Abarbanel on the Parsha

For the week ending 9 April 2016 / 1 Nisan 5776

Parshat Tazria

by Rabbi Pinchas Kasnett
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Why Does Childbirth Require Sacrificial Atonement?

“G-d spoke to Moshe, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel, saying, ‘When a woman conceives and gives birth to a male, she shall be ritually impure for a seven-day period... If she gives birth to a female, she shall be ritually impure for two weeks... Upon the completion of the days of her purity for a son or a daughter, she shall bring a sheep within its first year for an elevation-offering, and a young dove or a turtledove for a sin-offering to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, to the kohen’.” (Leviticus 12:1-6)

In this week’s portion the Torah teaches us that a woman is required to bring two sacrificial offerings after childbirth — an elevation-offering that is totally consumed on the Altar, and a sin-offering to atone for her transgressions. Abarbanel questions why she has to bring an elevation-offering, and also wonders what sin she did that required atonement after childbirth. In terms of the sin-offering, Abrabanel mentions first the gemara in Tractate Niddah which explains that the pain of childbirth causes a woman to swear to abstain from relations with her husband in the future. Such an oath is considered to be taken in vain since a woman is prohibited from voluntarily abstaining from relations.

Abarbanel then offers a different insight. Although a sin-offering normally precedes an elevation-offering, the order is reversed here as a result of the unique experience of childbirth. An elevation-offering expresses an individual’s desire to come closer to G-d, to elevate oneself spiritually. A woman who has experienced childbirth recognizes that her Creator has wondrously saved her from the enormous danger of the experience. She naturally wants to express her total gratitude by drawing nearer to G-d with an offering that is totally consumed. On the other hand, we are taught that no one experiences any pain or suffering in this world unless he has in some way transgressed. Abarbanel posits that even if the woman does not transgress blatantly by swearing never to have relations with her husband again, the sin-offering still functions as atonement for transgressions of which she is not aware. The difference between the two offerings is indicated by the language of the Torah. In reference to the elevation-offering the Torah states, “…and he (the kohen) shall offer it up (bring it near) before G-d…”, whereas in reference to the sin-offering the Torah states “…and it will atone for her.” (Leviticus 12:7-8)

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