“And the Kohen shall order one of the birds slaughtered over spring water in an earthenware vessel.”

In Parshas Metzorah, we learn about the purification process of a Jew who has been stricken with tzara’as, a supernatural form of leprosy caused by improper speech. After this leprosy has healed, a ritual is performed in which a bird is slaughtered over an earthenware vessel containing “mayim chayim,” spring water. Then, cedar wood and a low grass are wrapped with a red thread, gathered together with a second bird, and dipped in the blood of the first.

The Chiddushei HaRim notes that while water is used in virtually all other purification processes, this is the only impurity which requires spring water. Why is the reason for this special requirement?

Chazal teach that the grass and cedar used in the metzorah‘s purification symbolize his resolve to fix the underlying attitudes that caused him to spread slander and gossip by humbling himself like the lowly grass and eradicating his cedar-like arrogance. The process was a demeaning one; the items used were mere symbols for a difficult, complex, and oftentimes painful period of introspection and transformation. The gravity of this sin was so severe, it could cause one to become consumed by the extent of the damage and destruction caused by his improper words. Intense shame and guilt could even lead the metzorah to the devastating assumption that his relationship with Hashem is severed, culminating in debilitating despair and a deep sense of spiritual lethargy.

The Chiddushei HaRim explains that the use of spring water in the metzorah‘s purification was to protect against this terrible mistake. The Hebrew term for spring water, “mayim chayim”, denotes vibrancy, vitality, energy, movement, and life. By including mayim chayim in this difficult process, the Torah is teaching the metzorah that while there may be certain things in his life that need correcting, it is important that this process occur against the backdrop of Hashem’s unconditional love and His yearning for a relationship with each member of the Jewish nation. Serious and somber a process it may be, the metzorah’s teshuvah must be founded upon “mayim Chayim”, living waters of excitement, yearning, and the confidence that everything can be fixed, that there is no despair in the world at all.

The proper approach to spiritual transformation must see teshuvah as a life-giving process, flowing with hope, joy, and the vibrancy of a brand new beginning.

Rav Yitzchak Meir Alter of Ger
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R’ Yaakov Klein is the founder of the Lost Princess Initiative, an author, musician, and lecturer devoted to sharing the inner light of Torah through his books, music, and lectures.

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