The Birthday Challenge Rabbi Darren Blackstien


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

Two are Better than One by Gavriel Metzger