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Shabbat Parashat Tazria Metzora 5777

Parashat Hashavua: Laws of Family Purity - Avoiding Misconceptions

Harav Yosef Carmel

The laws of purity and impurity are a part of the Torah that is seemingly beyond human conception.  The Torah defines these laws in Bamidbar (19:2): “This is the chok of the Torah.”  Rav, the great Amora, when discussing laws relating to our parasha, states: “It is one source – the Torah made it impure, and it made it pure” (Nida 35b). Nevertheless we will try to explain a few principles and what they are meant to teach us.

1) Blood, in and of its self, does not cause impurity. We find blood of nida and blood of tahara (purity). This fact nullifies any connection between the women’s monthly cycle and classic impurity. This misunderstanding caused many incorrect minhagim in many communities, whose source seems to be from the Karaites, leading to mistakes in halacha and distancing women from shul and their connection to Torah. (See for example Rambam, Isurei Bia ch. 15, and the harsh words of Rav Ovadia Yosef in Yabia Omer IV, YD 11.)

2) The difference between the laws of a baby boy and girl is connected to the distinction between systems of time which apply to men and women, respectively. The male year is mainly influenced by the solar calendar and, therefore, is focused on a daily or yearly time frame. The female year is mainly influenced by the moon and is, therefore, focused on a monthly cycle. Therefore, only men are obligated in time bound mitzvot (which are connected to the difference between day and night, or festivals which are influenced by the solar calendar). In contrast, mitzvot that are connected to women are focused on months and not years.

3) The laws of family purity are one of the foundations of a halachic /spiritual way of life. The man is obligated to channel his wants and desires based on the natural cycle of his wife. This consideration and sensitivity turns their relationship into a more emotional and principled one, based on love and friendship. It helps develop married life into something more sublime than an outlet for dopamine and other chemicals. This relationship merited to be the symbol of our relationship between Hashem and Knesset Yisrael.

4) The mitzva of brit mila appears quite surprisingly in the middle of this section. Its placement here comes to teach that specifically the man and not the woman needs to make himself suitable “to minimize himself.” The concept of brit mila in its simplest explanation is to show that even this part of the male anatomy has to be subservient to the service of Hashem. The meaning of this is: “Look at the covenant, and do not be corrupted by your desires.” Here there is a similar guidance that was given to the moon: “Go and make yourself smaller” (Chulin 60b), only this time it refers to the man. 

Based on our analysis, there is double commandment. First, to sanctify ourselves by holding back even that which is permitted to us. Furthermore, there is an obligation to think of the needs of our spouse before our own. Specifically in these whirlwind times, we have an obligation to strengthen the bonds of the family unit, elevate its holiness, and fill the Jewish home with sensitivity and consideration for our spouse.

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