Parashat Tazria-Metzora 5778: About life and death
So we arrived to the Parashiot that most people try to escape from and Rabbis take a free Shabbat. Tazria and Metzora are a collection of laws about Tehara, mistranslated as purity, and Tuma, mistranslated as impurity. We also have bodily emanations, skin diseases and so on. Delightful.
It opens already with a clear gender discrimination. If a woman gives birth to a boy she is tmeah for 40 days, but if it is a girl, then is 80 days! Why is a woman tmeah after birth? Most difficult: why is there such a big difference between the birth of a boy and a the birth of a girl? And as if this was not enough, we are told afterwards that the same woman had to bring a sin offering in order to go back to a state of tehara. What was the sin of the woman? Since when a birth is a sin?
We must remember that Tuma is not something bad or some kind of dirtiness. Truth is, we are not really sure what Tuma is. We do know that the ultimate Tuma is death, so in that sense, is pretty simple. Tuma is death, tehara is life. Therefore, everything that has some element of death has some element of tuma as well.
From all the laws about tuma in the Torah today we are left with only two: the most famous one about a woman being tmeah during her monthly period. The ovum, the egg that had the potential of wonderful and eternal life (tehara), was not used and therefore the menstrual bleeding is considered tuma. By the way, this is true about the male sperm as well and at least till the Talmudic period men would require a ritual to go back to the state of tehara after each seminal emanation. In due time, because of quantity and frequency, the male regulations were abandoned.
The second Halakha we have left is the prohibition for cohanim to go to the cemetery, if not for a close family member. The cohen was a symbol of tehara and therefore he had to minimize as much as possible the contact with death.
Women have the marvelous capability of bringing new life to the World. It is almost a Divine power, and indeed once they were worshipped because of it. However, everything that is alive will finally die! The more life we have in the World, the more death as well! Sounds strange, but is only math. When a baby is born the happiness is huge, but together with the happiness the fear of death grows as well, as many parents discover, as I myself discovered when I became a father. With the birth of a girl, the happiness is the same, but the potential for life is bigger and with it the potential for death as well. More death, more tuma.
Why is there a sin involved? Why does the new mother have to bring a sin offering, both for a boy or a girl? There are few answers. Some rabbis say that during birth, when the contractions are strong and the pain is unbearable, the woman might curse God, the father of the baby, the baby itself, her womanhood or the fact that she can deliver a new life. In order to clean the air afterwards, she brings a sin offering.
A deeper explanation, says that this is a call to be humble. After the birth, we believe we brought new life into the World, but that’s not correct. New life came to the World through us, it is not ours, we were just a pipeline. Every time we adjudicate to ourselves our lives, our existence, our successes, even our deaths, is a sin. Maybe it sounds counter cultural, as we are told we are owners of our destiny, our bodies, even our lives. However, there is in this a huge relief. We can relax, we are not in charge. We are responsible of what we do with our lives, but it is more in a sense of being its user, not its owner.
We just take a wonderful ride in this rollercoaster called life! We are part of it, it runs through us and we must celebrate every moment of it.