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Rabbi's Message - A Devar Torah Protest and Purity

By Rabbi Rafi Rank

Among the demonstrators against the war must be many people in pain. I suspect that this pain lies in the fact that they are funding-through their taxes-a war they regard as unnecessary and unjust. And in the funding of a project they find reprehensible, one must necessarily feel violated. News of death is typically shocking. When we hear of the passing of a loved one or some popular personality, it gives us pause to reflect on what we have lost and ponder our own mortality. To know that one's money is funding death, when you believe that such deaths are wrong, must be horrible. It is, in a word, defiling.

Our biblical ancestors knew that an encounter with death rendered us different in some way. They called it tumAH or impurity. TumAH was not a physical impurity, as if one were dirty, but it was a spiritual impurity. It was the kind of impurity that in some way alienated you from God. TumAH is a difficult word to translate and may, in fact, resist any accurate translation. But if I were to translate it in some way, I might say that the demonstrators who are protesting the war must feel a sense tumAH, an alienation from God or integrity thrust upon them by a war they hate yet are forced to support.

How does one rid oneself of tumAH? The ritual of the paRAH aduMAH, the red cow, was designed to do just that. Using its ashes in a particular mixture, the mixture was then sprinkled upon the impure one and tohoRAH or purity was achieved. We no longer have access to the ashes of a paRAH aduMAH, so I suspect that the modern response to achieve a cleansing would be achieved through protest. To actively demonstrate, to give up of your time and perhaps your money and to shout-I don't believe in this war!-must be redemptive and cleansing in some way. As for those of us who would choose to not demonstrate against this war, yet sense the defiling stench of tumAH emanating from it, we must seek our cleansing in a different way. Perhaps we will find it in the ashes of a repressive regime that has ruled through terror, stolen millions of dollars from its own people, and never tolerated the political protests or demonstrations against the government that are legal in the free world.

Rafi Rank is Rabbi of Midway Jewish Center in Syosset, NY as well as Vice President of the International Rabbinical Assembly.

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