“Anything on which one of them falls when dead will become unclean — wooden utensil, article of clothing, leather, sacking — any utensil used for work; it must be put in water, and it will be unclean until evening; then it will be clean.”-Leviticus 11:32
We are continuing our study of the latter half of Leviticus Chapter 11 which deals with how uncleanness is transmitted from dead animals to both human beings and inanimate objects.
First, I need to point out a huge and gaping discrepancy between the original Hebrew and the English as it is rendered in most Bible translations for the last half of verse 32 as follows:
“wooden utensil, article of clothing, leather, sacking — any utensil used for work”
Most translations will say “any article” or “any utensil”.
This imparts the idea that pretty much any object whether it is a wooden spoon or even a piece of clothing etcetera is being referred to here.
However, when we examine the original Hebrew, we find that this translation is incorrect.
The Hebrew word for “article” or “utensil” being used here is KELI.
And KELI does NOT mean “article” or “utensil”.
It means “vessel”, as in a container-like object.
So when you read the list of “wooden utensil, article of clothing, leather, sacking…” in Leviticus 11:32, understand that it is ONLY talking about VESSELS like bowls or water pitchers made out of wood.
The “article of clothing” would be referring to something like a wineskin pouch that was used to contain water or wine and NOT a piece of clothing like a shirt or a pair of pants.
In fact, in the MISHNAH (the first written commentary of the Oral Torah), there is a whole tractate devoted to this subject aptly titled KELIM (literally “vessels”).
The idea being communicated here is that regardless of the type of material the vessel in question is made out of, it is POROUS and thus can ABSORB whatever it is filled with.
Once a vessel is defiled, the prescribed solution is to soak the contaminated vessel into water and then we’re told it will be UNCLEAN until evening.
However, take a look at verse 33.
“If one of them falls into a clay pot, whatever is in it will become unclean, and you are to break the pot.”
And also take a look at verse 35.
“Everything on which any carcass-part of theirs falls will become unclean, whether oven or stove; it is to be broken in pieces — they are unclean and will be unclean for you”
So not just an earthenware vessel or pottery but even earthenware ovens or stoves become defiled and have to be destroyed!
Scholars have puzzled over this part of Scripture for the simple reason that in the Land of Canaan during this time the glazing and firing of clay pots was a known technology, and this would have solved the problem of porosity and absorption.
Nevertheless, the Scriptures do not make a distinction between fired vessels and unfired ones.
If a dead animal fell inside any vessel, the vessel had to be destroyed, period!
The basic rule of thumb is that if a dead creature just fell ONTO a vessel, the vessel could be washed and used later but if that same dead creature fell INTO a vessel, then both the vessel and its contents had to be destroyed.
Hence, putting a lid on the vessel, especially pricey vessels, was considered the best way to prevent serious AND EXPENSIVE incidents of contamination.
Now I just mentioned that if a dead creature fell inside a vessel, not only the vessel but ALSO what was inside the vessel had to be destroyed.
However, what I didn’t mention is that there is a caveat attached to this rule.
There is ONE KEY INGREDIENT that causes everything inside the vessel to become unclean and when that ingredient is missing, the contents in the vessel do NOT become UNCLEAN.
That key ingredient is WATER.
If, for example, a dead animal fell inside a vessel containing dry grain, then all one would have to do is remove the dead animal, clean the vessel and the dry grain would still be acceptable to eat (I personally wouldn’t want to eat it though).
However, if the contents inside the vessel was something containing moisture like dough being left to rise for example, then the grain had to be disposed of if a dead creature fell inside (because it is a concoction mixed with water).
And of course, if the contents of a given vessel is liquid, that liquid becomes instantly defiled and would have to be disposed of.
So we can see that a key conduit for transmitting UNCLEANNESS is water.
Let’s take a look at verse 36.
“…although a spring or cistern for collecting water remains clean. But anyone who touches one of their carcasses will become unclean.”
Hmmm…this is interesting.
If a dead creature falls into a water well, a cistern or a water spring, the well, cistern or spring does NOT become defiled or UNCLEAN.
Unfortunately, the person who has to remove the dead animal becomes unclean, but the water stays clean.
Here is a KEY PRINCIPLE about water and pay attention, because understanding this will not only help you understand many things about the Hebrew purity rituals but also shed much light behind why Yeshua did what He did in some situations.
WHEN WATER IS ATTACHED TO THE EARTH, IT CANNOT BE MADE UNCLEAN.
For example, the water of cisterns, lakes, rivers, and streams (MIKVAH in Hebrew) cannot be made unclean.
On the hand, water that is placed inside a portable vessel like a bucket or a pot can become unclean for the simple reason that it is no longer naturally attached to the earth.
This explains why a ritually unclean person (or thing) can be restored to cleanness by being immersed in water PROVIDED that water is physically connected to the earth.
Keep this principle in mind, this is something even a 7 year old Jewish child will have internalized.
WATER PHYSICALLY CONNECTED TO THE EARTH CANNOT CONTRACT UNCLEANNESS.
The opposite occurs actually, living water imparts purity to the unclean.
Finally, since I want to be thorough here, take a look at verse 38.
If any carcass-part of theirs falls on any kind of seed to be sown, it is clean; but if water is put on the seed and a carcass-part of theirs falls on it, it is unclean for you.
So this reinforces everything I have just explained.
Verse 38 tells us that if a dead creature falls on dry seed, the seed is not defiled.
However, if if the seeds are moist or dampened due to contact with water, they are now UNCLEAN and have to be thrown out.