Tazria/Hachodesh- The Birth of a Redemption

Continuing on the topic of טומאה and טהרה from last week, our פרשה shifts from the laws relating to animals to those for humans. And, as Ibn Ezra writes, what better place to start than with childbirth, one of the happiest and most beautiful parts of any couple’s life, when they partner with G-d to create another human being:

וַיְדַבֵּר ה’  אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר: דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר אִשָּׁה כִּי תַזְרִיעַ וְיָלְדָה זָכָר וְטָמְאָה שִׁבְעַת יָמִים כִּימֵי נִדַּת דְּוֹתָהּ תִּטְמָא… וּשְׁלֹשִׁים יוֹם וּשְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים תֵּשֵׁב בִּדְמֵי טָהֳרָה בְּכָל קֹדֶשׁ לֹא תִגָּע וְאֶל הַמִּקְדָּשׁ לֹא תָבֹא עַד מְלֹאת יְמֵי טָהֳרָהּ:

Hashem spoke to Moshe and Aharon saying: Speak to the children of Israel saying; when a woman gives birth and has a son, she will be impure for seven days like her days of nidah… [Afterwards,] thirty days she sall sit in bloods of purity- she cannot touch any kodashim, nor can she enter the Temple, until she finishes her days of [recovering] purity.(ויקרא יב)

This seems just a little bit confusing. This woman had just completed one of the holiest experiences of her life, the terrible pain, followed by tremendous joy, of bringing another soul into the world. Why would she have to sit on the side as ritually impure after this?

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom has a very philosophical answer to our quandary, one which I present below as I could not do it justice by summarizing:

Clearly the Torah intends a message here, and it is unmistakable. To be a Jew is to know that survival is not a matter of biology alone. What other cultures may take as natural is for us a miracle. Every Jewish child is a gift of G-d. No faith has taken children more seriously or devoted more of its efforts to raising the next generation. Childbirth is wondrous. To be a parent is the closest any of us come to G-d himself. That, incidentally, is why women are closer to G-d than men, because they, unlike men, know what it is to bring new life out of themselves, as G-d brings life out of himself. The idea is beautifully captured in the verse in which, leaving Eden, Adam turns to his wife and calls her Chavah “for she is the mother of all life.”

We can now speculate about the laws relating to childbirth. When a mother gives birth, not only does she undergo great risk (until recently, childbirth was a life-threatening danger to mother and baby alike). She is also separated from what until now had been part of her own body (a foetus, said the rabbis, “is like a limb of the mother”) and which has now become an independent person. If that is so in the case of a boy, it is doubly so in the case of a girl – who, with G-d’s help, will not merely live but may herself in later years become a source of new life. At one level, therefore, the laws signal the detachment of life from life.

At another level, they surely suggest something more profound. There is a halakhic principle: “One who is engaged in a mitzvah is exempt from other mitzvoth.” It is as if G-d were saying to the mother: for forty days in the case of a boy, and doubly so in the case of a girl (the mother-daughter bond is ontologically stronger than that between mother and son), I exempt you from coming before Me in the place of holiness because you are fully engaged in one of the holiest acts of all, nurturing and caring for your child. Unlike others you do not need to visit the Temple to be attached to life in all its sacred splendour. You are experiencing it yourself, directly and with every fibre of your being. Days, weeks, from now you will come and give thanks before Me (together with offerings for having come through a moment of danger). But for now, look upon your child with wonder. For you have been given a glimpse of the great secret, otherwise known only to G-d. Childbirth exempts the new mother from attendance at the Temple because her bedside replicates the experience of the Temple. She now knows what it is for love to beget life and in the midst of mortality to be touched by an intimation of immortality. [1]

So, we see that the טומאה of the new mother is not a negative state. Rather, it shows that she is on such a high level that she does not need to go to the מקדש to feel connected to G-d- looking at her newborn baby, created in partnership with G-d, is all she needs. On a more broad level, the birth of the baby, while it may seem impure and far removed from anything sacred, is the most holy, for the miracles involved bring everyone closer to G-d in the process.

This week, we have the rare opportunity of reading פרשת החודש  with our סדרה. The מפטיר is read from פרשת בא, when בני  ישראל are commanded in their firstמצוה  as a nation. Even though the bulk of the מצות are not given until הר סיני, this is considered by many to be one of the first stages of the birth of עם ישראל. The casual observer would object that this is a truly awful time to label as the birth of our nation, for, according to the מידרש, the Jewish People were on the forty-ninth (out of fifty) level of טומאה, and were almost beyond redeeming. Why not call מעמד הר סיני, where our ancestors were on a much higher level, the genesis of our nation?

I believe the answer lies in the essence of why a new mother is initially in a state of טומאה after having her baby. As Rabbi Sacks pointed out, theטומאה  of childbirth is not a negative, unholy thing- it is the most holy, because its miraculous nature leaves all more closely connected to G-d. So too by פרשת החודש, the Jewish people were definitely on a lower level than, say, הר סיני, but for the past months, they had been exposed to open miracles from G-d, the “שמי י-ה-ו-ה” (which, Rav Yehuda Halevi explains on פרשת וארא, represents G-d’s nature of defying nature) that He had withheld for so many generations (including for the אבות). Theirטומאה may have started from being exposed to a culture of idolatry for hundreds of years, but, in witnessing G-d’s miracles and acquiescing to His commandments of “החודש הזה” and bringing the first קרבן פסח, theirטומאה  switched to become a positive type. Or, in other words, their “דמי טמאה” effectively turned to “דמי טהורה,” much as a new mother does very soon after giving birth. It is for this reason that we can, with confidence, attribute our nation’s birth to פרשת החודש, the very beginning of גאולת מצרים.

This lesson is extremely relevant to our times as well. Since 1948, with the establishment of the State of Israel, we, the Jewish People dwelling in lands with levels of morality almost analogous to Egypt, have known that the גאולה was imminent. The question raised by many, however, is how could the final redemption come through a secular government, one which is sometimes perceived as “טמא” through its policies and leadership? But, as we see from both our sedra and our parsha, anything truly holy begins in a state of unholiness. The גאולה is like this- yes, it may start out in a secular government, one which many learned people call “טמא”, but they misunderstand what this means. Yes it’s טמא, but not like the initial seven days of דמי טמאה that a mother experiences, but rather דמי טהרה. It’s the טומאה of a nation whose short history is scattered with open miracles, whose very existence and survival is a testament to G-d’s strength, much like a new baby. The birth of the גאולה was never meant to be illustrious. The bloodline of the משיח is quite the opposite, beginning in the incestuous union of Lot and his eldest daughter, continuing to the unconventional marriage of Boaz and Rut, and the illicit joining of David and Batsheva. But, as we’ve seen by the birth of a baby in our סדרה, and the birth of עם ישראל in פרשת החודש, this means nothing, because the future of our אתחלתא דגאולה will be amazing, and it can and will demonstrate to the world that we are an אור לגוים. We just need to have faith in it its growth, just as parents trust that their baby will grow to become more than an infant. And, of course, we need to help get it started.

Parshat Tazria has 67 pesukim, which Chazal equate to the acronym בני”ה, her children, very appropriate for our פרשה. However,בניה can also mean her builders. The message here is very clear- in order to help bring the משיח, symbolic of the birth of בניה,we become בניה, and return to settle and rebuild her, our eternal homeland. Faith in the State of Israel is not enough now- in order to rebuild, we must substantiate our אמונה with action and join the ranks of the more than six million Jews who have reclaimed our ancestral homeland. As חג הגאולה approaches, if each and every one of us can make a conscious effort towards joining עם ישראל in her newborn גאולה, then, with Hashem’s help, we will merit the final rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Third Bet Hamikdash, very very soon. Shabbat Shalom.

 

[1] Covenant and Conversation: Tazria-Metsorah 5773, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (http://www.rabbisacks.org/covenant-conversation-tazria-metsorah-holiness-and-childbirth/)