By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER
Mishnah Kelim 17:16 teaches: “The crossbeam of a balance or a leveling rod that has a concealed compartment in which metal can be concealed, or a carrying yoke that has such a compartment for money, or a poor man’s walking stick that has a compartment to hold water (or other beverages), or a staff that has a compartment in which one might hide a Mezuzah or pearls – these are all susceptible to ritual impurity. In reference to these matters, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai said: ‘Woe is me (“Oy!”) if I speak of them, and woe is me (“Oy!”) if do not speak of them.’”
Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai here discusses various deceptive devices used by smugglers to further their criminal enterprises. His dilemma? Should he describe these ruses and thereby inform us of how to steal and cheat? Or should he ignore the issue and cause unwitting violations of ritual law? He was concerned not only with the spiritual lives of saints!
It is instructive that instruments of duplicity and fraud – ethical transgressions – also cause ritual impurity. Our relationships with God and our fellow mortals are inseparable.
But then – in the hidden recesses of our hearts – we knew that all along!
(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the former National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)