Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Tazria 5768/ Ha-Hodesh/ April 5, 2008

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity. Prepared for Internet Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University. Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible, gottlii@mail.biu.ac.il

 

 

The Race of Life

 

Dr. Itamar Wahrhaftig  

 

School of Law

 

A woman who has given birth to a son or a daughter must bring a burnt offering and a sin offering to the priest, who “shall offer it before the Lord and make expiation ( ve-khipperaleha)  on her behalf; she shall then be clean ( ve-taharah )from her flow of blood” (Lev. 12:7).  Commentators wonder why a woman who has given birth should be unclean, and why she needs expiation – in what way has she sinned?

1. Abarbanel wrote in his commentary on this verse:

When a woman would come to the Temple, upon completion of her days of purification after childbirth, she would bring a bird offering in order to show her closeness to Her Maker, who worked wonders for her, delivering her from the pain and danger of childbirth.

Yet the question remains, why expiation?  There are several possibilities.

Nahmanides sites the Sages (Niddah 31b):

As she bends over to give birth, she swears she will never live with her husband again.   The main idea is that since she swears out of pain (of labor in childbirth), and since her oath ought not to be valid since she is in her husband’s jurisdiction, the Torah wished to make expiation for her outburst.

Others say that if she swore, she herself would later regret having done so, therefore she needs kapparah.

2.     Kli Yakar explains:  “Expiation is for the primordial sin of Eve, which caused her the travail of childbirth, and out of her pain she may have said harsh things towards Heaven, such as: if such is my life, why bother living, conceiving and suffering such pain and travail?”

3.     Nahmanides, claiming to be following the plain sense of the text, says that kapparah here does not mean atonement for sin, rather, “ like the term kofer nefesh, a kind of payment before the Lord, that she be purified from her flow of blood.”

4.     The commentary Da’at Zekenim (ba’alei Ha-Tosafot) also views this expiation in the sense of cleansing and not expiation for sin.

5.     Sforno writes:  “Right after childbirth and throughout the days of her impure issue, all her thoughts revolve around the reproductive organs and their function; she is not fit for the Temple and its purity until she brings expiation and turns her mind to pure things.”  Thus, her offering is to prepare her for the Temple and its sacred service.

6.     Some say that her impurity is related to the impurity of death:  a woman in childbirth brings new life into the world, but in the process she loses something.  During pregnancy she gives life. The fetus depends on her and has no life without her; this is the highest state of giving. With the birth there is a severance; the fetus leaves her to develop an independent life.  From the mother’s point of view there is an aspect of loss.   This process calls for purification and expiation.

These are the reasons given for the offering that must be brought by a woman after childbirth.   The last item, the relationship between life and death, should be expanded upon, and the idea can be extended to the newborn himself or herself.  Every human being who is created develops and lives until the day of his or her death.  Life is given us as a gift, so that we will fulfill our destiny.  The Sages comment on the verse, “Blessed shall you be in your comings and blessed shall you be in you goings” (Deut. 28:6), “that you should leave the world without sin, just as you came into it” (Rashi, loc. sit., based on the gemara in Bava Metzia 107a).  This is the minimum.  However, a person is required not only to avoid doing wrong, but also to build and improve.   From this point of view, every moment that is not used for positive construction is time wasted, irreparable damage.   Indeed, the popular saying is, “To kill time.” Essentially, time is life.

Note what Rabbenu Yonah ( Gerondi) wrote in his Sha’arei Teshuvah, Part II, 21:

Whoever has been bestowed intelligence by the Holy One, will note that the Lord, blessed be He, put him in this world to safeguard His teaching … and he should not look at anything save at what he needs to perform his mission; and at the end of days, if he performed his duty faithfully, he shall “return, coming in song” (see Psalms                                                                                                                                                                         126:3-6).

The race of life starts at birth, and from that moment on the countdown begins.   Each moment of life contains something of death, and the short time in our hands should be properly utilized. How did the Rabbis put it? “Time is short, and the work to be done extensive” (Ethics of the Fathers, 2, 15).