Torah Fax   
Friday - Shabbat April 24 - 25, 2009

Torah Reading: Tazriah-Metzorah (Leviticus 12:1 - 15:33) 
Candle Lighting time: 7:27 PM
Shabbat ends: 8:31 PM
Pirkei Avot - Chapter 2

Rosh Chodesh Iyar is Friday - Shabbat, April 24 - 25

Birth, Rebirth    

Our Parshah opens with a discussion of one of the most glorious and miraculous events in life - childbirth. Bearing in mind the blessing of this event, it would be appropriate to clarify a sometimes misunderstood law that our Parshah connects with birth. Our Parshah tells us that after a child is born, the mother goes through a state of "Tumah." This word has been mistranslated as "impure," or "unclean." These terms are far from being accurate translations. After all, how could a woman who has just gone through one of the most spiritually uplifting experiences of her life by bringing a divine soul into the world be regarded as unclean? 


(Incidentally, there is another misleading translation in our Parshah. The majority of the Parshah discusses tzara'at, which has been translated for ages as leprosy. In truth, tzara'at is nothing more than a skin discoloration. Tzara'at was given to a person miraculously as a sign from heaven that he needed to repent for certain sins, but it is in no way a deadly disease, nor is it contagious.)


Perhaps we can gain a glimpse into the meaning of the word Tumah by starting with its opposite, Taharah. This word is connected with the idea of clarity, and is used in the context of a clear and defined matter. The Hebrew term "Tohar HaRakiah" means a clear blue sky. For this reason, Taharah is also connected with purity and cleanliness. The term Tumah, conversely, connotes a state of existence where there is a lack of clarity.


When a woman is pregnant with a child, she has a definite sense of purpose. As mentioned above, she is blessed with the ability (and responsibility) of bringing a new human being into the world. It is also taught that during pregnancy she is blessed with a double amount of spiritual light - to nourish her soul, as well as that of her child. During the pregnancy, a woman is "Tahor," she has a clear and definite mission.


When her baby is born, there is a certain sense of loss, even while there is rejoicing over the newborn's arrival into the world. Her mission of bringing a new soul into the world is complete. Now, the child has to develop into an independent person, and gain his/her own spiritual path as s/he grows up. To be sure, the child's development is very much dependant on the nurturing and guidance of his/her mother and father, but the charge of bringing life into the world, of creating a new person (if you will) is over. Now it is up to the parents to help develop and mold their child's future by teaching him/her Jewish values.


During the time after childbirth, the mother has to refocus her spiritual compass and concentrate on her own growth. She has to draw back into her own reserves and find new energy to face new challenges and issues that life - and divine providence - never fail to provide. 


The period after childbirth thus represents a lull, a time when there is a lack of clarity and focus on a specific spiritual path. It is a time of introspection when she must concentrate on finding new inspiration to deal with new issues and spiritual obstacles. 


This is the deeper meaning of Tumah. True, after childbirth the new mother must avoid involvement in certain activities - including entering the Temple in Jerusalem! - but this is because the mother must utilize these days as a time of preparation for the future - for new and greater spiritual growth. 


This state of Tumah is no more negative than the time when a person sleeps. True, while one sleeps he is not productive and not even communicative. But this is merely because one must rest in order to be rejuvenated and have even more energy upon awakening. This is true kabbalistically as well. Kaballah teaches that when one sleeps, the soul sours on high, absorbing new reservoirs of G‑dly energy to allow for heightened spiritual sensitivity the following morning. Just as one needs to temporarily remove oneself from active involvement in Mitzvahs by going to sleep in order to graduate to the higher level of serving G‑d which tomorrow will bring, so too, a new mother must step back for a moment after childbirth to refocus her spiritual compass.


Another illustration of a spiritual lull is Shabbat. Throughout the week we are involved in purifying the world, supporting our families and giving charity. On Shabbat, we must rest. In fact we are not permitted to give charity (though we can always invite a poor person into our home for a Shabbat meal). But far from being limiting, our lack of involvement in the holy pursuit of refining creation is for a very constructive purpose. Shabbat is a time for us to step back, to take a bird's eye view of our accomplishments and to assess them. It is also a time to look forward to the coming week and see what Mitzvahs we can do better; how we can perhaps do another Mitzvah at the office, or invite another coworker to a Torah class. In short, downtime, whether after childbirth, when one sleeps or on Shabbat is anything but negative - it is necessary and positive step forward.


Our sages tell us that when Moshiach comes, women will give birth everyday. One interpretation of this is that there will be no more need for a lull in order to grow to the next level. Each level of holiness, in and of itself, will be a stepping stone to reach the next level without the need for a period of withdrawal and self-reflection in between.


Moshiach Matters

The Talmud tells us that Moshiach’s name is Metzorah (meaning one who is plagued with the unusual malady discussed in this week’s Parshah) and he is sitting among the poor and suffering waiting to bring the redemption (Sanhedrin 98b). This means that Moshiach is a real person, already among us who is suffering the pains of exile and waiting with bated breath to reveal himself. (The Rebbe, Parshas Tazria-Metzorah, 1991)

Moshiach - It’s a Jewish issue.
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