Tazria, a portion of Leviticus, instructs us that after a woman gives birth she is impure (tamah) for seven days for a male child and 14 days for a female child, similar to the impurity of menstruation. Then the Torah says, “for thirty-three days she shall dwell in the blood of her purity” for a male child and “for sixty-six days she shall dwell in blood of purity (tahara) for a female child. The expression, the blood of purity, is found nowhere else in the Torah. Several times we learn “the blood is the soul” (or the life, according to Rashi) [Leviticus 17:14] and also “the soul is in the blood” [Levit. 17:11].
The woman is given the privilege of “sitting,” the word used by Nachmanides, in the life and soul of purity with her focus only on her child.
After birth, a mother falls in love with her baby. It is a very precious and even holy time. The child’s survival depends upon the mother, which is similar to our dependence on God. In taking care of the child, the mother must teach the child that life and the world are good, that there is food when you are hungry and that there is love when you need to be held.
In Tazria, the Torah creates this special and pure time of bonding where women need not enter the sanctuary or present offerings. It is an exemption and not a restriction. The Talmud [Sukkah 26a] teaches us that one “who is occupied with the performance of a religious duty is free from the fulfillment of other religious duties.” Clearly, God is on the side of mothers! This time of hyper-purity will not be disturbed, even by God. It is too important for the development of the new person.
For the baby, the woman must become God. This time has similarities to our Exodus, when God brought us out of Egypt “on the wings of eagles” [19:4]. As the mother eagle flies her baby eaglets on her back until they are strong enough to fly on their own, the human mother brings forth a child, carrying and feeding her child until the baby is seen as a viable human being. In Talmudic Judaism, the point of viability is seen as the 30th day of life, which is why the Pidyon HaBen ceremony for a male child does not occur until viability is assured [Numbers 18:16; Shabbat 135b]. Interestingly, we arrived at Sinai approximately 66 days after going through the parted Sea of Reeds.
For the mother, the baby is both Self and Other, which also describes our relationship with God: part of, yet separate from, needing care, food and love. Beginning with this precious time, the mother must bring forth the child’s unrealized potential to be a living, giving, caring human being, capable of eventually nurturing new life. And perhaps this is why the woman has 66 days of purity with her daughter. The female baby may become a mother herself. God decided that the child would benefit from an extended time of bonding, especially because male children have historically been valued as higher than female children, and perhaps even today in some families and cultures, still are.
We learn so much from parents: how to love, show respect, feel gratitude and so much more. With the teachings in Tazria, God ensures that the relationship between a new person and others gets off to the right start. As we grow from infancy to adulthood we are able to transfer the love, gratitude and respect from our parents to others and ultimately, to God. Without the time of purity given to mothers, the Torah seems to say, something vital and holy would be lost. The Torah suggests that there is a higher purity than the physical; a higher purity than the ritualistic or the communal, and that higher purity can only be found in the relationship of one person to another, at a time of unconditional love.
There are three times in our lives when we might experience unconditional love: as children for our parents, as young adults for a mate and as parents for our own children. Perhaps these three experiences of unconditional love are given to us to teach us how God loves each of us. Our task is to take this knowledge and bring it to others, striving to fulfill the most difficult mitzvah in Torah, “Love your fellow as yourself” [Levit. 19:18].
Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Iyar
Candlelighting: 7:27 p.m.
Haftarah: Isaiah 66:1-66:24
Shabbat ends: 8:30 p.m.