08 Apr 2016

Tazria (HaHodesh) 5776 – Wonders of Childbirth

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Tazria (HaHodesh) 5776 – Wonders of Childbirth

‘A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul’.

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

 ‘The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper’.

— W.B. Yeats

Tazria begins with instructions for ritual purification after a woman has given birth; commanding that she must bring korbanot (offerings) in the Bet haMikdash (Holy Temple). Two korbanot are brought: one is an Olah (completely burnt on the altar) in thanks to God for saving her from the dangers of childbirth. The other is, interestingly, a korban hatat or sin offering.

The hakhamim question this strange korban; why must a woman who has just given birth bring a sin offering? An amusing answer is offered by Ribbi Shimon in the Talmud (Nidah, 31b) explaining that at some point during childbirth every woman swears never to be intimate with her husband again! The sin offering, says Ribbi Shimon, is brought to atone for swearing falsely. This answer is refuted, however, by Ribbi Yosef who says that if that were the case, a sin offering is not appropriate. Rather, a korban shebuah (a sacrifice specifically brought to atone for swearing falsely) should be brought instead. The Talmud leaves us unclear as to the reason for a post-partum sin offering.

There is something special, though, about the words of the Hakhamim in their commentaries on our parasha. It is in perashat Tazria that they expound on the wonders of pregnancy and childbirth. It is here that they elaborate on the insignificance of man in relation to G-d.

From a microscopic zygote a new, complex human life emerges after nine months of growth and billions of instructions — all contained in that original zygote — have been activated. Even as bystanders, witnessing the miracle of childbirth is incredibly humbling. How much more so for a mother who has carried the developing life in her womb for nine months?

When we are aware of, and involved with, such wonders we tend to become awe-stricken, humbled and grateful. The grandeur of life impinges upon our spirits and we are, if even for just a time, changed by it.

When we find ourselves in such a precious state of consciousness we tend to see our own lives through that wondrous lens. As a result, aspects of our lives are illuminated differently and it is not uncommon for us to see certain elements that we might have treated lightly becoming more meaningful.

Torah, therefore, may command a woman to bring a sin offering after the birth of every child in order to actively acknowledge that, through the profoundly beautiful experience of childbirth, they recognise the aspects of life they may previously have made light of and bring a sin offering as an act of repentance. In a sense the sin offering punctuates the moment of wonder and utilises it in order to bring our own lives up to the level of beauty and meaning that childbirth reveals.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joseph Dweck

Law and Lore

Select Laws of Pesach 1

Select Laws for Koshering for Pesah

  1. Vessels used for Hametz (leaven) are forbidden to use on Pesah without koshering them.  This is so from the time Hametz becomes forbidden on the eve of Pesah and onwards.
  2. The method used to kosher vessels and utensils for Pesah depends on their general use throughout the year.  Although some vessels simply cannot be koshered, the main rule is: Just as a vessel absorbs Hametz, so it discharges it. In descending order, the methods used for koshering vessels are as follows:
    1. Vessels which absorb dry Hametz (such as baking pans) must be heated red hot in an oven or with a blow torch until they give off sparks. If they cannot withstand such heat, and would be ruined, they may not be used for Pesah.
    2. First degree vessels (vessels placed on the fire to cook liquids) must be immersed in boiling water in a large first degree vessel.
    3. Second degree vessels (vessels in which hot food is placed after having been cooked) must either have boiling water poured over them from a first degree vessel, or be immersed in hot water in a second degree vessel (depending on their use throughout the year).
    4. Vessels used with cold foods require washing and rinsing with cold water.
    5. Glass vessels require thorough washing and rinsing.
  3. Pots used to cook with liquid on a fire require immersion in boiling water.  Prior to this they must be cleaned thoroughly, inside and out, of all crusted on food and rust.  Pressure cookers also require immersion.  This includes the rubber under the lip of the cover.  Pouring boiling water from a first degree vessel is not sufficient.
  4. Frying pans used with oil must be immersed in boiling water and do not require purging by fire.  However frying pans which are used without any oil whatsoever, and which cannot be purged in fire, may not be used on Pesah.  New pans must be purchased instead. (A frying pan in which something unkosher was fried requires purging with fire until red hot.  If liver was fried in it, one may be lenient by purging it in boiling water, on the condition that it is first left unused for twenty-four hours.)
  5. Plates and bowls ordinarily used as second degree vessels (vessels never placed on a fire) may be purged by immersion in a first degree vessel or by pouring boiling water over them from a first degree vessel.  Immersion in a second degree vessel, however, is generally sufficient.
  6. Metal plates and utensils used as or with second degree vessels may be koshered by immersion in a first degree vessel or by pouring water over them from a first degree vessel.  Immersion in a second degree vessel however is sufficient.
  7. All vessels generally used for cold foods and liquids, such as cups made of metals (like silver or gold), or earthenware or plastic, are koshered by washing and rinsing them well.  This applies even if they were used on rare occasions for Hametz heated to boiling.  If they were used for Hametz heated to boiling within the previous twenty-four hour period, one should be stringent and kosher them be cleaning them thoroughly and immersing them in boiling water.
  8. Refrigerators and freezers may be koshered for Pesah by thorough cleaning with soap and water.
  9. Earthenware or chinaware used with hot food or drink during the year cannot be koshered.  These vessels should be stored away and not used on Pesah.
  10. According to the Shulhan Aruch glass does not absorb Hametz, and therefore does not require any koshering for Pesah.  Even if some liquid Hametz, such as beer, remained in a glass bottle for more than twenty-four hours, it can be koshered by washing it well.  Ashkenazic authorities treat glass as earthenware, maintaining that it cannot be koshered.  There are Sepharadim as well, living outside of Israel, who are stringent in this case.  If they wish, they may follow the opinion of the Shulhan Aruch when in Israel.  A dissolution of vows for their prior stringency is recommended.
  11. Sinks used for washing pots and dishes, even if made from porcelain, are koshered by thorough cleaning and pouring boiling water over them.  Some are stringent and cover the sink with heavy grade aluminium foil or the like.  This is only a stringency.
  12. Vessels made from wood, stone or bone have a status of metal and are koshered by immersion in boiling water, or by pouring boiling water on then from a first or second degree vessel, depending on how they are used throughout the year.  Plastic is also koshered in this manner.
  13. Pyrex and Duralex vessels can be koshered by washing and rinsing.  Ashkenazim can be lenient and kosher them by immersing them in boiling water three times without putting them in cold water afterwards (lest they crack).  Sepharadim who followed this stringency may revert to the lenient method without a dissolution of vows.

Parasha Perspectives

IV  Tazriah 

Ritual purification after birth  (12:1-8)
25             Early symptoms of tzora’at  (13:1-8)
26             Diagnosing tzora’at  (13:9-17)
27a           Tzora’at from a healing boil  (13:18-23)
27b           Tzora’at from a burn  (13:24-28)
28a           Tzora’at on head or face  (13:29-37)
28b           A bohuk-type blemish is not tzora’at  (13:38-39)
28c            Tzora’at from baldness  (13:40-46)
28d           Tzora’at of clothing  (13:47-59)
 Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS