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B'Midbar/Numbers 19:18 A pure man shall take hyssop and dip it in the water and sprinkle on the tent
These instructions form part of the enigmatic ritual of the red heifer whereby a person who has become ritually impure because of contact with a dead body is sprinkled with the water of lustration. but the person who does the sprinkling becomes impure until evening after washing his clothes. Now the process at this particular point specifies , a pure man, without explicitly saying what that means. Clearly, from the context, it has to be someone other than the person who has become impure - they cannot sprinkle themselves - and it must be someone who is ritually pure.
The Psalmist gives us more information about the state of those who can approach and serve G-d. "Who may go up to the mountain of Adonai? And who may rise up in the place of His holiness? The one having clean hands and a pure heart" (Tehillim 24:3-4a). Here the word used for clean, , carries overtones of 'innocent, free from guilt' and the classic interpretation - in both the Jewish and Christian traditions - is of a person who has been honest and upright, whose hands are free of blood and dishonest gain. Similarly, , the word for pure comes from a root verb meaning to separate, and is considered to refer to moral purity. Later on, David writes, "Create for me a pure heart, O G-d" (Tehillim 51:12(10)), with the words , pure heart, matching the phrase in our text from the parasha. Here the implication is that only G-d can create - or in David's particular case, recreate - the ritual purity, rightness of heart within a man. Written after G-d had rebuked David for his sin with Bat-Sheva through Natan the prophet, the whole psalm cries out to G-d for forgiveness, reconciliation and re-creation, recognising that only G-d can do that restoration.
Mark's gospel records one of the moments of challenge between Yeshua and the P'rushim in chapter 7, where Yeshua's talmidim had been eating their bread without first having washed their hands (see Mishnah Yadayim). Yeshua responds to the multitudes who had witnessed this challenge, "there is nothing outside the man which going into him can define him; but the things that proceed out of the man are what defile the man" (Mark 7:15, NASB). The disciples question Him about this, so He goes on to say, "For from within, out of the heart of man, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries ..." (v21, NASB). It isn't that Yeshua doesn't care either about hygiene or sensible ritual that focuses upon G-d and His provision for us, but that He is trying to point out that purity isn't simply an external affair - it is more importantly a question of the state of a man's heart - and to be pure before G-d, that must have been re-created and restored by G-d. Without that, what may appear to be good behaviour on the outside may be just that: on the outside.
Further Study: Isaiah 29:13-16; Luke 11:37-41
Application: How righteous are we before G-d and before men? Is there a difference between the inside and the outside? To be able to serve G-d, we need to be a pure man with a pure heart - cleansed and set in order by Him.
© Jonathan Allen, 2005
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