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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Tazria

Hirsch At Your Table

The Birthing Process

A brief Dvar Torah on the Parsha, based on R. Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah Commentary
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וידבר ד’ אל משה לאמר. דבר אל בני ישראל לאמר אשה כי תזריע וילדה זכר וטמאה שבעת ימים כימי נידת דותה תטמא: (Lv 12:1-2)

In this פרשה, God continues teaching Moshe about various kinds of impurity. Here, the Torah speaks of a woman who conceived, carried and gave birth to a baby boy. For seven days after the birth, the woman is considered impure

Like the impurities discussed in previous פרשות, the impurity caused by childbirth is one of the טומאות קדושים (מקדש-related impurities), which represent a "disturbance of consciousness" of mastery of one's moral freedom.

The word טומאות is from the root ט-מ-א "to contaminate" and render impure. The word קדושים is from the root ק-ד-ש "to dedicate all resources". In this context it refers to the מקדש and its activities.


The use of the word תזריע, literally "implanted," to describe conception, imparts an organic connotation to the process of having children. The Torah specifically uses terms associated with vegetation to describe the birth process; this process of bringing children into the world ensures the continuation of the human species.

The word תזריע is from the root ז-ר-ע "to cast from a distance." This root is used for the seed that a person casts onto the ground in order to grow produce. By extension, it refers to the man’s seed that impregnates the woman.


For the new mother, giving birth is the ultimate expression of womanhood, when her femininity finds its ultimate purpose. Yet, this very experience renders her impure, טמאה, because during the natural process of childbirth, she is both vulnerable and passive as her child makes his way into the world. In other words, she temporarily loses her "freedom." Through the purification process, the mother regains her lost freedom and reestablishes her spiritual equilibrium.

The verse reinforces this message by using the word דותה, illness, to describe the mother’s impurity. The normal term for illness is חולה. The word דותה connotes emotional and psychological pain.

The word דותה is from the root ד-ו-ה "to be ill with emotional pain." The word חולה is from the root ח-ל-ה "to weaken and retard normal growth and activity." The illness referred to by use of this word חולה is of physiological nature.


For the new mother to restore her spiritual purity, she needs to pass through two stages. The first is the seven day ימי נידה, marital separation, mentioned in the verse. During this stage of separation from her husband, the woman purifies herself from the after-effects of childbirth. The second stage, which lasts 33 days, requires that she refrain from מקדש activity. The same stages, though of greater length, follow the birth of a girl.

The word נידה is from the root נ-ד-ד, "to distance and withdraw." In this case it is a withdrawal from someone who is close, i.e., a husband.


This verse also provides additional evidence that the Jewish people followed the Oral Law during their forty year sojourn in the desert. Throughout that period, Moshe did not set down the written Torah. Rather, the Jewish people received the entire written Torah only at the very end of the forty years, after Moshe completed his farewell address to the nation as they prepared to cross the Jordan and enter the Land of Israel.


Copyright © 2014, Matityahu Clark. All Rights Reserved. This is an excerpt from the forthcoming Hirsch At Your Table, a collection of brief divrei torah based on R. Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah Commentary.
Rabbi Matityahu Clark
Served in principal/director positions throughout North America. One of the founders of the Educator's Council of America, and former president of the Council for Jewish Education. Former Director of the Board of Jewish Education of Greater Washington.
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