Leviticus 12: 1 to 13:59
Leviticus contains laws affecting the Israelites from birth to death… ranging from dietary rules to proper business relations. This week, the focus is on the treatment of new mothers and certain skin diseases. All these laws help shape the community and create a special relationship between the people and their God.
“The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelite people thus: When a woman in childbirth bears a male, she shall be impure seven days … She shall remain in a state of blood purification for thirty days: she shall not touch any consecrated thing, nor enter the sanctuary until her period of purification is completed. If she bears a female she shall be impure two weeks as during her menstruation, and she shall be impure two weeks as during her menstruation and she shall remain in a state of blood purification for sixty-six days.”
“On the completion of her period of purification for either son or daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, a lamb in its first year for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a purgation offering. He shall offer it before the Eternal … she shall then be pure…” (Lev. 12:1-8)
Yes, this is confusing… a women is impure because she gave birth to a child – seven days for a male child and two weeks for a female child … Then to become pure, she must make an offering at the Tent of Meeting…. Why is she impure? Hasn’t God commanded her to be fruitful and have children…? Isn’t it a mitzvah to have children?
Yes, confusing…. But there are other confusing laws…. A person is ritually impure when contact is made with a dead body…. Yet, we are commanded to bury our dead and visit the families of the diseased…. So why is a person punished by becoming impure.
The same is true of any contact with any sexual fluid. Is it bad to have sex? Mankind is commanded to be fruitful. If it isn’t bad, then why is a person impure?
Last week we studied the dietary laws and saw that eating ham, bacon, shellfish are all forbidden. Other peoples eat them with no bad effects. Why are they forbidden?
This week, I will look at the laws in this week’s parsha, and other laws offered in Leviticus and try to make them less confusing.
First, look back to the reason behind the sacrifices and offerings. The Hebrew word for the offerings is korban, meaning coming closer … in this case … coming closer to God.
Now that the Tabernacle has been established and God is residing within the community, the people don’t want to do any thing considered offensive and make their God leave the community.
To please the Eternal the people strive to be holy… The Hebrew word for holy is kadosh, translated to mean separation. This separation has come to mean separation between holy and secular or common…. Shabbat is separated from the rest of the week…. Kosher foods are separated from unclean foods…. Persons who have had contact with a dead person are separated from those who have not had contact.
No where does it tell us that Shabbat is a better day than Tuesday – or any other day…. Or that shrimp or ham are bad foods, they are just ritually unclean foods…. A person who has had contact with a dead person may have just done a mitzvah, yet is still unclean…. All these laws tell us about ritual purity and ritual impurity. For the most part the laws refer to ritual life… not our secular life. The laws are still important because, if a person is ritually impure or comes in contact with a person who is ritually impure, that person can’t take part in any ritual observance. They can not go to the Tabernacle or Temple. For this reason, everyone in the community must be ritually pure. Thus, making all the laws very important.
Yes, the ritual laws become important…. But, what do they have in common? What are the reasons behind the dietary laws?… The childbirth law that opens this week’s parsha?…. Or the laws of skin diseases that are major part of both these week’s and next week’s parshot?
After looking at these laws year after year, I have noted that they present a common thought….. Many of the laws that deal with the unclean relate to matters of birth or creation….. and death…. These include childbirth – contact with the dead – most of the foods that are unclean are predator and clean animals are, for the most part, vegetarian. So if we eat only vegetarian animals, we might adopt their peaceful trait. It’s sort of – “you are what you eat.”
This week much is said about skin diseases resembling leprosy. The text does not offer any medical insight regarding a cure or treatment, just observation of the symptoms. While this disease is serious, the Torah is not a medical document. I believe it is here as a ritual statement. It is a ritual problem because the skin loses color and resembles dead or dying skin, it actually resembles death itself. Because of this resemblance to death, I believe it is viewed as ritually unclean. Hence, the laws we see in this week’s parsha.
Maybe all these laws are telling us that God is the responsible power for birth/creation and death. Mankind is responsible for all that happens between birth/creation and death. When we approach the Eternal One, we should show that we realize that birth/creation and death are God’s domain and we should not engage in any activity that involves these concepts…… Mankind’s task is to improve the world. This is the people’s holy task.
I see this concept as the basic theme of all Torah. Mankind should do all that is possible to better life on earth…. Improve birth rates …. Better the standard of living for all earth’s creatures…. Extend the lifetime of all peoples. All these missions are holy…. But, the actual creation of life or the act of ending life… are considered wrong by ritual standards. These are considered the functions of the Eternal One … not mankind. The results of this are seen in the disagreement over birth control and birth research…. And assisted suicide and state executions. Some see these only as God’s law.
Yes, the laws seem confusing. But, maybe if we look at the laws with the idea that Torah wants a partnership between God and mankind. God is responsible for birth/creation and death. Mankind is responsible for all that is between creation and death. Mankind’s task is to improve all between creation and death…. And that is no small task…. But, it is our holy mission.