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Thought for the Day: Patched Keilim Vs. Usable Broken Keilim

Tahor and tamei are words best left untranslated.  Lest you really want to translate "tahor" as "pure" and "tamei" as "contaminated", just remember that even a simply ingot of 24 karat gold is tamei, while even a complete vessel made of cow manure is tahor.  The terms "tahor" and "tuma" here do not actually refer to the state of the ingot or vessel, rather to their potential to become tamei.  Gold ingots can become tamei, vessels of cow manure cannot.  You might be wondering how it even entered my mind to consider what happens to a barrel made from cow manure (then baked, I suppose to be usable) when one dangles a dead rat into it.  It was not, I assure you, my simple (albeit warped) sense of intellectual curiosity.  In point of fact, there are several mishnayos in masechta keilim that discuss vessels that have either been made entirely from, strengthened by, or repaired with manure.  Gives new meaning to "any port in a storm", eh.

As discussed recently, earthenware vessels (klei cheres) are distinguished in that they contract tuma when a source of tuma is dangled into their cavity, and they can only be made tahor again by breaking them.  Imagine, if you will, two earthenware barrels that have seen better days.  One barrel actually broke and has been repaired with manure.  The other barrel never actually broke, but seeing that it was on the verge of breaking, the quick thinking owner slather it with manure to strengthen it.  What happens if you dangle a dead rat into the cavity of those barrels?  (I don't what's bother you.  My grandfather grew up on a farm/ ranch and I have no doubt that he or one of his brothers did things like that.  Their poor sister.)

The mishna, fourth mishna in chapter three of masechta keilim, says that the strengthened barrel -- even if the barrel would now fall apart if one removed the manure patches -- is still capable of becoming tamei.  After all, it has never lost its ability to function and is an intact (albeit disgusting to us finicky Americans) vessel.  The repaired barrel, however -- even if you could now remove the manure and the barrel would stay intact -- is tahor.  Why?  Because once it broke, it lost the name "usable vessel"; thus it remains unable to contract tuma.  One more cool detail: if there is a bit of pottery in that repaired barrel that could hold a r'vi'is (that is, a bit of pottery that could function as an independent vessel), then the whole barrel is now capable of becoming tamei, but only by actual contact with the dead rat.  Unless the dead rat were dangled directly in front of that one independently usable shard, then the whole barrel again becomes tamei.

What I found fascinating about this mishna was the fact that this simple example shows that there is nothing black and white about even this esoteric subject; the mishna is able to construct an example that shows the continuum of possibilities.  The laws of tahara and tuma are part of a system that can and must be analyzed with all the normal rules of logic.  Why?  Because this is not intellectual investigation for the pure joy if it.  This is Toras HaShem -- the absolute Truth by which the Creator, Blessed Be He, designed and brought into being the whole of reality.


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