Light from the Sidra


Leviticus 12 - 15

If you were ordered to do something and were then rebuked for being obedient it would be confusing to say the least. If you asked your rabbi for guidance and did what he told you to do, but afterwards said you needed to go to the Mikveh because you were unclean you would be puzzled. But this seems to be what the LORD does in Sidrot Tazria.

At the beginning of history God commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply. But in Leviticus the acts associated with bringing a child into the world leave people unclean. How can obedience to God’s command render men and woman ceremonially unclean and unfit to approach him?

Rabbi Julian Jacobs suggests it is because the awesomeness of childbirth focuses the mind on the greatness of God, leading to an awareness of sin. True as this may be, why does childbirth make a woman “unclean”? And why does the sexual act make both the husband and wife unclean?

Another difficulty in the Sidra is that when a female is born, the times of uncleanness and impurity are twice as long. It seems that no one can explain the reason. But one thing is certain, as Leviticus 12 highlights both these problems, the reason for both must be the same.

The teaching of Kli Yakar is interesting. The offering the woman makes is also for Eve, because her sin brought the curse of God on childbirth. This is surely getting closer to the true explanation, because it points us back to the beginning.

Sex is not sin

Before I suggest the explanation, let me ask you this question. When Eve sinned, why did God’s curse fall particularly on the area of sexual relations and the act of giving birth? Doing what God had commanded—making babies and giving birthin themselves were not defiling acts. However, through Adam and Eve’s disobedience, woman’s greatest glory had become her shame because, instead of bringing perfect children into the world, women would for ever give birth to sinners doomed to certain death. In this lies the explanation for the uncleanness of childbirth.

While it is good and right for a husband and wife to enjoy sexual relations and to bring children into the world, the children are born sinners under God’s curse on sin. When a woman brings such a child into the world she becomes ceremonially unclean, although she has committed no sin. This also explains why the uncleanness and impurity times were twice as long for a female child as a male. A female was another Eve, so to speakone who inherited the curse on childbirth, one who would bring more sinners into the world. There is a sense of greater uncleanness.

But is a newborn baby a sinner? Not by actions, for it has done nothing. But what about by nature? When Moses writes in Genesis 5:1-3 about Adam and his descendants, he describes Adam as “made in the likeness of God”. But Adam’s son Seth is not described in that way. Moses writes “Adam begot a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth”. After the fall of man, Seth was like Adam. What was Adam like? He had sinned, he had failed to repent, he was under God’s curse and would die. That was the condition into which Seth was born, a nature corrupted by sin, under God’s curse, and condemned to die ultimately.

Rotten to the core

This may seem to contradict the view of the rabbis about man’s nature but it is the only way we can understand why a woman who has a child is called unclean. This is surely why the Rabbis cannot explain the reason for this uncleanness. By teaching that the newborn child is neither good nor evil they have no explanation for why childbirth renders a woman unclean.

Take an illustration from nature. If you pick an apple off a tree and there is a hole in it you may say, “This apple is no good; a bug has got into it and it will be rotten!” But you would be wrong; the hole is where a bug has come out. The bug was laid on the apple blossom as an egg, became part of the fruit and ate its way out later. People see the evil in the worldviolence, immorality and greed and say that somehow evil has got into society. But it hasn’t. Evil was already thereinsideand it has come out. That is what the Bible tells us and that is why, according to the law of Moses, women are unclean after childbirth.

You and I are sinners by nature. Therefore, no amount of moral improvement can change our basic nature. We need a new heart. We need to be born again.

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