Written and Submitted by Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple.
THE MOTHER’S OFFERING
When a woman bears a child the Torah says she has to bring an offering to the sanctuary (Lev. 12). So far so good, and we would probably interpret the offering as a mark of gratitude to God who made it possible for her to bear the child. But the Torah describes her offering as a “chatat”, a guilt-offering (verse 6), and this use of words baffles us immensely. How can one possibly impute a sense of guilt to the woman, in whatever sense we understand the word?
If we interpret the offering midrashically, what the mother may be doing is apologising to her child for bringing it into the world. Kohelet 3 tells us that there is a time for everything. People think, says the Midrash, that when there are two ships in the harbour, one about to set out and the other back in port after completing its voyage, it is right to rejoice over the ship that is leaving port, because so much excitement and discovery awaits it. No, says the Midrash: it is better to rejoice over the ship that has completed its voyage and returned safely. Whatever problems it faced are now over, and it is appropriate to say Mazal Tov.
Using this approach, the mother may be saying to her child,
“Welcome to the world, but I know you didn’t ask to be born and you might not find life an unmitigated joy and blessing. In case you wonder one day whether life has been worthwhile, know that I (and your father) apologise in advance…”
SOILING YOUR GARMENTS
Much of this week’s portion deals with forms of plague that affect a community. Not only a person’s body but even their clothes can convey the infection. The data the Torah gives us about illness and infection is highly advanced for its time and in some respects it was not until recently that medical science recognised this.
It is not only physical but metaphorical ailments that can come with one’s clothes. This is seen in the rabbinic view that “m’tzora”, the leper, after whom next week’s sidra is named, can be read as “motzi shem ra”, purveying evil talk. Using your tongue wrongly is a disfigurement which harms society and also yourself.
Likewise, the type of clothes you wear and the way you wear them can have a negative effect on society. Jewish law expects that a person should dress modestly and not flaunt their clothing or lack of it. One can criticise the modesty patrols that measure the length of a woman’s dress or sleeves, but how about criticising those who deliberately exhibit far more of their body than a modest person really should?
THE TOO HARD BASKET
“He shall dwell alone: outside the camp shall his habitation be” (Lev. 13:46).
We understand why the community had to be protected from contagion when a person had a loathsome disease. By extension, even today we tend to want to isolate ourselves from anyone and anything that might be problematic.