Parashat Tazria – Erev Shabbat 01 April 2022
Week of 27 March – 02 April 2022
Torah portion: Leviticus 12 :1 – 15 :33 Haftarah: Isaiah 66 :1-24
Theme: To be holy in the presence of God
In today’s Torah portion, we learn about required isolation and quarantine in ancient Israel. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been familiar with the need for those who are exposed and sick to be isolated and quarantined. It is easy to understand the need to quarantine those with skin ailments (then identified as leprosy) (Lev.13-14). It is, however, hard to see why a mother who had just given birth would need to be isolated too (Lev.12) and why natural body processes like the menstruation period (Niddah) are unclean (Lev.15).
The prohibitions to isolate are part of the system of ritual purity (tohorah) and uncleanness (tumah) practiced then by the Israelites. The command was to avoid contamination by the unclean. Among the questions raised from today’s Torah reading have been: Why would a post partum mother be considered unclean and forbidden to enter the temple? Isn’t childbirth a cause for joy and a blessing? Why is there a difference in the period of being unclean? A woman is unclean for seven days after the birth a son and for 14 days after the birth of a daughter. She will also have “blood purification” of 33 days after the birth of a son and a longer period of 66 days after the birth of a daughter.
Among the answers are the following: It is to allow the mother to have more time to bond with her daughter who herself will have the divine gift of nurturing and giving birth to a new life; the unclean period for a son is reduced to allow the mother to be present at his circumcision at the age of eight days; it is to allow the mother to recover her health and be free from active duty in the temple etc.
I found most interesting Etz Hayim’s explanation relating the tumah to the sense of reverence before the Almighty. It says there are two types of holiness or ways of encountering the divine. The first is natural holiness as in the miracles of pregnancy, birth and recovery from illness. The second one is stipulated holiness – “the arbitrary designation of times, places and activities as sacred.” The person who yearns to be contact with God on a regular basis must rely on sanctuaries, worship services and prescribed rituals. These two must have been seen as mutually exclusive such that for example “a woman who has just given birth might feel the presence of God so strongly that she would feel no need to go to the sanctuary to find God.” Thus, the notion of tumah stems from a sense of reverence for the miraculous nature of birth, the awesome power of death and the mysteries of illness and healing.
As pious Jews, Mary and Joseph followed the regulations in Lev. 12:3 when Jesus was a new born. But during his ministry, in his encounter with the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years, Jesus has shown that to be ritually unclean is not a big concern. Though the woman dared to touch him, Jesus did not chastise her but instead told her: “Take heart, daughter, your faith has made you well.” (Matt. 9:20-22; Mark 5:25–34; Luke 8:43–48). Today, after the destruction of the second temple, and the end of the practice of animal sacrifice and purification offerings in the temple, Jews like Christians have to find other ways to be clean and pleasing before the Lord.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1.What are ways to be clean and pleasing before God? 2. What do you think is the biggest contamination you have to be aware of and to avoid?
Bibliography: ETZ Hayim: Torah and Commentary (New York, 2001); Wenham, G., The Book of Leviticus (Michigan, 1979); https://www.myjewishlearning.com/?s=tumah
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Minerva Generalao, Philippines, Bat Kol Alumna 2014