April 7, 2016

In this week’s portion the Torah teaches us that a woman is required to bring two sacrificial offerings after childbirth — an elevation offering, which is totally consumed on the Altar, and a sin offering to atone for her transgressions.

Abarbanel questions why she has to bring an elevation offering at all, and also asks what her sin was, which required atonement after childbirth. In terms of the sin offering, Abrabanel mentions first the gemara in Tractate Niddah which explains that the pain of childbirth causes a woman to swear to abstain from relations with her husband in the future. Such an oath is considered to be taken in vain since a woman is prohibited from voluntarily abstaining from relations.

Abarbanel then offers a different insight. Although a sin offering normally precedes an elevation offering, the order is reversed here as a result of the unique experience of childbirth. An elevation offering expresses an individual’s desire to come closer to G-d, to elevate oneself spiritually. A woman who has experienced childbirth recognizes that her Creator has wondrously saved her from the enormous danger of the experience. She naturally wants to express her total gratitude by drawing nearer to G-d with an offering which is totally consumed. On the other hand, we are taught clearly that no one experiences any pain or suffering in this world unless he has in some way transgressed.

Abarbanel posits that even if the woman does not transgress blatantly by swearing never to have relations with her husband again, the sin offering still functions as atonement for transgressions of which she is not aware. The difference between the two offerings is indicated by the language of the Torah. In reference to the elevation offering the Torah states, “…and he (the kohen) shall offer it up (bring it near) before G-d…” — whereas in reference to the sin offering the Torah states “…and it will atone for her.”

It is interesting to note that Abarbanel, following the Rambam sees purely physical and health reasons for the laws of tumah and taharah, in contrast to their approach to kashrut which was purely spiritual and religious. In both these respects the Ramban adopted a contradictory view.

After describing the tumah that arises from the eating of the non-kosher animals, birds and fishes, the Torah described the tumah from their dead arising out of carrying or contact. Now the Torah will deal with those tumot that flow from Mankind since they are the most intense and their taharah the most complicated. Tumah from humans follows their life cycle from birth to death. It starts from the flows that originate from the body of the woman because most of the forms of tzarat come from the sins of relations and contact with her during her impurity.

There are descending levels of tumah and taharah; tumat met being the most serious and its effects most stringent, the met being avi av hatumah, then tzarat and then those that flow from the human body, those that appear in the clothes and houses, culminating in the tumah that comes from contact with dead animals.

Abarbanel teaches that tumat met is the most stringent of the levels because Man is the highest spiritual level of Creation and of the greatest kedushah. This greatness derives not from the form and body but from the divinity that is the essence of Man, so that when death removes that divinity, only empty husk remains of the former greatness and its severe tumah is the reminder of that greatness.

However, the reason that tumat met is the most stringent is because the unhealthy stench, the sickening vapors and the nauseous gasses emanating from the decay of the corpse are almost instant with death and of greater virulence, as compared with the decay of the animals. This is because the components of the human body, its fats and solids, its fluids and its chemicals, are in a perfect equilibrium as long as the person is alive. With death, however, this balance is immediately upset and the decaying process is almost immediate with unhealthy and dangerous effect on the immediate surroundings. Therefore, the Divine Wisdom saw fit to remove the corpse immediately and to restrict all contact with it.

So Tumat met is avi avot hatumah-‘Adam ki yamut beohel, everything in the tent-house becomes tamei even without physical contact, merely through the atmosphere. On the other hand, the mineral and chemical composition of animals being less balanced means that their decay is slower and not as dangerous to human health or as nauseating to their senses, therefore the degree of tumah resulting from contact with them, is less.

We may compare this to a balanced set of scales. When the scales are in perfect equilibrium the addition of the slightest weight to one of the pans results in a relatively large upset to the balance, this causes the one pan to sink rapidly.

We see that a woman has to wait to purify herself twice as long after the birth of a girl as for that of a boy. The boy child being of greater warmth and potential strength than the girl, the period required for the woman to feel the movement of the fetus form is shorter. In both cases, during this period of the menstrual cycle the woman does not have the opportunity of purifying herself, and therefore when she gives birth she has to compensate purification; 33 days for the boy and 66 for the girl. This will allow her to cleanse herself of the blood that had accumulated.

Shabbat shalom & Chodesh tov


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