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Parashat Tazria

“On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.” (Leviticus 12:3)

Parashat Tazria describes the practices a woman who has given birth must follow. She may not touch anything sacred nor enter the mikdash, or sanctuary (Lev. 12:4). When she completes the waiting period (forty days for a baby boy and eighty days for a baby girl; Lev. 12:4,5), she must bring a burnt offering and a sin offering. Only then is she permitted to enter the mikdash (Lev. 12:6,7).

These requirements are puzzling. A burnt offering is required for serious offenses, and a sin offering is required when someone sins. Childbirth doesn’t fit either of these categories; in fact, childbirth fulfills the commandment to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28). It would make more sense for the woman to bring a thanksgiving offering.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (1948-; former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, philosopher and scholar) explains the sacrifices have nothing to do with childbirth and everything to do with childrearing and parenthood. The burnt offering evokes the Binding of Isaac, when Abraham sacrifices a ram instead of his son. (Gen. 22: 13). This story can be read as a polemic against child sacrifice. Parents do not own their children. They are merely their guardians.

Childbirth echoes God’s creation of humans, which the angels oppose, arguing they will sin. God proceeds anyhow (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 38b). And sin they do. So the sin offering in Tazria signals the parents’ responsibility for the child’s future conduct…which inevitably will fall short. Together, the two sacrifices represent the great challenge of parenthood: how to hold tight while letting go at the very same time.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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