Parshah Summary – P’shat (literal level)
The parshah opens with the laws of purification after a woman gives birth, which includes immersing in a mikvah (a naturally gathered pool of water) and bringing offerings. All male infants are to be circumcised on the eighth day of life. It then details the subject of tzara’at (an affliction often mistranslated as leprosy), which can afflict people’s skin as well as garments or homes. If white or pink patches appear on a person’s skin (dark red or green in garments), a kohen is summoned. Judging by various signs, such as an increase in size of the afflicted area after a seven-day quarantine, the kohen pronounces it tamei (ritually unfit) or tahor (ritually fit). A person afflicted with tzaraat must dwell alone outside of the camp (or city) until they are healed, and the afflicted area in a garment or home must be removed. If the tzara’at recurs, the entire garment or home must be destroyed…
Torah of Awakening
דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר אִשָּׁה֙ כִּ֣י תַזְרִ֔יעַ וְיָלְדָ֖ה זָכָ֑ר וְטָֽמְאָה֙ שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֔ים כִּימֵ֛י נִדַּ֥ת דְּוֺתָ֖הּ תִּטְמָֽא׃ וּבַיּ֖וֹם הַשְּׁמִינִ֑י יִמּ֖וֹל בְּשַׂ֥ר עׇרְלָתֽוֹ׃ וּשְׁלֹשִׁ֥ים יוֹם֙ וּשְׁלֹ֣שֶׁת יָמִ֔ים תֵּשֵׁ֖ב בִּדְמֵ֣י טׇהֳרָ֑הֿ בְּכׇל־קֹ֣דֶשׁ לֹֽא־תִגָּ֗ע וְאֶל־הַמִּקְדָּשׁ֙ לֹ֣א תָבֹ֔א עַד־מְלֹ֖את יְמֵ֥י טׇהֳרָֽהּ׃
Speak to the Children of Israel, saying: When a woman gives birth to a male, she shall be tamei seven days; like the days of her menstrual separation, she is tamei. On the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. For thirty-three days she shall dwell in the blood of taharah: Any holy thing she shall not touch, and into the holy space she shall not enter until her days of taharah are full…
- Vayikra (Leviticus) 2-4; Parshat Tazria
There is a story of Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sasov, that despite an ailment which caused him great physical exhaustion, he would arise at midnight on weekdays to recite the lamentations over Jerusalem, and then sneak off to some unknown place. Once, when his disciple Rabbi Hirsch was a guest in his house, he hid so that he might watch Rabbi Moshe and see what he was doing. At midnight he saw him put on peasant’s clothes, go into the snow covered yard, fetch a load of wood out of the cellar, and hoist it on his back. Then, as Rabbi Moshe walked away down the road, Rabbi Hersch followed him in the crackling cold of the winter night to the end of town. There Rabbi Moshe stopped in front of a miserable hut and unloaded the wood. His disciple crept up to a window in the back and peered into a bare room. The stove was out, and lying on the bed was a woman pressing a newborn baby to her breast with an expression of utter despair. At that moment, the Rabbi of Sasov entered the room. He went up to the woman and spoke to her in Ruthenian: “I have a load of wood for sale, and I don’t want to carry it any further. Will you buy it at a bargain price?”
The woman answered, “I don’t have a penny in the house.” But the rabbi didn’t give up: “I’ll come back for the money some other time, if you will just take the wood.” The woman objected: “What shall I do with the wood? I can’t chop it myself, and I don’t have an axe anyway.” The Rabbi of Sasov replied, “You just let me take care of that,” and he went outside and chopped the wood into small pieces. While he was chopping, Rabbi Hirsch heard him chanting the Lamentations at Midnight associated with our foremothers Rachel and Leah. Then he brought the wood back into the house, made her a warm fire, and returned home, walking very quickly.
The Tanya, the hasidic text of Chabad Lubavitch hasidism, talks about two different kinds of love: the first springs from knowing the Divine as the deepest level of your own being. Since people naturally love their own lives, the experience of God as your own essential nature means loving God just as you love your own life. The second kind of love happens when you think of God as your parent. The Tanya talks about the example of certain children who love their parents so much, they are willing to sacrifice their lives for them. The first type of love is non-dual; God is not something separate from my own being. The second type is dualistic; God is separate from me, even possibly negating me, if I sacrifice my life. Which one is higher?
On one hand, the non-dual way could be seen as higher, because it is an awakening to the deepest level of who we are. However, the Tanya takes another approach: when we see the Divine as our own essential being, there is a pleasure, a spiritual bliss that arises from transcending the separate sense of self. But if we see God as something separate, and we are willing to give up our very life for God, that is even more self-transcending, and is therefore the higher love. But in truth, these two ways are not really different at all; they are two sides of one coin. When we recognize that our own being is not separate from Being Itself and we shift identification from our separate self-sense to the Oneness of Reality, then there is the possibility of transcending our natural fear of death; Reality cannot die, only our particular form dies. Self-transcendence is not merely a feeling of bliss; bliss is simply a reflection of transcendence on the feeling level – a “bonus” in a sense, not the essential thing.
Nevertheless, in the actual flow of life, there are times we need to drink from the nectar of bliss to replenish ourselves, and there are times in which we must put aside our own needs for the sake of others. The Tanya’s example of sacrificing one’s life for a parent may not be so common; more common perhaps is the parent being willing to sacrifice their life for their child. Parenthood, and new motherhood in particular, is not necessarily good for you. Even if your situation is not as bad as the woman in the story, it can still it can be a fire of suffering – the lack of sleep, the constant neediness of the baby. But, it is a suffering of love.
בְּכׇל־קֹ֣דֶשׁ לֹֽא־תִגָּ֗ע וְאֶל־הַמִּקְדָּשׁ֙ לֹ֣א תָבֹ֔א – Any holy thing she shall not touch, and into the holy space she shall not enter… The word for “holy,” קֹדֶשׁ kodesh, means “separate” – not in the sense of being distant or removed, but rather central and exclusive. For example, where is the holiest place? It is the very center of the Mikdash, the Kadosh Kadoshim – the “Holy of Holies.” Similarly, the intimacy of marriage is also a “Holy of Holies.” It is holy in its unique togetherness, holy because of its intimacy. So קֹדֶשׁ kodesh doesn’t exactly mean separation, but really means “separation from all separation!” It means “separateness” only in that it is the most close.
כִּימֵ֛י נִדַּ֥ת דְּוֺתָ֖הּ תִּטְמָֽא – like the days of her menstrual separation, she is tamei… The menstrual period is considered a time of נִדָה nidah, which also means “separation.” During this time there is traditionally no sexual intimacy – no קֹדֶשׁ kodesh – no “separation-from-all-separation.” In this sense, the “separation” of נִדָה Nidah really means “separation-from-the-separation-from all-separation.” These two states, קֹדֶשׁ kodesh and נִדָה nidah, really parallel the two kinds of love – love of the Divine as your own self (kodesh) and love of the Divine as your own parent – or, as we more commonly experience, as your own child (nidah). Seen in this way, the opening of the parshah is a description of these two kinds of love and service: The new mother is in a state of נִדָה nidah because she is not concerned with the experience of Divinity in her own being; she is completely at the service of the newborn. This is itself a swing of the pendulum because she just gave birth – and what could be more Godly than giving birth? Her own body just created another living being. She is a Goddess – a Creator. And now she swings from Goddess to servant, burning in the painful love of motherhood. But this does not – and cannot – go on forever. She is in a נִדָה nidah-like state only for a short time. Then she returns to connection with the קֹדֶשׁ kodesh. She must do that, because to be only in the selfless service of another would be self-destructive, and therefore destructive to the baby as well.
In one way or another, life brings us between these two poles – sometimes being an Eved Hashem – a servant of God, humbly giving of ourselves, not “getting” anything out of it. Other times, we are B’tzelem Elohim, manifestations of the Divine, enjoying the renewal and bliss of the Divine energy that is our essence. Knowing how to balance these two poles is essential – we must be awake in the moment to know when it is time to let go of our needs and be of service, and when we must say “no” to the needs of others and take care of ourselves. This is the Path of Tiferet – of balance, harmony, appropriateness, wisdom-in-action. In this time of Sefirat HaOmer, may we become more conscious of our task to balance the opposing forces of the Tree, knowing when to step up as a servant of God, and knowing when to repose and simply Be God, as we walk the Tree of Life, watering the seeds of revelation embodied by Shavuot…
Read past teachings on Tazria HERE.
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