The Jewish Mother        

Rabbi Reuven Mann

This week’s parsha, Tazria, deals with a subject which is very difficult to comprehend, the phenomenon of “Tumah” or, as commonly translated, ritual impurity.  This condition prohibits a person from activities that are associated with the Temple and sacrificial service.  At present all Jews are in a state of impurity as we lack the means to effectuate purification in accordance with the requirements of the Torah.  Since we do not have the Temple and sacrifices there are no practical consequences to our being in a state of tumah.

The most common cause of impurity is contact with a corpse.  However, this week’s parsha introduces two other causes, childbirth and certain types of skin discolorations known as tzaraat.  Giving birth to a child renders the mother impure regarding consecrated foods.  At the conclusion of a lengthy period she must bring a Korban Olah (elevation offering) and a chatas (sin offering).  The commentators raise the question: for what sin does she require an atonement?  Indeed, having a child is one of the greatest mitzvot of the Torah.  The burden and pain of pregnancy falls squarely on the woman.  She has gone through a most trying ordeal, physically and emotionally, for nine months.  In addition she has experienced the pains of labor and childbirth.  One would think she has acted in a most noble manner and deserves a reward.  Yet, quite unexpectedly, the Torah takes a different path and mandates that she bring a sacrifice of atonement.  For what sin?

I would like to suggest a novel idea.  Perhaps the sacrifice and atonement does not relate to any specific sin.  Maybe the Torah is using this occasion to teach us a very important idea; it is good for people to engage in introspection, question their motives and clarify their objectives and values.  This should be done not only in bad times when we have sinned or acted in a very harmful or stupid way.  It should also be done in good times when Hashem has been kind and provided us with a great opportunity.  Thus, there is a custom for the bride and groom to fast on the day of their wedding.  The purpose is to look within and be cognizant of their emotions and seek to align them with the true purposes of a Jewish marriage.  The same applies in our case.  Hashem planted the extremely powerful maternal instinct in women and this is the prime factor prompting them to endure all the burdens of pregnancy and childbirth.  When the mother gives birth she should thank Hashem for the great blessing He has bestowed on her.  However, she should also realize that it was the instinct which motivated her and that she is now entering a new phase, that of mothering, in which she can no longer simply follow the maternal drives.  Rather, she must resolve to employ wisdom in raising the child.  The Torah is telling us that the best thing you can do for your child is to become a better person.  If we cleanse ourselves from our impurities and elevate our souls to a higher level of existence we automatically benefit our children who emulate our behavior and values more than our “words of instruction.”  Hashem gave women a powerful maternal instinct which is absolutely vital to the tremendous dedication and sacrifice that the child will require.  He also gave her the challenge to gain the wisdom and discipline necessary to use that emotional energy in the most beneficial and productive manner.  May all of us, mothers, fathers, grand and great grand parents rededicate ourselves to the true values of Torah and bring blessing upon ourselves and our children.

Shabbat Shalom