Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Tazria
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Asher Ben Haim

Parashat Tazria

The Kedusha Within

Why does the mitzvah of brit milah appear in the middle of the parasha of the yoledet? Why does the yoledet bring a sin-offering? The answer to these questions sheds light on the concepts of tumah and taharah


Rabbi Meir Goldwicht

Our parasha opens with the laws of a yoledet (a woman who gives birth). As we go through the section discussing these laws, we find a passuk that commands us to perform the mitzvah of brit milah on the eighth day, from which Chazal learn that the brit milah must be performed by day, not by night, and that it is performed even if the eighth day falls on Shabbat. This raises the following question, asked by both the Chizkuni and the Ohr HaChaim: Why does the Torah interrupt the halachot of yoledet with a passuk discussing brit milah? This passuk seemingly belongs in parashat Lech Lecha with the rest of the halachot of brit milah, not here in the middle of the halachot of yoledet!

The Chizkuni and Ohr HaChaim suggest that we might have mistakenly thought that brit milah was performed on Shabbat only before kabbalat haTorah, but now that we have the mitzvah of Shabbat, the brit milah would be pushed to Sunday if the eighth day was Shabbat. This passuk therefore teaches us that even after kabbalat haTorah, brit milah on the eighth day trumps Shabbat. Although the answer of the Chizkuni and the Ohr HaChaim explains the necessity of this passuk, it doesn't seem to explain its seemingly incongruous placement in the middle of the section discussing yoledet! This, then, is our first question: What is the passuk of brit milah doing here in the middle of the parasha of yoledet?

The Torah goes on to obligate the yoledet to bring a korban chatat (a sin-offering). What exactly was the sin of the yoledet? The gemara in Niddah (31b) explains that the chatat is brought in order to atone for the woman's oath during childbirth never to give birth again because of the intense pain involved. The gemara's explanation is difficult to understand, however, because certainly not every yoledet, even with the great pain of childbirth, takes an oath to never again give birth! Yet the Torah obligates every yoledet to bring a korban chatat, not just those who take this oath. Our second question is: What sin did the yoledet commit that obligates her to bring a korban chatat?

To answer these questions we turn to the Ramban on sefer Bereishit. When HaKadosh Baruch Hu created the world, He regarded every aspect of the Creation as "ki tov, That it was good." The Ramban explains that ki tov means that Hashem desired that His handiwork last forever. The only thing HaKadosh Baruch Hu does not regard as ki tov at the time of its creation was Man. When HaKadosh Baruch Hu created Adam HaRishon, the Torah says, "vayyitzer, And He created," with two yuds. Rashi explains that one yud represents a yetzirah for this world and one yud represents a yetzirah for olam haba. In other words, when a person is born, it is unclear whether his creation was a good thing. As Iyov puts it, Man is born a wild animal" (11:12). Man is born a wild animal but must ripen into an Adam. If a person works on himself to be spiritually reborn, then he can be described as ki tov, for at that point HaKadosh Baruch Hu certainly desires that His handiwork last forever.

How does one achieve spiritual rebirth? The only way to accomplish this is to bring oneself to live a life of kedushah and taharah. Tumah comes into being wherever there is a termination of life or of the potential to create life. One who touches a live animal does not become tamei, but one who touches a dead animal does. Similarly, one who touches a live person does not become tamei, but one who comes into contact with a dead person does. This is also one of the explanations for tumat niddah—since potential for new life existed within the niddah, when this potential is terminated, tumah is created. In contrast, a pregnant woman does not have tumat niddah since she is actively involved in the creation of life.

In general, tumah arrives after a state of taharah or vice versa. Only at one time do tumah and taharah appear simultaneously—at the moment of birth. On the one hand, the baby represents taharah and new life. On the other hand, at that very moment the yoledet becomes t'meiah. The reason for this is that the baby has already begun to die, as it is one moment closer to its predestined time. (This is why Chazal refer to the womb as "קבר, grave" since it is not only the source of life, but the source of death as well.) The Ba'al HaTurim explains that this is in fact the reason the brit milah is on the eighth day of the child's life, since we must wait for the seven days of aveilut for the child to pass, as it were.

All of this is because of the sin of our great-grandmother, Chava, who ate from the eitz hada'at. This, then, is the reason why the yoledet brings a korban chatat—together all of the chata'ot will atone for the sin that brought death to the world and bring us back to eternal life. The way to fix the sin of our great-grandparents Adam and Chava is to strive for lives of kedushah and taharah.

This also explains why the mitzvah of brit milah appears in the middle of the parasha of yoledet—the brit milah reminds one of the kedushah within, through which we merit the ability to transform every nega (plague) into oneg (delight) and every tzara’at (leprosy) to atzeret (holiday). This ability comes about through the middah of anavah. The gemara in Erchin (16a) says that tzara'at afflicts a person because of ga'avah, lashon hara, and tzarut ayin (stinginess), all of which reflect the opposite of humility. The more we work on achieving anavah, the more we bring kedushah and taharah into our lives, and the closer we come to the fulfillment of the words of the navi, "And I will sprinkle pure waters upon you and purify you from all of your impurities..." (Yechezkel 36:25).

This Shabbat, which is both Shabbat HaChodesh and Shabbat Mevorchim for the month of Nissan, is a unique opportunity to begin our spiritual lives anew, imbuing our lives with kedushah and taharah, and preparing ourselves to receive the light of the Geulah.

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