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Torah Attitude: Parashas Tazria: Purifying and rectifying towards Tikkun Olam
The Torah discusses the laws regarding the purity and impurity of a woman who has just given birth. G'd specifically gave us commandments that would help us to develop into better and more refined beings. A Jewish boy is not born circumcised for G'd wants that the parents shall be the ones to complete the child's shape. If the parents are not in a position to circumcise or educate their children, it becomes the obligation of the Jewish community. The impurity after the sin of Adam and Eve affected the whole creation and parts of fruits and produce became inedible because of this impurity. When we observe the laws of circumcision and family purity we help to rectify the flaw of Adam and Eve. The Torah brings the laws of childbearing and circumcision together to teach us that these laws have a common source. By observing them we bring the world closer to the perfect Tikkun Olam that will take place with the coming of Mashiach.
Woman giving birth
In the beginning of this week's parasha it says (Vayikra 12:2-3) "A woman who conceives and gives birth to a male, and she will be impure for seven days … And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised." The Torah continues and discusses the laws regarding the purity and impurity of the woman who has just given birth. Two questions arise from these passages. Childbearing is the fulfillment of the first commandment mentioned in the Torah (see Bereishis 1:28), so why does a woman become impure when she does her share of this commandment? Secondly, G'd already gave the commandment of circumcision to Abraham, as mentioned in Parashas Lech Lecha (see Bereishis 10-15), so why does the Torah mention this commandment again in the middle of the portion dealing with a woman's status after child birth?
Turnus Rufus and Rabbi Akiva
The Or HaChaim points out that the verse dealing with circumcision starts with the letter "Vav". This indicates a close connection between this verse and the preceding verse dealing with the impurity of a woman who has just given birth. He quotes the Midrash Tanchuma on this week's parasha (para.5) that relates a conversation between the wicked Roman commander, Turnus Rufus, and Rabbi Akiva. Turnus Rufus asked Rabbi Akiva, "Whose deeds are more beautiful, the deeds of G'd or the deeds of man?" To this the Rabbi answered, "The deeds of man are more beautiful." This was obviously not the answer the Roman commander expected. Although his ploy to discredit the teachings of the Torah was spoiled by Rabbi Akiva, he nevertheless proceeded to ask what really was on his mind. "Why do you circumcise yourself?" Said Rabbi Akiva, "I knew this was on your mind, and that is why I answered you the way I did." To underscore his point, Rabbi Akiva produced some ears of corn and said, "This is the work of G'd." Then he brought out some small round cakes and said, 'This is the work of man. Are they not more beautiful than the ears of corn?" However, Turnus Rufus was not finished yet. He went on to ask, "If G'd wants people to be circumcised, why does He not bring about that every male is born circumcised?" To this Rabbi Akiva answered, "G'd only gave us the commandments to refine us." As King David says in Tehillim (18:31) "The saying of G'd is [for the purpose of] refinement." In other words, G'd specifically gave us commandments that would help us to develop into better and more refined beings.
This concept especially manifests itself in the commandment of circumcision. The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 2) explains that a Jewish boy is not born circumcised for G'd wants that the parents shall be the ones to complete the child's body. In this way G'd sends the parents a message that just as they have to develop and complete their child's physical body, so shall they complete his spirituality and educate him according to the Torah's instructions.
Obligation of Jewish community
If for any reason the parents are not in a position to have their son circumcised, it falls upon the Jewish community to see to it. Similarly, if the parents are not in a position to educate their child, it is the obligation of the Jewish community to take care of the educational needs of this unfortunate child. If the community did not circumcise the child, when he becomes Bar Mitzvah he is obligated himself to make sure that he undergoes circumcision. Corresponding to this, a Jewish child who grows up without a Jewish education, when he matures he must do whatever he can to learn Torah and get accustomed with the commandments.
Inedible fruits and produce
The Or HaChaim explains that that there is a deeper meaning to Rabbi Akiva's answer to Turnus Rufus than first meets the eye. The Or HaChaim quotes our sages who teach that Adam was created circumcised. Only after he and Eve sinned, did his foreskin grow. At the same time, Eve started having her periods that would render her impure. This impurity affected all of creation and since then every fruit and produce has parts that are inedible. All evil and impurity in the world are a consequence of the sin of Adam and Eve, and as their descendants, we must try to rectify their sin to bring about the Tikkun Olam. Every time we fulfill one of the commandments of the Torah we contribute to the Tikkun Olam.
Rectify the sin
The Zohar explains that the ten activities needed to produce any baked goods, as mentioned in the Talmud (Shabbos 73a), correspond to the ten curses that G'd inflicted upon the earth after the sin of Adam and Eve (see Bereishis 3:17-19). This was the deeper intent of Rabbi Akiva when he compared the ears of corn to the small cakes. He indicated that before the sin of Adam and Eve everything that grew was ready to be eaten without any human involvement. Only after their sin G'd changed this and just provided the raw material. In order for us to enjoy and benefit from the raw material, we must toil by the sweat of our brow (see Bereishis 3:19) and go through these ten activities. Rabbi Akiva wanted to further explain that G'd's purpose with the commandments is to give man activities that will refine his personality. Since the sin of Adam and Eve, every person is born with an evil inclination, as it says (Bereishis 8:21) "For the inclination of man's heart is evil from his youth." The sole antidote to this evil is the Torah and its commandments. As the Talmud (Kidushin 30b) states, "So says G'd to the Jewish people, 'My children, I have created you with an evil inclination and have created the Torah as a remedy against it.'"
The purpose of circumcision is only for our benefit. It makes absolutely no difference to G'd whether a child is circumcised or not. G'd wants to give us the opportunity to purify ourselves and the world around us through observing the commandments and in that way rectify the sin of Adam and Eve. He designed every male with a foreskin, that represents impurity, to give us the opportunity to remove it. Would G'd have removed the foreskin prior to birth, the removal would have absolutely no purpose.
The Or HaChaim concludes that this is the connection between the commandment of circumcision and the laws concerning the impurity of a woman after childbirth. Both of these are consequences of the impurity brought about by the sin of Adam and Eve. The Torah brings the laws of these two commandments together in this week's parasha to teach us of their common source. By observing these laws, we help to rectify the sin of Adam and Eve and bring the world closer to the perfect Tikkun Olam with the coming of Mashiach. Amen.
These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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