The Torah in Parashat Emor presents a series of laws addressed to the kohanim, including the prohibition against partaking of hallowed food (sacrifices or teruma) in a state of tum’a (impurity). After contracting purity, the kohen is required to immerse, after which he is still barred from partaking of sacred food until nightfall: “The sun shall set and he is [then] pure, and afterward he shall eat the sacred food” (22:7). This is the source of the halakha known as “tevul yom” – the status of an impure individual who has immersed but is still forbidden to eat hallowed food until dark. This law applies not only to kohanim, but to anybody who has become tamei (impure) and wishes to partake of sacrificial food.
Rav Natan of Breslav, in Likutei Halakhot (Birkot Ha-shahar, 5), suggests an explanation for the symbolic meaning of this law. In our morning prayer service, we give praise to the Almighty “who renews creation each day, in His goodness.” Rav Natan writes that this refers not only to the renewal of sunlight each morning, but also to the opportunities for spiritual renewal which each day offers us. Every day, we are given possibilities that did not present themselves the day before. As such, Rav Natan writes, we must constantly strive and work to grow and achieve, but we must also patiently allow time for the results to unfold, because each day brings us new opportunities that the previous days did not. If we find that our efforts to improve have yet to bear fruit, we must continue trying while understanding that more time might be needed. This is reflected by the law of tevul yom, which establishes that purity – symbolizing spiritual growth – requires not only “immersion,” our concentrated efforts, but also time. Even after we’ve “immersed,” and put in the work needed to change, we cannot expect to see immediate results. Sometimes we need to wait for a new day.
The message of tevul yom, according to Rav Natan, is that the process of “purification” demands both effort and time. Even after working to improve, the change is not guaranteed to occur right away. We must eagerly but patiently allow ourselves the time we need to reach the next level, and wait for the new day which brings us the renewal we seek.