Keyword:

Light from the Sidra

Tazria (‘Conceived...’). 9th April 2016. 1st Nissan II 5776

Torah: Leviticus 12:1-13:59. Haftarah: Ezekiel 45:16-46:18

Postively unclean

‘The Bible is full of contradictions!’

‘Really? Tell me some.'

‘Well, I mean, they’re everywhere. Where do you start? There’s just… so many!

‘Then tell me just a couple.’

‘Well, I’ve not actually read the Bible but I know it is full of contradictions…’

I’ve had that kind of conversation quite a few times. ‘The Bible is full of contradictions.’ ‘The Bible says the earth is flat.’ ‘The Bible is anti-women.’ Alright. Let’s stop there because Leviticus 12 has been used to prove that the Bible is misogynistic, against women if you will.

Seeing that the first chapter of the first nook of Moses teaches that God made men and women in his image, why would the third book of Moses suddenly teach that women are inferior to men? It’s an important question but when we begin to look for an answer, we find the problem is more imaginary than real.

Israel is a people holy to HASHEM. Israel had been redeemed from Egypt by the power of HASHEM and set apart as God’s special people. Israel is to be different from the other nations, ‘set apart’ for their God. The divine plan was that the one true, holy God, would live in the midst of his holy people with the result that Israel’s holiness would attract the other nations to their God. But this would work only if HASHEM really was living in the midst of his people. How was Israel to remain holy so that God’s presence did not leave them? They had to obey him but holiness was not simply a matter of morality and ethics. There were matters of ceremonial and ritual uncleanness to be observed.

John Goldingay, suggests that the word ‘unclean’ is a misleading translation of the Hebrew word tume. Tume, says Goldingay is actually a positive concept, indicating the ‘possession of a quality’, not the absence of cleanness. Tume suggests something ‘mysterious, extraordinary, perplexing, and a bit worrying’. There is certainly something mysterious, extraordinary, perplexing and worrying about childbirth. In the ancient world childbirth was a dangerous process and many women died while giving birth.

What is mysterious, extraordinary and perplexing about childbirth is the close connection between life and death. The conception and birth of a child produces new life but it also involves the shedding of blood, the pouring out of life: ‘For the life of the flesh is in the blood’ (Lev 17:11). The pain of bringing a child into the world, therefore, is a reminder of the curse of Genesis 3:16.

So after giving birth the mother was to stay at home for a week and not go to the tabernacle or temple for another month. Just as it was inappropriate for a man who had come in contact with a dead body or who had buried a dead person to approach the living God until they had been purified, so it was inappropriate for a new mother who has come in contact with a symbol of death to enter the presence of the living God, the God of life.  

Women are not dirty or inferior, neither is childbirth evil. However, the birth of a child teaches us lessons about the human condition and about God.

The reality is that in the midst of life we are in death; and death is a reminder that we live in a world that is not as God intended it to be. Our world is a fallen, abnormal place in which there is little holiness. But it will not remain like that for the Haftarah looks forward to a new, purified, truly holy temple in which the Prince of Israel, the Messiah, lives. Rashi thinks the ‘Prince’ is the high priest but no priest could be prince, and no prince could be a priest.

Just as the temple was greater than the tabernacle, so Messiah’s temple is greater than that constructed by Solomon. The first temple was made of stones; Messiah’s temple is his own body, destroyed by men but rebuilt by himself (see The Gospel according to John 2:19-22), of which his own people are living stones (First Letter of Peter 2:5).

The Bible doesn’t contradict itself, women are not inferior to men, sex is not dirty nor is childbirth. But so long as we are in a fallen condition we need to be reminded that sin has polluted every area of creation, even the most beautiful things. Such will be the case until Messiah’s kingdom arrives in its fullness. But Messiah’s kingdom must begin in the hearts of those who submit to his rule and work its way outwards.

Ask not what Messiah’s kingdom can do for you but what you can do for Messiah’s kingdom!


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