Amongst Jews, genius is found only in the holy man.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (notebook, 1931)

There are two types of kedushah (holiness). The first is the active generating of holiness through doing the commandments and through sanctifying the material. However, there is another type of sanctity — purity (taharah). [1] Simply stated, purity is achieved through separating ourselves from that which is immoral, impure, and forbidden. [2]

Purity allows us to avoid the blockages that prevent us from connecting with our deeper, spiritual selves. Purity, in this sense, is a release from the baggage holding us back and from the layers of impurity that build up plaque around our holy soul.

The opposite of purity — impurity (tumah) — never means something physical. It is a purely spiritual concept. The word tumah is related to the word timtum, which means a spiritual blockage. Timtum ha’lev means a blockage of the heart — blocked from purity or clarity. In Hebrew, the ט (tet) and the צ (tzaddi) often interchange to form weaker and stronger forms of the same thing. Thus, the word tameh is related to the word tzameh — thirsty, indicating that tumah is a spiritual thirst. So too, timtum — spiritual blockage, is related to tzimtzum — a contraction. All these “t” words have similarities for the deepest of reasons.

In the events that lead up to the story of Chanukah, the Greeks made the Holy Temple’s oils impure. This means that they blocked the paths of wisdom and prevented spiritual access to clarity. [3]

Tumah, therefore, has its source in a spiritual contraction, leading to distancing and subsequent thirst. Kosher animals are called pure, [4] and unkosher ones are called impure. [5] When we eat non-kosher foods, we increase the layers around our soul and make ourselves less sensitive to spirituality. [6] The sin here is the he’eder [7] — the vacuum inside of ourselves devoid of spirituality because it is filled up with something else. [8] Similarly, illicit intimate relationships are also called impure. [9]

By contrast, tahor — to be pure — is related to tzahor (again the tet-tzaddi exchange), which means clarity or brightness. (Hence, tzaharayim — afternoon, the time when the sun is brightest.)

Continue reading Sanctification as Purity.


[1] Reishit Chochmah, Shaar Hakedushah, Chap. 1.

[2] Rashi, Leviticus 19:2, explains that kedushah (holiness) means “separateness.” 

[3] Sefer Hachinuch 362.

[4] Genesis 7:2. 

[5] Leviticus 11:5,29; see Rashi on v. 29.

[6] The words “ve’nitmeitem bam — you will become impure through them” (Leviticus 11:43) are interpreted by the Sages as “ve’nitamtem bam — you will be blocked through them.” In Hebrew, these two words are the same letters with different vowelization —.ונטמתם

[7] .העדר 

[8] Maharal, in many places.

[9] Leviticus 18:24; Numbers 5:14; Deuteronomy 24:4.

Read the previous essay, How Does Holiness Work?

Olami Resources is happy to present a series of free installments featuring Rabbi Avraham Edelstein’s important new book, The Human Challenge. This week’s essay is from Section Two – Holiness. Purchase a copy of The Human Challenge.

Rabbi Avraham Edelstein serves as the Education Director of Neve Yerushalayim College for Women and a senior advisor to Olami. Many of Rabbi Edelstein’s foundational publications addressing the world of Kiruv appear on

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