Maternal Instinct   

Rabbi Reuven Mann

Last week’s Torah reading consisted of two Parshas, Tazriah and Metzorah.  The former deals with the status of ritual impurity pertaining to a woman who has given birth to a boy or girl.  In either case she becomes impure for a specific period of time.  The duration of this status is twice as long for a baby girl as for a boy.  The second parsha, Metzora, deals with the subject of Divinely ordained plagues that were visited on the homes, clothing and bodies of people who had committed certain egregious sins, particularly those pertaining to evil speech.  The purpose of these punishments was to give the sinners an incentive to investigate their deeds and do Teshuva.  According to the Rabbis these phenomena are no longer in existence, for we are not on a high enough level to warrant this degree of Divine Providence.  We must therefore be even more careful about the type of speech we indulge in.  The Torah regards cleanliness of speech as essential to a life of holiness.  The words we utter can have profound consequences not only on others but on ourselves as well.  We should always be cognizant of the temptation and danger of slanderous speech and take all the necessary precautions to avoid it.

We can understand the sinfulness of evil speech and its association with the condition of Tzarrat which renders a person impure.  However, at first glance, it is difficult to understand the connection between this subject and that of childbirth.  More directly, we must ask, why does the act of giving birth render a woman impure?  As part of the process of becoming Tahor (pure) she must bring certain sacrifices one of which is a sin offering.  This too seems incomprehensible.  What sin has she committed?  To the contrary, bringing children into the world is one of the greatest mitzvot.  The proper raising of children is so vitally important that a woman is exempted from positive mitzvot that are dependent on time.  If that is the case we must seek to understand why childbirth produces impurity and why it necessitates the bringing of a sin offering.

In my opinion there is no question that the woman who bears a child has done a great mitzvah.  However, this parsha gives us a deeper insight into the complex nature of mitzvot.  The reproductive process is bound up with human sexual instinct.  The urge to reproduce is not unique to man but is ingrained in all living beings.  It is the mechanism through which G-d saw fit to guarantee the perpetuation of all life.  On the biological level man is no different than the animals.  His natural desire for children is no more exalted than that of other physical creatures.  Powerful emotional forces such as narcissism, yearning for immortality and other selfish desires are at work in causing people to have children.  Parents like to pat themselves on the back and take credit for all the sacrifices they have made for their children.  True, it is that good parents are exceedingly altruistic in all they do for their offspring.  However, bottom line, let’s be honest.  It is your kid, your nachas, and your ego is highly caught up in the life of the child who, psychologically, is an extension of you.

For women there is an additional factor at work in the longing for children.  The Torah recounts the pain of great women who couldn’t bear children.  It depicts the great spiritual efforts they made and profound prayers they offered in order to be fulfilled by having children.  True it is that in all they did the underlying desire was to serve Hashem.  However they are human and we must acknowledge the great power of the maternal instinct.  It is the most formidable force in the world.  Women are willing to go through the most difficult and painful treatments in order to overcome infertility and have children.  In my opinion, it is because this emotion is so powerful that a woman becomes impure after gratifying it.  Now is the time to reflect on the true purpose of having children, which is not to gratify the self but to serve Hashem.  That is why it says that for a boy she is impure for seven days and on the eighth day he is to be circumcised.  The act of circumcision works contrary to the natural love and protectiveness that a mother feels for her son.  She is elevating the maternal instinct by dedicating her son to G-d.  The objective of the days of impurity is for the woman to reexamine her true motives in having a child.  The purpose of the sin offering is to recognize the role played by the “evil inclination” in reproduction and rededicating her maternal energies toward raising the child for his real purpose, to serve his true maker, Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom