Lessons for Humanity from the Weekly Parshah
y Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum

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Torah Reading: Parshas TAZRIA, Leviticus 12:1-13:59

In last week's parshah, SHEMINI, the Torah set forth TORAS HA-BEHEMAH VE-HA'OF, the laws relating to various kinds of purity and impurity in animals and birds. They came first in the order of creation. This week's parshah, TAZRIA, begins a series of parshahs that relate to TORAS HA-ADAM, the laws relating to purity and impurity in man, the very crown of creation. Our parshah takes its name from the greatest of all natural, everyday wonders: a woman's ability to conceive a living child.


The Midrash states: "We have learned: "What is the form of the embryo when first created? It is similar to a locust: its two eyes are like the two eyes of a fly; its nostrils are like two drops on a fly. Its two ears are like two drops on a fly, and its two arms like two scarlet threads. Its mouth is like a barley seed, its body the size of a lentil. And all its other limbs are contracted inside it like unformed substance (GOLEM). And of this it says, "Your eyes did see my unformed substance (GOLMI)" Psalms, 139:16; Midrash Rabbah Tazria, 14:8).

Says the Talmud (Niddah 30b): Rabbi Samlai taught: To what can the embryo in his mother's womb be compared? To a folded up writing-tablet placed with his hands on his two temples, his two elbows on his two knees, and his two heels on his two buttocks. His head rests between his knees and his mouth is closed and his belly open. He eats what his mother eats and drinks what his mother drinks. He does not excrete waste lest he kill his mother. And when he goes out into the air of the world, what was closed becomes open, and what had been open is closed. For if not so, he could not live for even an hour. And while in the womb, a light is kindled over his head. With it he gazes and sees from one end of the world to the other, as it says: "When his lamp shone above me" (Job 29:3).

The miraculous entry of the mature embryo into this world in the form of a living baby, embarking on a whole destiny of its own, is accompanied with much physical pain and blood for the mother. By G-d's decree, the baby, if a boy, must be circumcised with pain and blood on the eighth day, initiating him into the Covenant of Abraham. Peeling off the unclean material ORLAH foreskin (bound up with nature, which was created in seven days), gives him access to the eight level, BINAH, Understanding. This is the level that is beyond nature, as discussed in last week's parshah, SHEMINI.

A girl has access to that level in virtue of being female and especially through motherhood, with its pains and joys. Together with the boy's circumcision, motherhood is the first focus of our present parshah, TAZRIA. Immediately after the birth, the mother must adjust to a new level in life with her baby, boy or girl, in hand. She needs time to recuperate from the birth itself. The biblical laws at the beginning of TAZRIA relate to the ritual purification in Temple times for mothers after giving birth. Often questioned is the bird sin-offering which the new mother brings among her other purification offerings. One Midrash says this comes to atone for a sinful thought she may have had at the height of pain in childhood. Another Midrash says that it comes to atone for, "In the heat of sin my mother conceived me" (Psalms 51:7, alluding to Eve's lust).

The Midrash also states that those women who carefully observe the laws of NIDDAH, purifying themselves as prescribed by the law, will be worthy of giving birth to children who will enter the Covenant of Abraham.

* * *


The Covenant of Abraham must be inscribed not only on the flesh of the male organ, but in the hearts and on the lips of all of us, male and female. Parallel to the creative organs, which bring the physical person into the world, the lips have the most tremendous power to create realities in the spiritual, psychological and social realms.

If a person refuses to make a covenant with his lips, he may be visited with TZORA'AS, the "illness" in which his arrogance and malicious deceit in wrongful speech cause "leprous" marks on his "skin". The "skin" is the person's exterior, what can actually be seen, with all its flaws, as opposed to what he may want to present with arrogant deceit to the outside world.

The rabbinic sages unquestionably saw the complex typology of "leprous" marks as actual physical manifestations, discussing detailed grades of skin discoloration and minute differences in size, etc. At the same time, they emphasized that these came about not naturally, by random chance, but as a supernatural spiritual message from G-d contained in the physical symptom.

The entire portion of the Torah dealing with the various kinds of "leprous" marks on different parts of the body and the the "quarantine" period of impurity is full of allusions to physical illnesses, psychological, social and even national and international illnesses. The rabbis saw allusions in the names of the "leprous" marks to numerous sins, and to the nations that oppressed Israel.

In the entire process of "diagnosis" of leprous marks, no physician is involved. Indeed, it is not allowed to have a doctor cut out or treat the leprous mark. The diagnosis is in the hands of the COHEN, representing CHESSED, G-d's kindness, in shining the light of spiritual insight and truth into the sinner. The only remedy is for the sinner to isolate himself, separating himself from ordinary routine in order to enter a state of contrition and mourning over his sins. He must sit alone, recognizing his uncleanness, warning others, examining his deeds and truly cleansing his heart. Only in this way can he be healed. It is necessary for the Cohen-Priest, the Man of KINDNESS, to look with his loving eyes at the wound and shine his light into the sinner's soul.

The route to healing and redemption is by looking with the eyes of the priest -- with kindness -- overcoming the morbid illness by revealing the vital goodness concealed underneath.

Shabbat Shalom.

Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum




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