Tazria (She Conceives)
Leviticus 12:1–13:59; 2 Kings 4:42–5:19; Luke 7:18–35
Shabbat HaChodesh: Ezekiel 45:16–46:18
Maftir: Exodus 12:1–20
“Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If a woman conceives [tazria] and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean [tameh] seven days. As at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean [tameh].” (Leviticus 12:1–2)
In last week’s Torah portion, a fire issued forth from God to consume the offerings on the altar, and the Divine Presence came to dwell in the newly built Sanctuary.
In Parasha Tazria, God provides Moses with the laws of purification after childbirth. He also gives the laws concerning afflictions of the skin.
The name of this week’s Torah portion, Tazria, is related to the Hebrew root word zarah (זרע), meaning seed; therefore, an alternative translation of Tazria is She Bears Seed or Bearing Seed.
When considering the purification rituals that God gave for mothers following childbirth, many questions naturally arise:
- Why is a woman who has just given birth ritually impure?
- Why is there a need for an offering?
“When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering. He shall offer them before the LORD to make atonement for her, and then she will be ceremonially clean from her flow of blood.” (Leviticus 12:6–7)
- Why are there 7 days of isolation following the birth of a boy, coupled with 33 days of ritual purity?
- Why are there 14 days of isolation following the birth of a girl, coupled with 66 days of ritual purity?
“But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her menstruation.” (Leviticus 12:5)
These questions regarding childbirth puzzle even Jewish scholars since being fruitful and multiplying is the very first of all commandments to humankind, and a woman giving birth to a child is fulfilling this God-given mitzvah (commandment). What’s more, holding your newborn child in your arms for the first time has to be among the most exhilarating spiritual moments anyone can experience.
It is also one of the most transformational; so many aspects of life, especially for the mother, can and do change following the birth of a child, particularly after the firstborn.
In the Brit Chadashah (New Testament), we see that Miriam (Mary) observed this law after the birth of Yeshua (Jesus).
“When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moshe [Moses], Yosef [Joseph] and Miriam [Mary] took Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord’), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: ‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons.’” (Luke 2:22–24)
Some rabbis claim that a woman’s impurity after birth relates to the trauma and fear related to birth, as well as, possibly, postpartum depression.
As for the period of isolation, new mothers should be given the luxury of a private time of bonding with their children, away from prying eyes, as well as a time to reflect on navigating the journey forward.
The differences in the length of isolation between the birth of a boy and the birth of a girl have been explained in a variety of ways; for instance, since Jewish boys undergo circumcision on the eighth day, the mother must recover more quickly.
As for the 14-day period of isolation after the birth a female child, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin wrote in his Jerusalem Post column that “everything is doubled for the birth of a girl because the process of life and death will be repeated physiologically in the child’s own lifetime and within her own body.”
The burnt offering and the sin offering that are given following childbirth are seen as a means of transitioning from a period of isolation back into the community by first drawing close to God. It is a special moment of thanksgiving that both the child and the mother survived the pain and risk of childbirth.
This important juncture reminds us that transitions matter; as we move from one phase to the next in our lives, we should first draw close to God with thanksgiving.
Periods of Isolation
This week’s Parasha also provides the laws of purification from the ancient Biblical disease tzara’at, which is inaccurately translated leprosy. The Hebrew word may be derived from the Aramaic word segiruta, meaning isolation, and have a linguistic root that means smiting.
It is a collective term for various skin diseases that might include eczema, psoriasis, and ringworm. Tzara’at can show up on clothing as green or red patches and even on walls, as perhaps mildew.
It causes spiritual defilement and requires purification and a time of isolation to prevent the spread of contamination.
If after a 7-day period of quarantine, the Cohen (Priest) sees that the disease is spreading, the “leper” was to be isolated from the community in order to prevent defiling and infecting others by contact.
“And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and the hair of his head shall go loose, and he shall cover his upper lip, and shall cry: ‘Unclean, unclean [tameh, tameh]. All the days wherein the plague is in him he shall be unclean; he is unclean; he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his dwelling be.” (Leviticus 13:45–46)
Setting Time Aside for God
In the Torah, isolation or time alone is not restricted to physical or contagious conditions; it can also be seen as a necessary time for prayer, devotion, and communion with God.
In the words of a Chassidic Jewish saying, “A person who does not have an hour to him or herself every day is not a person.”
God invites each one of us to spend time alone with Him in order to deepen our relationship in ways we cannot do in a group setting. And there are plenty of Biblical examples to follow.
Moses met with God alone at the burning bush, as well as on Mount Sinai while receiving the Ten Commandments.
David also spent much time communing with God.
The Prophet Elijah experienced God’s presence pass by when he was alone in a cave. Elijah heard God’s voice in kol demamah dekhah (a still, small voice).
Even Yeshua made sure that despite all the people demanding his attention, He took time to isolate Himself from the crowds in order to pray and draw close to His Father.
“And early in the morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place, and was praying there.” (Mark 1:35)
“But He Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” (Luke 5:16)
Surely if Yeshua needed to slip away from everyone’s demands in order to have time alone, then we also have this crucial need.
Of course, all things must be in balance. The Word of God warns us against excessive isolation, which can cause us to focus on our own desires.
“A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; He rages against all wise judgment.” (Proverbs 18:1)
Although contagious diseases are definitely cause for concern, the Bible makes it plain that we have been infected by something that is far more lethal and contagious than any physical disease.
Since the exile of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, we have all been infected with the venom of the serpent, and all are subject to sin that separates us from God. We are so defiled by sin that even our righteousness is like filthy rags.
“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)
Only the blood of the Messiah, Yeshua, can cleanse us from our defilement and uncleanness to come into true fellowship with the living God. Just as Yeshua made the lepers pure and whole once again, so too can He cleanse us and present us holy and without blemish to the Father.
“‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.’ Then He put out His hand and touched him [the leper], saying, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’ Immediately the leprosy left him.” (Luke 5:12–13)