Purity in Talmud Nida with Maharal’s commentary


25a: “Abba Shaul says that an embryo is first created from its head… and it does not  have separation of its fingers and toes”

Maharal explains that man is like a tree downside up. That is, the root of man is his head because that is the most essential, and then later his limbs branch out, as the branches of a tree branch from the root. Man’s root is in the heavens unlike a tree because Man has a close connection to the Heavenly.



  1. Simlai delivered the following discourse: What does an embryo resemble when it is in the

bowels of its mother? Folded writing tablets.

Its hands rest on its two temples respectively, its two

elbows on its two legs and its two heels against its buttocks. Its head lies between its knees, its

mouth is closed and its navel is open, and it eats what its mother eats and drinks what its mother

drinks, but produces no excrements because otherwise it might kill its mother. As soon, however, as

it sees the light the closed organ59 opens and the open one60 closes, for if that had not happened the

embryo could not live even one single hour. A light burns above its head and it looks and sees from

one end of the world to the other, as it is said, then his lamp shined above my head, and by His light

I walked through darkness.And do not be astonished at this, for a person sleeping here might see

a dream in Spain. And there is no time in which a man enjoys greater happiness than in those days,

for it is said, O that I were as the months of old, as in the days when God watched over me;

nowwhich are the days’ that make up ‘months’

and do not make up years? The months of pregnancy of

course. It is also taught all the Torah from beginning to end,67 for it is said, And he taught me, and

said unto me: ‘Let thy heart hold fast my words, keep my commandments and live’,and it is also

said, When the converse of God was upon my tent. Why the addition of70 ‘and it is also said’? —

In case you might say that it was only the prophet who said that,come and hear ‘when the

converse of God was upon my tent. As soon as it, sees the light an angel approaches, slaps it on its

mouth and causes it to forget all the Torah completely, as it is said, Sin coucheth at the door.72 It

does not emerge from there before it is made to take an oath,as it is said, That unto Me every knee

shall bow, every tongue shall swear;‘That unto Me every knee shall bow’ refers to the day of

dying of which it is said All they that go down to the dust shall kneel before Him; ‘Every tongue

shall swear’ refers to the day of birth of which it is said, He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart,

who hath not taken My name

76 in vain, and hath not sworn deceitfully.77 What is the nature of the

oath that it is made to take? Be righteous, and be never wicked; and even if all the world tells you,

You are righteous’, consider yourself wicked Always bear in mind79 that the Holy One, blessed be

He, is pure, that his ministers are pure and that the soul which He gave you is pure; if you preserve it

in purity, well and good, but if not, I will take it away from you. The school of R. Ishmael taught:

This may be compared to the case of a priest who handled over some terumah to an ‘am ha-arez and

told him, ‘If you preserve it under conditions of cleanness, well and good, but if not, I will burn it in

your presence’


Maharal explains that man is folded up in embryo like a dot, expressing the abstract nature in embryo far from material, for the material world is space-expansive branching out, while the abstract-spiritual is very fine and abstract. The fetus eats from what his mother eats to show the pure state of food that enters the fetus, for the food has already been digested and its filth taken out, while it would befitting that the fetus do its own digesting and secretion if not that this process would kill his mother, so this is spared,

A lamp is upon the head of the embryo, for this alludes to the neshama as in the verse “the lamp of HaShem is the human soul” (mishlei), which at this state is above the body and has not entered it, as it does so at birth. It is because of this semi-connected situation that the neshama can perceive what is happening worldwide, such as a person’s soul leaves in sleep and can perceive what happens in Spain. It is the body which later blocks the neshama from perceiving these things.

There are no better days for man as the days in embryo, for then the man is in a high spiritual state beyond all the material world which makes it difficult to grow spiritually. And then the fetus learns and knows  the entire Torah, because of its spiritual state, and there are no material burdens blocking the soul from perceiving the entire Torah totally naturally. The angel striking the mouth of the fetus, (thus making the fetus forget everything it has learned) means that the angel strikes the medium between the spiritual and bodily which is speech (see onkelus “speaking soul”) thus connecting the soul to the body, so that the body hides the soul from the spiritual realms. (By the way, there are stories when this did not happen and there were infants that knew the whole torah, were brought to tzadikim to assist their forgetting, because of ayin hara etc. Baba Sali said this happens once in a while to show the truth of this hazal). Maharal poses another explanation that “striking” denotes nullification of previous form, for before the soul was aloof, and now it is within the body.

The concept of oath means commitment to clinging to God, for oath is a strong devotional act to God (if done truthfully) as in the verse “to Him you shall cling, and shall you make an oath in his Name” (Deut.). The oath is essentially at the fetus’ completion, for at completion before birth it is completely connected to God, and this connection and devotion is itself the concept of oath-clinging to God, and because of this clinging that itself is the oath to be connected to God=tzadik and not rasha. The demand to see oneself as wicked (this is not totally literal for in pirkei avot it says a person should not see himself as wicked) means that because man has potential to do evil, wickedness is a bit part of him. Also, in personal reflection man is a tzadik only if clinging to God, and the moment he looks at himself aside from God he is already apart from God and cannot view himself as a tzadik rather rasha (on the side he detached from God) while   when others view him they say he’s a tzadik he is not taken aside from God (this is very deep). Another explanation the Maharal writes that God is ultimately Righteous and people are not, so if people praise him for righteousness that is nothing compared to the True Righteousness of God while righteous in the eyes of others is only relative righteousness, but really “there is no tzadik in the land that will do good and not sin”. Maharal remarks that the first explanation is more essential.

Then it says that bowing down refers to the day of death, for then man is submissive to God, for he sees how God is eternal and he is mortal, “Oath” refers to the day of birth, because of the strong connection to God (oath-clinging) before birth, as was explained before.

What the soul is told, that God is pure and his servants are pure, is to teach the soul that it should not think that once it has entered the body it is not accountable to be pure. The concept of burning is used because it is befitting that something holy, as the neshama, must be kept under pure conditions, and if not there is a concept of burning (as teruma and korbanot (holy articles) are burnt if rendered impure)



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