Thursday, March 27, 2014

Tazria - She Conceives

Vayikra (Leviticus) 12:1-13:59

This Torah portion is the middle of three discussions of clean and unclean. In last week's parasha, Sh'mini, we learned about clean and unclean foods. Things outside of us that make us tahor (clean) or tameh (unclean). In this portion, we begin to deal with our own internal uncleanness. I will be focusing on the first aliyah or first reading of the parasha. The Torah portion begins with a woman becoming unclean by childbirth.

I'd like to take a moment to point out something that was brought to my attention by a good friend, Stan Randall at Coffee and Devotions. The title of this Torah portion, Tazria, means "She conceives". It refers to the moment of conception being the defining moment, not "this trimester" or "so many weeks" or even birth. Birth is listed second as a completion of conception. Understanding this simple statement in one section of one portion of Torah could completely end the entire abortion debate and make this world a better, more blessed place.

And now back to our regularly scheduled teaching. YHVH tells Moshe to tell the people that a woman who has a son is unclean for seven days. On the eighth day, she is to have the boy circumsized. He then goes on to say that the woman must wait thirty-three more days before she can be purified. She is not unclean, but neither is she clean. She cannot touch anything holy or come into the sanctuary during this time. If she gives birth to a girl, for reasons not given by YHVH, her period of uncleanness and her wait for purification are doubled. She is unclean for fourteen days and must wait an additional sixty-six days before purification. Many different opinions have been offered through the years as to the reason for the difference, ranging from patriarchal superiority to punishment for Eve's sin in the garden. Personally, I think there is probably some compensation involved for male children having to go through circumcision while the females get to skip that requirement. But that may just be the modern-male squeamishness talking. (Choose among them as you will, your mileage may vary, author is not responsible for intentional or unintentional misuse of information gathered from outside sources and the opinions formed or held by readers thereof.)

We now learn of the requirement for the woman to be purified so that she can return to the sanctuary. There are two offerings required; a one year old lamb for a burnt offering and a pigeon or dove for a sin offering. If she can't afford a lamb, two pigeons or doves will suffice. This leads to an interesting question. Why the sin offering? What sin has the woman committed? Has she not in fact obeyed one of the earliest of all commands, to go forth and multiply? How can she then be guilty of committing a sin? I humbly submit that she is not guilty of any sin in the childbirth itself. However, as she has been unable to approach the sanctuary or the altar, she has been unable to bring her normal sin offering for up to two and a half months. Is it likely that she has committed no sins at all during that time? Had no impure thoughts during the painful childbirth or when the baby is crying all night? Never had a disparaging thought about her husband who got her into this mess in the first place? This is her opportunity to gain atonement for all those things for which she has been unable to atone during her separation. If she has managed to be completely sinless during her entire time of separation, is the sin offering still necessary? Look at Vayikra 5:3. It clearly states that if someone touches human uncleanness, as soon as he is aware of it, he is guilty and must bring a sin offering. If a woman has been declared unclean - as any woman who has given birth has - she cannot be made clean without a sin offering. That's why the scripture tells us in the last part of verse eight; "the cohen will make atonement for her, and she will be clean."

But what about the husband? The father of the baby who brought forth so much uncleanness to the woman? There's no mention of him being unclean. Or is there? Remember verse 5:3 earlier? If he touches his wife at all during her time of separation, he is unclean. He must then bring a sin offering to be made clean again. How's that patriarchal privilege working for you now? So why can he be made clean immediately? Why doesn't he have to wait 40 or 80 days like his wife? Well, if he has to remain separated and cannot be a part of the community for all that time, who is going to provide for the needs of the family? YHVH made a way for the family to continue to function while still observing the necessities of cleanness and holiness. He's good that way. He takes care of His people.

The last part of this aliyah begins the discussion of tzara'at, commonly translated as leprosy. It is pretty clear through reading the descriptions of tzara'at, however, that it has no connection to the modern disease of leprosy, also known as Hanson's disease. Everyone today can envision the leper with missing body parts and incurable organ damage. Where in this parasha are either of these symptoms mentioned? Leprosy is an incurable disease that always leads to painful, lingering death. Tzara'at can be cured by atonement and purification after repentance. How can they possibly be the same disease? The rabbis have taught for generations that tzara'at is a spiritual disease caused by inward sin. Haughtiness, arrogance, slander, and gossip are all causes of tzara'at according to the rabbis. Remember that Miriam was cursed with tzara'at for speaking out against her brother Moshe's leadership. Tzara'at was an outward sign of an inward condition. It is interesting to note that there has been no recorded case of biblical tzara'at since the loss of the Temple and our means for ritual purification. I believe that is further evidence that tzara'at is a sin condition more than a skin condition.

Without tzara'at in our midst today, does this part of the Torah portion have any relevance to us? Of course it does. Torah is a manual for life, not just in the wilderness outside Egypt 3500 years ago, but today, tomorrow, and forever. Is there still a problem of arrogance, gossip, or slander in the community today? Do we not need to have a plan for dealing with these issues? When these afflictions appear in our midst, we must remove them. The offender needs to be put outside the camp until they have repented and are made "clean".

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