Beit Midrash

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In Praise of Humility


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

Nissan 27 5780
The korban (sacrifice) of a yoledet (a woman who has given birth) is different from other korbanot. The Torah speaks of a sheep as a burnt offering and a bird as a sin-offering (see Vayikra 12:1-8). The Torah also says, "v’chiper aleiha hakohen v’taheira" – that this will serve to atone for her and make her pure.

The Yerushalmi (Shabbat 1:3) explains the p’sukim in a positive way, saying that it allows the yoledet to reach new heights of sanctity. On the famous baraita, on levels of spiritual elevation, which is the basis of the sefer Mesillat Yesharim, the Yerushalmi says that our p’sukim are an affirmation that "cleanliness brings to purity." Ba’alei HaTosafot (on Vayikra 12:5) explain that v’chiper is a reference to cleanliness because the word has a double meaning of atonement and cleaning. In that case, the pasuk is not talking about atonement, which makes sense if we assume, as is reasonable, that the yoledet’s korban is not due to any sin.

However, since the word does usually refer to atonement, which implies sin, Rabbeinu Bachyei is troubled about what the yoledet did that requires such a korban. One could have argued that a korban is necessary due to the danger from which she was extricated, but then she should have to bring a korban todah (of thanksgiving). He suggests that it is not for the specific yoledet’s sin but for the sin of the mother of all humans, Chava, who, with her husband, Adam, ate from the Tree of Knowledge. However, this explanation is not even hinted at by the pasuk.

We will continue in the positive direction, by citing the words (from Shir Ma’on) of Rabbi Shimon Sofer (grandson of the Chatam Sofer, who was rabbi of Eiger-Erlau, was killed in Auschwitz at the age of 94, and whose followers created a community near which Eretz Hemdah is situated). He invoked the gemara (Sukka 29b) that the most powerful of the forces that cause one to lose his money is haughtiness. From the negative, we can extrapolate the positive – someone who acts with humility deserves to be blessed monetarily, as Hashem is more apt to reward for the positive than He is liable to punish over the negative. Rav Sofer says that based on tropp (cantillation), the pasuk "v’im lo timtza yada" hints at the following reading – "if you make yourself nothing, your hand will succeed [to acquire riches]." [Ed. note – one who understands the rules of dikduk will have difficulty accepting this reading on the level of p’shat, but that is beyond our present scope.]

If we put the various explanations together, we will arrive at the following: A yoledet brings another Jewish child into the world, and thereby is elevated and sanctified spiritually. If she will also cling to the attribute of humility, she will also be blessed materially. Let us wish that all Jewish women will have the great blessing of having children and will be elevated both spiritually and materially with the help of humility.
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