Tazria: Back to the Beginning

By: Rabbi Jay Kelman |

Perhaps there is no parsha less studied than Tazria (and its frequent partner, Metzora). With its focus on the detailed laws of tzara'at, a "disease" that we would have great difficulty defining or even recognizing were we to see it—and with its laws no longer applicable—many prefer to focus on the eight verses that open the parsha. These verses, detailing the laws of childbirth, follow on the heels of the laws pertaining to animals as outlined at the end of parshat Shmini.  

The order and juxtaposition of biblical events and mitzvoth is never a coincidence. Rashi notes that parshat Tazria parallels the creation story, in which G-d first created the animals and then followed with humans. At first glance, one would not think to connect Tazria with Breisheet.  

But upon closer examination, we immediately notice that the first two mitzvoth of the Torah—pru u’r’vu, the obligation to properly raise children, and the mitzvah of brit milah—both appear in our parsha. On a linguistic level, Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch notes that the term tazria, from the root zera (seed), appears in only one other place in the Torah. "G-d said: Let the earth sprout herbage yielding seeds (mazrai zera), and the earth brought forth vegetation: herbage yielding seed of its own kind" (Breisheet 1:11-12). 

Breisheet is the story of G-d's creation, whereas Tazria details the creation of man. In parshat Breisheet, man is passive and silent. While G-d blesses man and orders him to conquer the land and demonstrate dominion over all living creatures (Breisheet 1:28), man’s own voice is silent. Adam is put to sleep to allow for the creation of Eve. Even as he is placed in Gan Eden and eats from the forbidden fruit, the voice of man is not heard.  It is only after being confronted by G-d that Adam utters his first words: "I heard your voice in the Garden and I was afraid... so I hid" (3:10). Breisheet underscores the unbridgeable gap between man and G-d. 

Nevertheless, Rav Soloveitchik often pointed out that the primary mitzvah of the Torah is to "imitate G-d". To paraphrase the Talmud, just as G-d creates worlds, so, too, man must create worlds. There is no greater act of creation than bringing a baby into this world, and it is most noteworthy that this is the first of the 613 mitzvoth. Whereas parshat Breisheet details the creations of G-d, parshat Tazria tells us the way man follows in the footsteps of G-d, using his tzelem Elokim to bring forth life.    

The number seven in Judaism represents the natural order, the creations of G-d. There are, for example, seven days of creation, seven years of the shmitah cycle, seven days of mourning when our souls return to G-d. The holiday of Pesach lasts for seven days because the Jews were passive during the Exodus story, relying on G-d's miracles. The slaughter of the Egyptian god by the Jewish people and subsequent placement of the blood on the doorposts—commemorated during Temple times by the offering of the paschal lamb—was to be done on a separate, and thus eighth day, with eight representing the initiative of man. Thus, a brit milah, man’s commitment to raise children in the covenant, would be performed on the eighth day. Sukkot, representing our willingness to enter a barren desert, lasts eight days; as does Chanukah, celebrating (as Maimonides points out in Hilchot Chanukah 4:1) our willingness to go to war to establish a Jewish state.   

By eating the forbidden fruit, Chava condemned all mothers to a fate that decreed, "with anguish you will give birth to children" (Breisheet 3:16). By having children nonetheless, one restarts the process of creation, enabling a child to form a covenant with G-d. In Gan Eden, man misused the power of speech by lying, equivocation, exaggeration, and blaming others; all faults rooted in Adam’s and Chava’s use of their mouths for improper eating. 

It is the ability to speak which many commentaries see as the defining feature of our tzelem Elokim. After a short few verses in parshat Tazria relating to creation, we have many, many verses detailing the laws of tzara'at. Our Sages saw tzara'at as a direct result of misusing speech. Just as man was banished from Gan Eden, the metzora is banished from the camp of Israel.  

Speech is a most powerful tool. The way we talk to G-d, to our children, our neighbours, our colleagues, our friends and even our enemies will determine our fate. Will we be banished from the presence of G-d, or will we merit living up to our tzelem Elokim