By Rabbi Aron Tendler
THE REAL EDUCATION
This week's Parsha begins with the laws regarding a mother who has just given
birth. If the baby is male, the mother is Tameh (restricted from having
marital relations) for seven days, and for 33 days she remains Tahor (pure -
unrestricted), even if she continues to bleed. If the baby is female, the
mother is Tameh for 14 days, and for 66 days she remains Tahor, even if she
continues to bleed.
Practically speaking, the laws of purity and impurity following childbirth
are the same nowadays as every instance of Nidah. So long as the mother is
still bleeding she is Tameh. After she stops bleeding, the seven clean days
are counted, and the mother can then go to the Mikvah. However, the strict
Biblical formulation involves the seven days and 33 days for a male child and
the fourteen and 66 days for a female child.
1. Why did the Torah differentiate between the birth of a male and a female
in this manner?
2. Considering the fact that the Torah is detailing the laws of purity and
impurity in regards to the mother, why does the Pasuk mention, in the middle
(12:3), the mitzvah of Bris Milah?
3. These laws of post-child birth are sandwiched between the laws of Kashrus
at the end of Shimini, and the main topic of this week's Parsha - the skin
affliction called "Tzaras." Why? It seems that these laws could have easily
been included in any number of places in the Torah - so why here?
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch in Parshas Tazria (12:4-5) explains why the Torah
differentiated between the birth of a male and the birth of a female, and why
it mentions the mitzvah of Bris Milah.
The primary educators for children are their parents. The values, beliefs,
interpersonal skills, problem solving strategies, crisis management
techniques, methods of discipline, and overall attitudes toward religion, G-d
and society are learned by children through the modeling of their parents.
To quote and old cliché, "they do as they see, not as we say." It is
therefore extremely important for parents to prepare themselves to undertake
the job of raising and educating their children.
The most difficult aspect of education is the teaching of morals and values.
Information and basic living skills are more easily taught, because the
child's abilities in language and fine motor skills are a natural development
that mirrors the overall intellectual and physical maturation of the child.
However, moral development is far more subjective and environmentally
vulnerable. What the child witnesses in the home in both word and deed will
have the greatest impact on his budding sense of values and ethical maturity.
It is, for the most part, removed from the natural process of maturation.
Moral awareness and the integration of values into behavior goes through a
natural developmental process similar to cognition; however, it is a process
that can happen independent of the child's physical maturation. That is why
all educators know that Midot (proper character) are taught at home, not in
school. The school can challenge or reinforce those Midot learned by the
child at home, but it is family and home that are the primary educators.
Therefore, parents must prepare themselves to undertake the delicate task of
forging their child's moral metal.
The job of training children should be shared between a mother and a father.
In many instances, either of the parents can model for their child the
appropriate manner of thinking, and conduct. However, there are as many, if
not more instances when the male child needs the example of his father, and
the female child needs the example of her mother. This basic difference in
educational methodology and outcome is emphasized by the Mitzvos of Milah and
Nidah in this week's Parsha.
It is incumbent upon the father to give his son a Bris Milah and to accept
that it will primarily be his job to educate his son, through word and deed,
in the appropriate conduct of a truly ethical and moral man. The organ that
G-d chose for this Mitzvah was direct and intentional. It was to imprint
G-d's expectations upon our very flesh that we will exert control and purpose
over our basic biological / animal instincts, and elevate them into the realm
of the human and the spiritual. Therefore, men were given a constant
reminder of this covenant upon the one organ that directly and symbolically
represents basic moral values and conduct.
The day when the father performs Milah, the first duty a man must perform for
his son, should imbue the father with the sacred resolve to "raise his son to
walk in moral strength before G-d, the G-d of the Law," and to serve his son,
by his own conduct, as a model for such a way of life. (R.S.R. Hirsch 12:4-5)
Women, however, were not commanded in the Mitzvah of Milah. Instead, G-d
imposed upon them the processing of purity and impurity that were to serve as
"Equally forceful aids in training the woman for purity of character. (Ibid.)
The focus of this set of Mitzvos and their physical location was, as with
Milah, intentional and specific. Just as the man must wear the stamp of
G-d's expectations upon his reproductive flesh, so too must the woman contend
with the moral and ethical expectations imposed upon her. Therefore, upon
the birth of a female child, the mother is commanded to be Tameh - impure,
and Tahor - pure, for double the time commanded for the birth of a male
child. It suggests that the mother must do so, one time for her own sake,
and one time for the sake of her newly born daughter. She must strengthen
her own resolve to be moral and ethical in all areas of her own conduct, and
to commit herself to teaching her daughter, through word and deed, to be
equally moral and ethical.
With daughters, the mother is the molder of their character, so that after
the birth of each daughter she will do well to prepare herself with redoubled
intensity, both for her own sake and for the sake of her newborn daughter, in
order that they may both ascend the lofty path of purity and morality to the
heights of G-d's own ideal of holiness. (ibid.)
G-d's expectation for His chosen people is that they model for the rest of
humanity what it means to have been created in the image of G-d. The
integration of moral values and conduct into our behavior is our most
effective tool in accomplishing this mandate. Therefore, the Torah
sandwiched the laws of childbirth between Kashrus and the skin condition
The laws of Kashrus set us apart from the other nations and "makes us holy."
It imposes a degree of control and purpose over another basic animalistic /
biological necessity - the need for nutrition and hydration. This further
strengthens the foundation of our moral and ethical ideal that we are more
than mere animals. By accepting this basic difference between Jew and
non-Jew, we are able to assume the task of being teachers and role models to
the rest of society.
The laws of purity and impurity following child--birth, and the mitzvah of
Milah, are the main foundations upon which we build our own moral character
and profile. They are the primary tools through which we educate our sons
and daughters to be the same, and through which we become worthy of the world
emulating our moral conduct and ethical values.
The infliction of Tzaras was intended, as the commentaries explain, as a
consequence for speaking Lashon Harah. Slander and tale bearing are
fundamental failings on our part to fully embrace our obligation to be
ethical and moral. It is impossible for us to co-exist in a society where
basic respect and privacy are not honored. Lashon Harah proclaims loud and
clear that you're personal accomplishments and failings are ours to do with
as we see fit. Lashon Harah is the process through which we promote our own
agenda at your expense. Lashon Harah allows us to effortlessly appear
greater and better while never investing anything of our own. This may be
the most insidious and common place of all destructive social behaviors. It
is inherently immoral and unethical because it demeans the value of another
human being, rendering him no more than barter for our own selfish gains.
The consequence of Tzaras was to force the "sinner" to remain outside the
boundaries of society until that time that he is able to properly appreciate,
respect, and co-exist with his neighbor. It reeducates the sinner and
encourages him to become a productive member of society.
Kashrus establishes control and separation. The laws of childbirth direct
our control and discipline to the higher moral and ethical calling that is
the reason for our being set apart from all the other nations. The laws of
Tzaras remind the individual Jew that his responsibility and greatest
influence is to function within the context of community and society. Our
most effective tool in teaching the rest of the world is the ethical and
moral structure of our Torah society.
Copyright © 1999 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.