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Parshat Tazria

Posted by rabbiart on April 21, 2008

Torah Reading: VaYikra 12:1 to 13:59 Haftorah Reading: Ezekiel 45:16 to 46:18

This Shabbat is known as Shabbat HaHodesh (The Month) because the month of Nissan begins on the day following Shabbat.. The significance of this month is that Pesach occurs. Because it is a special Shabbat, the Maftir is from Sefer Shemot 20:1 to 20 and the Haftorah is from Ezekiel instead of the usual Haftorah for Parshat Tazria. In some years Tazria is combined with the next parshah, Metzora. Because this year is a leap year, the double parshiot are read separately. Whether combined or separate, the parshah has some surprises in store for the attentive and knowledgeable reader.

The parshah opens with HaShem giving Moshe instructions regarding the ritual impurity and purification for a woman who has given birth. There are two significant time periods for each of a boy and girl, and the timing for a woman who has given birth to a baby girl is twice that of a baby boy. For a son, the birth mother is unclean for seven days and ritually impure for the following thirty three days. For a daughter, the birth mother is unclean for fourteen days, and ritually impure for sixty six days. The ritual impurity relates to entrance into the sanctuary or contact with anything that has been made kadosh (holy). However, between day eight (or fifteen) and the end of the respective time periods, the woman, even if having blood flow, is not prohibited from having sexual relations with her husband. This is a surprise, because in the normal course of event, a woman who is having a normal, monthly blood flow cannot have relations with her husband. But in the post birth time periods, the blood itself is considered pure blood. Only if it continues past the specified interval are relations forbidden.

Of course the obvious question is why the intervals of time for a daughter are twice that of a son. Is the birth mother being “punished” for having given birth to a daughter? Furthermore, as the great Torah scholar Nehama Leibowitz (aleha hashalom) points out, the duty to procreate is the first command given by HaShem to Adam, and repeated twice to Noah. Ritual defilement as a result of giving birth, she says, is perhaps the most perplexing phenomenon of all. And of all things, why should she be required to bring a hattat (usually translated as “sin”) offering? Leibowitz, in her work Studies in Vayikra brings a number of midrashim in an attempt to explain. Some midrashim, in examining the miracle of birth, conclude that the process of birth helps us get in touch with the greatness of our creator. Others suggest that the new life growing in, and delivered by, the birth mother, cause her to realized the utter insignificance and impurity of human kind, as compared to our creator. Personally, I find neither explanation satisfactory.

Some have suggested that the time intervals are twice as long as a daughter because giving birth to a daughter is akin to a double event. Not only the daughter is born, but the potential lives of her own children are created as well. Regarding the requirement for the sin offering, could it be possible that the explanation is deceptively simple? The birth mother is proscribed from touching any holy thing during the thirty three or sixty six day period. As anyone who has cared for infants knows, it is an incredibly joyful and also fantastically distracting experience. It is highly likely that the birth mother has inadvertently come into contact with something holy, so she brings a sin (mistake would be a better translation) offering just to be on the safe side. Got a better theory, come share it with us in shul this Shabbat, or if you’re one of Rabbi Art’s distance reader, send it to me in email and I’ll see what the congregation thinks of it.

Shabbat Shalom

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