A Mother's Perfection

Moshe Ben-Chaim

"God decreed regarding the [days of prohibition] of the male child, commensurate with the days of his embryonic formation, and the female's day are doubled, and this is clear and proven". (Ibn Ezra, Lev. 12:4)

This commentary refers to our parsha's prohibition on mothers of newborns. They are not allowed to approach the Temple or contact sacred objects for the exact duration of the child's gender formation: 33 days for males and 66 days for females. Embryos are determined as male by day 33, and females by day 66.  Today's science roughly corroborates this, stating that at week 6, the Y chromosome's presence determines the embryo as male, and at week 9, female characteristics appear in the genitalia. Thus, a mother of a male is prohibited 33 days, and of a female, 66 days. But what is the nature of this prohibition correlating the day's of gender formation?

I believe this is tied to the sin offering a mother brings. The mother's wish to never again bear children, due to the pain of childbirth, requires atonement. God's correction of the mother is to realign her focus. She was at childbirth more concerned with her own pain, than with creating a new life. She must bring a sin offering for this flaw. But she also remains distant from Temple for the time it took to form the gender of her newborn. Contemplating a duration of prohibition that mirrors the gender's development period, the mother can focus on her infant in specific ("her" boy or girl) and realign her sensitivities to better mother the infant in accord with its gender. Her focus on the specific gender will, 1) counter her former focus on her self, and 2) will better prepare her to respond to a male or female infant accordingly, thereby contributing greatly to healthy psychological growth. Each gender requires a different approach, and this preparatory period is helpful.