Tazria: The Potential of Children

By: Rabbi Jay Kelman |

There is no event more awe-inspiring than the birth of a baby. It is the closest we can come to acting like G-d, creating something from nothing. It is no coincidence that, soon after the Torah tells the story of creation, man is given the command Pru Urvu—to be fruitful and multiply—joining with G-d in the process of creation.

One might expect that, after experiencing the birth of a baby, new parents would be required to bring a thanksgiving offering to G-d. Yet, strangely enough, at the beginning of Tazria, the Torah mandates that the mother of a newborn must bring a sin offering. What has the mother done wrong that puts her in the same category of one who eats accidentally on Yom Kippur, or inadvertently violates the Shabbat?

The Kli Yakar (Rav Ephraim Lunshintz, 1550-1619), echoing the Talmud (Niddah 31b), explains as follows: since pregnancy and childbirth are painful experiences, the expectant mother may have wished, at one time or another, that she had never become pregnant.  She may have wondered: What am I doing?  If she experienced a difficult childbirth, she may have resolved not to repeat this "mistake".  While such regret is soon forgotten, even momentarily questioning the gift of children deserves rebuke and requires repentance. Interestingly the Meshech Chochma posits that it is due to this pain that women are technically exempt from the mitzvah of having children.

Nechama Leibowitz (who, unfortunately, was never blessed with children of her own) explains that the miracle of childbirth necessitates the bringing of a sin offering. Realizing that new life has been created should make us stop and reflect upon the meaning of life. We realize that we do not live up to our potential. A baby is soft, pure and innocent, but as adults we all become hardened, corrupted and guilty of many transgressions. A newborn child reminds us that we must make the most of the opportunities we have in life: opportunities that, too often, we squander.

Upon the birth of a child, we begin to realize how precious life really is. Our carefree, no-fear-of-risk approach becomes one of caution and concern. The decisions we make no longer focus on ourselves, but rather on what is best for the child. Sacrificing personal freedom for our baby becomes natural. We finally realize how much our parents actually worried about us. We hope (against all hope) that our children will not put us through what we put our parents through. No wonder we bring a sin offering!  It is only as parents that we truly feel the joy and pain of others. Our concern for our baby flows naturally, and we hope that the baby will inspire us to a reach a level at which deep concern for the needs of all others will also be natural. For this reason, the Rabbis rule that only a person who has children should be the chazzan for the yamim noraim. A chazzan is a shliach tzibbur; an emissary for his people, one who must feel their pain, needs and hurt. Only a person who has children of his own, the Rabbis suggest, can reach such a level. To the chazzan the entire congregation of Israel are as his children.

Parshat Tazria is most often read in the week leading up to Yom Ha’atzmaut. In many ways, the birth of a nation is similar to a birth of a child.  The process is often painful and we may even wonder if it really is all worth it. But then we sit back and marvel at the tremendous accomplishments of our baby. Sixty-one years ago, we, the Jewish people, gave birth to our "child".  The labour pains are still ongoing, but the miraculous accomplishments of the first few short years are unparalleled in human history. The world recognizes this, as evidenced by the unbelievable amount of attention that is constantly focused on Israel. A parent never ceases offering criticism (constructive, we hope), but also never ceases to love a child no matter how the child behaves.  This is also true of our relationship with our beloved State.  It may infuriate us and we may even think its decisions are wrong, but we still love and support it (offering our advice all the while).  We must nurture our "child" so that it matures into the model civilization for all of mankind, and or lagoyim