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 called “Tzaras.”
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.