Photo Credit: Courtesy
Rabbi Francis Nataf

One of the most perplexing issues in Vayikra is the relationship between the various manifestations of the tzaraat skin disease and the various bodily fluids that cause one to become impure. Among others, the latter includes women who see blood as a result of childbirth, as well as women who see blood due to regular or irregular menstrual discharge.

Perhaps, by telling us about the yoledet (woman who gave birth) and not immediately going to the tzaraat syndrome, the Torah is trying to prevent our discouragement about tzaarat and the various other conditions that degrade our bodies. It does so by reminding us that the most difficult forms can be purified in a process not very different than that which leads to the inclusion of a Jewish child into the community after its birth. We will soon explain this in more detail. First, however, we need to work out how this would make us read the text.

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For one, we now would better understand the inclusion here of the commandment of milah, which really does not fit in the discussion here at all. Ostensibly, it is brought in tangentially because we are speaking about a woman that gave birth. Still, it would have been more appropriate to speak about it with other laws in a different section of the Torah. The way we are looking it now, the line about circumcision is not only not tangential. On some level, it is meant to set an underlying tone for the entire discussion that follows.

The comparison to milah helps us better understand what occurs when a person contacts a more serious type of impurity. The newborn will not be a member of the community without waiting the seven days and then undergoing a ritual. Then, and only then, does his status change and he now becomes a member of the community. So too, the person who experiences certain impurities. It is not enough for the latter to just have remorse, in the same way as the child will never be able to change categories without undergoing milah. Hence, both the seriously impure and the newborn baby boy must go through seven days of dedication, and only at that point will they be ready to enter into a completely new realm.

This process had actually just been modeled in a different context not so long before this section with the inauguration of the Kohanim. They too were to enter a new realm via a seven day dedication process.

The point being made is twofold. First that the person who experiences the serious impurity is no longer considered in the same category as everyone else. In fact, in the same way as the child is separated from being a normative Jew, so too can we say that particular impurities associated with spiritual deficiencies cause one to be not quite a member of the Jewish nation. Secondly – and more importantly – milah teaches us that return to the community to which the impure formerly belonged is as natural as the road to brit milah.

For the outcast metzorah or zav, the latter is a very encouraging message. Essentially, they are promised a quick rebirth within the Jewish nation. At the same time, that spiritual rebirth is not so different than the spirituality that comes after real birth – for spiritual growth for the newborn is not automatic. It requires time and it requires process. The impure has a road paved right back into the heart of the Jewish community. But it is not automatic. It requires realization that he needs to travel that road as well as the willingness to do so.

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