Many find difficulty with this concept of a woman becoming t'mayah after birth. They erroneously see this as implying that birth is 'dirty' in some way and thereby brings on impurity. The fact that this period of impurity is double when a girl is born only exacerbates the situation.
Many examples show that tum'ah does not work according to the rules that we'd assume would apply. Animals have no tum'ah during their lifetime, human beings do. Upon death, a Jew has a greater level of tum'ah than a gentile. It's clear that we must obtain a deeper understanding of what tum'ah is.
Tum'ah is brought on when a vacuum is caused by the absence of a previously existing kedusha (holiness). That void is immediately filled with tum'ah. The greater the level of kedusha, the more severe the tum'ah that will fill the void, should that kedusha cease.
A person in his lifetime has a tremendous potential to bring 'tov', good and holiness, to this world. While asleep, the person is incapable of performing any such acts. A 'ruach raah', a certain degree of tum'ah sets in to fill that space. Upon awakening, that kedusha, that potential, returns. The ruach raah is pushed to the fingers and n'tilas yadayim, the ritual washing of the hands is necessary to remove that ruach raah.
Chaza"l teach us that sleep is 1/60th of death. That temporary state of inability experienced during sleep becomes permanent at death. The tum'ah sets in at a greater level. The greater the potential for bringing tov into this world during life, the greater the vacuum that is created at death and a greater degree of tum'ah fills that void. That is why the dead body of a Jew has a greater degree of tum'ah than a gentile.
Our goal is to become as similar to Hashem as we can. "Just as He is compassionate, so too must you be compassionate..." We must try to emulate Hashem to the best of our ability.
If we had to choose one word to describe the unique character of Hashem, many would choose 'Creator'. [When the snake was enticing Chavah to eat from Eitz Hada’as he assured her that eating the fruit would result in her becoming "just as G-d". (Breishis 3:5) Rashi explains "just as G-d" - creator of worlds.] When is the point in time that a human being moves as close as possible to becoming a 'creator'? A woman at childbirth! At that time she is as 'G-d-like' as we ever can be. However, after birth she is no longer in that state. That kedusha is no longer there. A vacuum is formed- she becomes t'mayah.
Why is the period of tum'ah twice as long after a baby girl is born? Because she created a creator!
Our parsha then discusses the laws of tzara'as. This is not leprosy but a disease which is indicative of a spiritual lacking. It would first strike a person’s house, then his clothing and ultimately, the person’s body itself.
The cause of this tzara'as was lashon harah, speaking in a derogatory way about others. People often feel that, although they might never physically hurt another person, speaking badly about them is not such a grave offense. They underestimate the strength of speech.
When Hashem created man, the pasuk states that he became a nefesh chaya- a living creature (Breishis 2:7). Unkelos translates nefesh chaya as ruach m'malalah- a being that speaks. Speech is what makes us unique and gives us the potential to rise above the rest of the creations. However, that which has the greatest potential for good also contains the greatest potential for evil. Talmud Torah, the study of Torah, a 'speech' mitzva, is k'neged kulam, equal to all of the mitzvos put together. Lashon harah, a 'speech' transgression, is also kneged kulam! Speech either elevates us above the animal kingdom, or drops us beneath them. An animal has no tum'ah while alive, a human being, while in a state of tzara'as, is impure!
The laws of a metzorah serve to educate us in regard to the power and the privilege of speech. When a house seems to have tzora'as, a kohen is summoned to decide the status of the building. "Remove all of the contents of the house before the arrival of the Kohen! This is in order that the contents will not become tamay, should the Kohen pronounce the house tamay". The obvious question is: what will be accomplished by removing the contents? The discoloration is already there, and if it is, in fact, tzara'as, won't the contents become tamay by their being in a tamay house?!
The answer is that the house is not tamay until the kohen pronounces it tamay. In other words, the status alone will not make the house, and subsequently the contents, tamay. It is only the power of the spoken word of the kohen that will bring it to that state.
This serves as a profound lesson to the owner of the house. Why did you speak badly of others? Because you didn't recognize the power of words! See the cataclysmic force that they contain. Be careful!
When a person is a metzora he is sent outside of the living areas of Klal Yisroel. He is banished from the three machanos (encampments); that of the Shechinah, that of the Levites and that of Yisroel. He is not even allowed to be with other metzora'im over there!
He showed himself to be unable to properly deal with others. By badmouthing others, he sinned and caused others to sin. He didn't recognize the privilege and the responsibility that comes along with speech. He is sent away from others- a form of solitary confinement. If you can't speak properly to others, your opportunity to do so will be rescinded!
He must remain outside the machaneh until the kohen checks him and pronounces him to be tahor, pure. The power of the kohen's words will return to him the privilege of speaking to others. Having learned these lessons, he is now, hopefully, ready to reenter society, and behave in a responsible fashion.
May we merit to recognize the tremendous power of our words and to use them to elevate ourselves and the world with us. Filling the void of this world with the creation of kedusha, emulating our Creator to the best of our abilities.
Rabbi Ciner's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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