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Tazria 5784

April 7, 2024

Rabbi Geier


BS"D || Rabbi Geier

Tazria 5784

In this week's Torah portion: Tazria, the topic of ritual purity after childbirth is addressed, focusing on the birth of a boy or a girl. The Torah teaches us how a woman should act after giving birth, according to the laws of purity and impurity. After the birth of a boy, the woman was considered impure for 33 days, and in the case of a girl, for 66 days. Both situations are somewhat shocking and invite us to reflect on how society has conditioned gender roles and expectations over the centuries. Today, in the 21st century, we still struggle against gender discrimination and inequality.

This Torah portion challenges us to question many norms that may seem outdated to us. Understanding that we should always seek to understand them from a perspective that promotes equal opportunities and mutual respect among all genders.

After this period of abstinence, the woman was to undergo immersion in the Mikveh (ritual bath) and offer a sacrifice in the temple before reuniting with her husband. The laws of purity and impurity were abolished almost two thousand years ago. The only laws that remain from the past are those of niddah and immersion in the Mikveh. They are limitations imposed on the couple, which we can see as something outdated and obsolete, or we can analyze the text, see the commentaries we find, or seek an interpretation that may have something to do with us, beyond the prohibition itself.

Sexual relationships are linked to the sacred creation of life. Nowadays, we understand that women are not only here to provide pleasure to men. They should not be treated as objects that serve to satisfy the needs of others. Both members of the couple must respect each other for sexual satisfaction to be mutual. But what may seem obvious and evident to us was not so in ancient times, and we must recognize with great sadness that it is still not the case in some households and cultures today.

I like to repeat that the Torah shows no shame in some topics that may make us blush. It has no qualms about talking to us about ejaculations, prohibited incestuous relationships, or decisions to have sexual relations in situations that would scandalize us.

The abstinence from sexual relations after childbirth and also during the menstrual flow of the woman demonstrates that human beings are capable of mastering their instincts. It's like leaving a space of intimacy in the face of possible discomfort, putting aside appetites. Being human in sexual life means subordinating that sexual appetite to human morality. That is why the Torah does not want family relationships to be based on exploitation or violation, but on equality. A person who cannot recognize the value of others in the bedroom at the most intimate moment two people can have, cannot do so in their everyday life.

The fact that our women in Israel have been violated and that the world focuses its demands on ending a war without saying a word about what the hostages are still enduring in captivity does nothing more than blatantly update the Torah text. It's as if humanity does not read all the news and selects what it cares about, showing disdain for the situation of the Women of Israel.

Our portion continues with the mitzvah of Brit Milah, the Bris.

"And on the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised" (Leviticus 12:3).

Why is the mitzvah of Brit Milah fulfilled on the eighth day and not the seventh? The Midrash (Mechilta Shemot 31) provides the answer when it says: "How important is the Sabbath, that the child is not circumcised until a Sabbath passes over him!".

The Brit Milah on the eighth day ensures that the child is elevated by a Sabbath before entering Abraham's covenant. The idea offered by the Midrash is extremely profound. The sacred values of our Tradition, it tells us, have the power to add an extra dimension to our existence.

Something similar happens with the laws regarding the writing of a Torah scroll by a Sofer. When a Sofer is writing a Torah scroll and makes a mistake in a word, it can be erased and rewritten. However, it's different if this happens with any of the names of the Lord. For example, the name Elohim. In case of an error when writing it, it cannot be erased. However... What happens if it's the word "Le-Elo-hIm"? "For the Lord" In Hebrew writing, it's written with the letter LAMED attached before the first letter of the name of the Lord. Can that LAMED letter be erased? And... what if the error is in Eloheinu, "our God," which is also written with the ending NU in Hebrew attached to the name of the Lord? The Halacha of sofrut, of the scribe, is clear. Any letter written before any of the Divine Names (like the LAMED of LeElohim) can be erased. But any letter written after the Name (like the nun and the vav of Elohenu) cannot be erased since the preceding Name sanctifies and confers holiness upon them.

Once, a congregant approached after a Bar Mitzvah tefillin ceremony and asked: "Why do we do all this? This young man may never put on tefillin again in his life. These tefillin aren't even his! This is just a show!". I was tempted to agree with him. But no. I don't really believe that.

However, I fervently believe in the transformative power of the sanctity and sacred values of our tradition. Even if a young man decided on that Thursday morning that he would never again put on his tefillin, I believe that just putting them on that day has the power to leave something in his person. Maybe it won't. But no one knows when a spark begins to ignite, and as long as the fire continues to burn, there is an opportunity for improvement.

That is called 'Exposure to sanctity'.

The same exposure a child has when passing through the Sabbath before entering Abraham's covenant. The same exposure as the nun and vav written after one of the sacred Names of G-d. The same exposure as a young man when putting on his tefillin for the first time in his life. It's the same exposure we get by allowing ourselves to follow any of the mitzvot, especially those that confer respect or sanctity upon the people or moments around us.

It's time to recognize and celebrate the diversity of gender identities, ensuring equity in all areas of life. Only when we embrace authenticity and inclusion can we build a world where each individual is free to be who they truly are, without fear of judgment or discrimination. Respecting the rights, privacy, choices, and differing ideas of others doesn't make us better people; it imbues ourselves with that sanctity that allows us to continue a better life with better relationships, in a world that could be increasingly better.

Once again, TIKUN OLAM.

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