turned into good. In erecting the holy Mishkan, which includes all the good in the broadest sense and the element of the Divine Providence that prepares the world for its great future, there may perhaps be room to view things more broadly. At least in regard to the cover of the techashim, which is the Mishkan’s most external element, in which there is a broad incorporation of many colors, representing many powers of good, it is conceivable that the skins of an impure animal could be included.

On the other hand, even in the Mishkan, if we give any room for the power of evil to seep into the world of ethics, it can bring an atmosphere of compromise, which is the beginning of all deterioration. Therefore, it is important that there should be no let-up in the approach of the casting off evil, certainly in the place that represents the greatest sanctity that the generation of the desert, led by Moshe Rabbeinu, reached.

However, it is possible that in such a setting it must be possible to leave some room for the important philosophical realization that there is good in everything that Hashem created. This shows how the Torah and the infinite “dominion of light” are eternal and that even that which seems antithetical to godliness can indeed serve Hashem’s causes.

This complexity is what allows the gemara to not conclude clearly if the tachash was a pure or an impure animal.
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