A Child is Born

Rabbi Reuven Mann

This week’s Torah reading, Tazria-Metzora, begins with the strictures surrounding the birth of children. This event confers a state of Tumah (ritual impurity) on the mother. The amount of time that must pass before she can become “pure” depends on the gender of the child. It is twice as long for a baby girl as for a boy.

Upon restoring a state of Tahara (ritual purity) the woman must bring a sin offering (Chatat) and a burnt offering (Olah). The question arises, what is the rationale for imposing a condition of Tumah on the new parent? It would seem that having a child is a great Mitzvah and cause for celebration. Moreover, why is she obligated to bring sacrifices, especially a sin-offering which, generally, atones for unintended violations of negative commandments? How does this apply to one who has just endured the agonies of pregnancy and labor to produce a new child? And why is the duration of the impurity for a girl double that for a boy?

(Parenthetically, we may note that the Torah has no qualms about defining the gender of the child immediately at birth. But, you might ask, what if the little one subsequently decides to define himself/herself in a different manner? It seems to be the view of the Torah that Hashem confers the identity of the newborn, according to the classical criteria, and it is not subject to alteration.)

In my opinion, the phenomenon of childbirth is a great Simcha but can have negative connotations. It goes without saying that the parents play a great role in the propagation of the species, but they are not the true creators of the child. The source of our existence is clearly delineated in the Book of Bereishit. “And G-d said, 'Let us make Man in Our image, after our likeness. They shall rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and over the animal, the whole earth, and every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.' So G-d created Man in His image, in the image of G-d created He him; male and female created He them.”

The most fundamental truth of human life is that we owe our existence to a special act of creation. We are unique creatures who possess an animalistic constitution along with a divine soul, which enables us to attain wisdom and moral perfection.

But our egotistical emotions run counter to this reality. Having children is the greatest of man’s accomplishments, and the natural feeling of parents is that they own the child by virtue of having produced it. Since the woman actually carries and bears the child, this feeling is more pronounced in her. The maternal instinct is the most powerful force known to man. That is why I believe that she becomes “impure” so that she will focus on reorienting her attitude to the child in accordance with the philosophy of the Torah. And that is why she must bring sacrifices in order to obtain “atonement.” It’s not that she has committed any specific sinful act. But the natural state of mind imposed by childbirth is contrary to the Torah ideal and needs to be corrected.

The innate parental emotions must be tempered by the understanding that Hashem is the true “owner” of the child and that our task is to facilitate his attaining the goal for which he was created. 

The proper understanding of motherhood was expressed by Chana, mother of Shmuel Hanavi (the Prophet Samuel) when she dedicated his life to the service of Hashem under the tutelage of Eli, the Kohen Gadol. When she brought the child to Eli, she said, “Please, my lord! By your life, my lord, I am the woman who was standing by you here praying to Hashem. This is the child that I prayed for; Hashem granted me my request that I asked of Him. Furthermore, I have dedicated him to Hashem—all the days that he lives he is dedicated to Hashem.”

It would appear that less time is needed for the parental reorientation process when the child is a male. The Parsha states, “On the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.” The Mitzvah of Circumcision is very difficult for the parents, especially the mother, as she can’t bear to see her baby in pain. In fulfilling this commandment, they are putting aside their emotions and affirming that Hashem is the Creator and Master of our lives and those of our children. There exists no similar Mitzvah in the case of a daughter.

Judaism demands that we recognize Hashem as our Creator and that man is fashioned in His image. In order to fulfill this, we must counter the natural flow of pride and sense of accomplishment that accompanies the birth of a child. The parent must resist the temptation to view his offspring as an extension of his ego whose accomplishments will bring him vicarious gratification. Rather, he should be seen as a gift from Hashem who has entrusted us with the holy mission of raising him to “Torah, Chuppah and good deeds”. May we merit to achieve this.

Shabbat Shalom.