Upon concluding Parshat Shemini with the idea of Kashrut, the Torah now moves on to discussing the topic of childbirth. The juxtaposition of these topics is quite a source of curiosity and is cause for reflection.
At the beginning of Tazria, Rashi, quoting Vayikra Rabbah, tells us that according to Rabi Simlai, this structure parallels Creation. Just as the formation of mankind is listed after that of the animals in Parashat Bereshit, the laws of human conception are listed after the laws pertaining to the consumption of animals. Rashi’s comment does seem to provide a type of literary security, but the message seems elusive. In assisting us to understand this Rashi, the Siftei Chachamim links Rashi’s comment to a Gemara in Sanhedrin 38a, where the Gemara provides many explanations for why mankind was created last, on Erev Shabbat. One of the answers given is so that immediately upon entering this world, mankind could attend a Seudah, a meal. Rashi on this Gemara explains that mankind, upon seeing that all else was in place, could then partake properly of the good of the world. Perhaps this means that man could now make use of a fully functional world. With this in mind, we can appreciate Rashi’s comment on our Parsha. The sequence of these laws mirrors the sequence of creation in order to focus us on our mission from birth – that of maximizing the way we experience this world.
The Kli Yakar also finds a link between our Parsha and Parshat Bereshit. Referring to a comment of the Talmud Yerushalmi, he tells us that all the laws of childbirth flow from the sin of Adam and Chava. If we would have remained sinless, we would have stayed on the level of the angels. Unfortunately, this was not meant to be. Their initial transgression caused mankind to be subjected to and governed by the laws of nature. These laws are symbolized by the number seven, the number of days in a week, which ultimately manifests itself in the number of unclean days for the new mother discussed in our Parsha. This idea also serves us notice that our best efforts should come in ways that maximize our use of nature, since we are not above it.
Indeed, Rabbi Kanotopsky in The Depths of Simplicity makes a comment along these lines. He says that there is a twofold message in the sacrifices offered by the new mother. Her first Korban, an Olah, represents her devotion to Hashem as she raises the physical intimacy leading to conception to a spiritual level. Her second offering, a Chatat, represents the inherent connection we have to the animals, which reproduce in a way bereft of any spirituality. These Korbanot also seem to call upon us to realize the similarities and differences between us and that which was created before us.
Upon reflection, the transition from Shemini to Tazria seems to echo this message. Parshat Shemini ends by telling us that we are to differentiate between that which is Tamei, unclean, and that which is Tahor. The Torah identifies this mission as the reason for our being taken out of Mitzrayim and born as a nation. This activity of differentiation is also identified as that which mirrors Hashem’s activity, thereby making us holy. Realizing the differences between that which is Kodesh and that which is Chol and how the two relate and then responding appropriately on a constant basis is one of the most difficult challenges in life. As Hashem renews the world every day, may we also renew our efforts in exploring how every day can be a “birthday.”
The Worth of a Man
by Kevin Beckoff
The first section of Parshat Tazria deals with the Halachot of Tumah and Tahara of people, particularly with regard to childbirth. This follows soon after the presentation of the laws of animal Kashrut and Tumah Vetahara in last week’s Parsha. In explaining why the presentation of the rules of animals precedes that of rules for people, Chazal (Vayikra Rabbah 14:1) teach that when man merits it, he is told that he was first in Creation, but if he lacks merit then he is told that mosquitoes and earthworms preceded him. Clearly, this is a very cryptic comment. To understand this concept, let us use a Mashal, a parable:
A king decided to visit one of the cities in his empire. Before he entered the city, the king’s advisers and supporters arrived there. Nobody would be ludicrous enough to say that those who entered first are more important than the king; quite the opposite – they went first in order to ensure that everything would be ready for the king.
The same is true of man. He arrived in a world that was prepared in his honor. Therefore, despite the fact that other animals were created before him, he is considered more important. However, if he acts like an animal, he is told that mosquitoes and earthworms were created before him. Since he is not acting in a way suited to his status, he loses his importance relative to those that came before him. This is amplified by a statement of the Chatam Sofer, who writes that although man was physically created after everything else, spiritually he was the first to be created. Thus, only by acting in a spiritual manner can man keep his higher status.
While this certainly explains the overall meaning of the Midrash, it still leaves a question: why specifically earthworms and mosquitoes? Rav Baruch Schneerson notes that the two are unique in that mosquitoes (as recorded in Gittin 56a) can not release wastes and that earthworms are destroyed by their own excrement. Since neither can rid themselves of the undesirable, it is as if they are surrounded in badness. Hence, the message man receives when he lacks merit is that he has not discovered the good in life, and is therefore in a comparable state to that of the mosquito and earthworm.
Babies to Biblical Diseases
by Chanan Strassman
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” So goes the common proverb – a classic tidbit of childish nonsense. True, it rhymes, but the rhyme is completely false. Words hold more power than we can imagine. A simple comment can hurt more than a knife to the flesh. As we have no doubt all heard before, it is imperative that we closely monitor each word we say, an idea which plays a major role in this week’s Parsha.
Parshat Tazria opens with the laws concerning a woman who gives birth. Immediately following this topic are the laws regarding Tzaraat. Why would the Torah jump from babies to biblical diseases? What relationship could these two seemingly unrelated topics share that the Torah would juxtapose them?
Yoel Spotts explains that, as mentioned before, the Torah is teaching us to be mindful of our words. In order to understand how this message fits into the juxtaposition of childbirth and Tzaraat, we must first examine the Pesukim that discuss these topics.
Vayikra 12:6 tells us that a woman must bring a Korban Chatat, a sin offering, after she has completed the days of purity required of a woman who has recently given birth. Why would she need to bring a sin offering? She has engaged in the Mitzvah of Pru Urvu, of populating the world! The Gemara (Niddah 31b) explains that a woman in labor can experience many painful sensations throughout her ordeal. During that time, the pain may become so great that she may make a Neder (promise) never to have children again. Of course, after the baby is delivered, the pain is gone and everyone is hopefully safe and sound – and in retrospect, the Neder was in vain. Additionally, she may later have more children, which, though certainly commendable, would be breaking this promise. To atone for such a Neder, the woman must bring a Chatat.
Regarding Tzaraat, the Pesukim tell us all about how to recognize and treat it, yet they do not mention what might cause this ghastly disease. Once again, Rashi comes to the rescue and explains that one possible cause for Tzaraat is the sin of Lashon Hara, harmful talk about others.
Now we can see clearly the connection between these two topics. Both involve the use of words in a careless way. Although it is very understandable, the woman’s lack of care for what she said during her labor led or could lead her to sin. From the Metzora, the person afflicted with Tzaraat, we see how severe the consequences of such carelessness with words can be.
In Torah Academy, the students are on a campaign to put a dent in the amount of Lashon Hara that is spoken. For half an hour each day, many students have taken on the challenge of paying extra care to the words they say. Thirty minutes may not seem like much, but every effort goes a long way toward Tikun Olam, making the world a better place. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words can affect our souls.
Halacha of the Week We are not permitted to recite Kiddush and begin the Seder before Tzeit Hakochavim (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 472:1). Regarding this issue, Tzeit Hakochavim may be considered forty minutes after sundown (consult a Rav if it is absolutely necessary to begin the Seder earlier). However, the Shulchan Aruch (see Mishna Brura 472:1) urges us not to delay the beginning of the Seder. Rather, we should begin the Seder as soon as possible after returning from Shul, in order to maximize the benefit that the children can reap from the Seder (they can only stay up so long). In general, the Seder should be oriented towards children gaining as much as possible from their Seder experience. Indeed, this is the mission of the Seder – “Viheegadta Libincha” (one should relate the story of the Exodus to his children).
Food for Thought
by Jesse Dunietz and Roni Kaplan
1) Why is the Yoledet, the woman who gave birth, required to bring at least one bird as a Korban Lechatchilah, when bird offerings are usually considered to be a cheaper form of Korban?
2) The Torah repeats the verb “Raah” extensively in its various forms (“Veraah,” “Veharotah,” “Veherah”…) throughout the sections discussing Tzaraat, sometimes even using identical expressions just several words apart. What is the significance of this repetition?
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