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In Melbourne Shabbat begins Fri 24 Nov 2017 08:00 PM and ends Sat 25 Nov 2017 09:01 PM
ד' אייר ה' אלפים תשע"ב
Word of Torah for Parshat Tazria (Leviticus 12:1 - 13:59): This Parasha opens up the world of the sixth and final order of the Mishnah and therefore the Talmudic tractates that deal with the topic of "Purity -Tehorot." The first order of Mishnah, "Seeds"-Zeraim (compare Tazria), about agriculture in the land of Israel, is more tied to the Name of the Parasha, meaning ‘a women who gives forth seed.'
The Parasha opens up talking about fertility, childbirth, future children, the rite of circumcision and the sacrificial offerings that a woman brings to the Temple after giving birth to either a son or a daughter. Starting off with the positive aspect of this topic of purity and striking a chord with us about the blessing or fertility in general, the Parasha moves on to talk about, I am going to say it...get ready... menstruation. God thus enters every aspect of human reproduction and intimacy and He expects a lot from us in terms of restraint.
I have tried to explain in the past about the role of Ancient Near East culture in forming the background to the sacrificial system. I want to try to explain the system that regulated purity and cleanliness at the time of the Torah. Again this system predated the advent of the Torah. This aspect of the culture was not only tolerated by Judaism, it fit well into the very fabric of Judaism, considering that the Temple was a holy space that must only have elements of life and never death or contagion. The system of separating from others was strictly in order not to block their entry to the Temple grounds. The situations that could engage the laws of refraining from contact with someone were the following: a person had a contagious disease, s/he had contact with a human corpse or crawly creatures, a woman menstruating, a man or woman had a questionable emission which was seen as the sign of an STD.
Since the Temple was destroyed, the remaining vestiges of this system are: the ritual washing of the hands in the morning, washing before meals (the dining table being considered like an altar) and after visiting the cemetery, the very strongly enforced habit of sterilizing vessels and bathing (not a part of the ascetic lifestyle of Christianity as it spread through Europe in the early centuries) and finally the monthly visit to a ritual bath by women. Those men who visit the ritual bath today do not say a blessing. This is merely a custom that harkens back to the system of daily purification. Men can never attain a true state of purification. Only women can be said to become purified in a Mikveh. Together with daily washing of hands which is also said with the blessing Al N'tilat Yadayim (outside an area opened to a toilet), a symbol of inaugurating the holy work of one's hands in the morning, a women's monthly visit to a Mikveh commencing just before the wedding is the only enduring part of the laws of ritual purity that constitutes an imposition of God into our regular dealings with our own bodies. We also inaugurate the use of certain vessels by immersing them in a Mikveh with the blessing "Al Tevilat Keli/Kelim". In our Modern thinking, we think our bodies are our own. The message of these laws is that actually this body we were given is a rental. One inaugurates one's hands to do God's work in this world. A woman inaugurates her body to do nothing less than the work of creation each month after separating from her partner for a time. When that entire part of her life is over, she goes one last time to emerge into a different world of new births through her other considerable powers.
It is important to note that women are never considered unclean in the sense of being unhygienic and the ritually impure state does not prevent her from coming to a synagogue or touching anything, especially a Sefer Torah. The Torah can never become ritually impure. The cycles of women are considered part of the life and death of a potential human being and are seen as mini miscarriages. The woman is given time to mourn and regroup as well as pamper herself before rejoining her partner.
I am not here to defend the faith. I grew up in the Conservative Movement in America when the words, "Family Purity" never crossed a rabbi's or a teacher's lips. Somehow I was drawn to observe these laws as I approached my wedding and I have never looked back. I feel the power of this ritual very strongly and like other women, I was not expecting to be so fulfilled by following rules that seem clinical and secretive but there it is. Like your first baby ultrasound or the discovery of a heartbeat, the power of the event catches one off guard with its significance when it comes to the moment of immersion. One feels surrounded by all the generations of women who have gone before and spread around the world doing the same thing. It is the essence of ritual. A word about the prayers of women: Women are said to have special powers during immersion as well as under the wedding canopy. Women who pray for others in need are heard the most, for healing, for the answer to a perplexing issue, for strength for the month ahead. In the Mikveh, you are never more present before God. I thank God for making me a woman!