Tazria — Chodesh

וָאֶעֱבֹ֤ר עָלַ֙יִךְ֙ וָֽאֶרְאֵ֔ךְ מִתְבּוֹסֶ֖סֶת בְּדָמָ֑יִךְ וָאֹ֤מַר לָךְ֙ בְּדָמַ֣יִךְ חֲיִ֔י וָאֹ֥מַר לָ֖ךְ בְּדָמַ֥יִךְ חֲיִֽי׃

I passed by you, and I saw you wallowing in your blood, and I said to you “By your blood, live!”. I said to you “By your blood, live!” Ezekiel 16:6

וַאֶעֱבֹר עָלַיִךְ וָאֶרְאֵךְ מִתְבּוֹסֶסֶת בְּדָמַיִךְ: , שְׁנֵי דָמִים שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וָאֹמַר לָךְ בְּדָמַיִךְ חֲיִי, זֶה דַם פֶּסַח. וָאֹמַר לָךְ בְּדָמַיִךְ חֲיִי, זֶה דַם הַמִּילָה

“I passed by you, and I saw you wallowing in your blood.” — Two bloods, as it says “I said to you: ‘By your blood, live’”  — This is the blood of the paschal lamb. “I said to you: ‘By your blood, live’” — this is the blood of circumcision. — Tanhuma Lech Lecha

 מַעֲשֶׂה שֶׁשָּׁאַל טוּרְנוּסְרוּפוּס הָרָשָׁע אֶת רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא, אֵיזוֹ מַעֲשִׂים נָאִים, שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אוֹ שֶׁל בָּשָׂר וָדָם. אָמַר לוֹ: שֶׁל בָּשָׂר וָדָם נָאִים … הֵבִיא לוֹ רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא שִׁבֳּלִים וּגְלֻסְקָאוֹת, אָמַר לוֹ: אֵלּוּ מַעֲשֶׂה הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, וְאֵלּוּ מַעֲשֶׂה יְדֵי אָדָם. אָמַר לוֹ: אֵין אֵלּוּ נָאִים יוֹתֵר מִן הַשִּׁבֳּלִים אָמַר לוֹ טוּרְנוּסְרוּפוּס, אִם הוּא חָפֵץ בַּמִּילָה, לָמָּה אֵינוֹ יוֹצֵא הַוָּלָד מָהוּל מִמְּעֵי אִמּוֹ. אָמַר לוֹ רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא, וְלָמָּה שׁוֹרְרוֹ יוֹצֵא עִמּוֹ וְהוּא תָּלוּי בְּבִטְנוֹ וְאִמּוֹ חוֹתְכוֹ וּמַה שֶׁאַתָּה אוֹמֵר לָמָּה אֵינוֹ יוֹצֵא מָהוּל, לְפִי שֶׁלֹּא נָתַן הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֶת הַמִּצְוֹת לְיִשְׂרָאֵל אֶלָּא לְצָרֵף אוֹתָם בָּהֶם. וּלְכָךְ אָמַר דָּוִד, אִמְרַת ה' צְרוּפָה 

Tyrranus Rufus the Wicked once asked R Akiba “which works are more beautiful, Gd’s or flesh and blood’s?” R Akiba answered “flesh and blood’s.” R Akiba brought him stalks of wheat and fine rolls, and he said “These are Gd’s works, and these are flesh and blood’s. Are these not more beautiful than the stalks?” Tyrranus Rufus asked, “If He desires circumcision, why should the baby not come out of the mother circumcised.” R Akiba replied, “Why does the umbilical cord come out attached to the baby, and the mother has to cut it? As to what you ask,  ‘Why doesn’t he come out circumcised,’ it is because Gd didn’t give the commandments to Israel for any purpose, save to purify themselves through them. Therefore David said ‘The word of Gd is pure.’”— Tanhuma Tazria 4

There’s a tendency when expounding on a parasha to only focus on the first few verses. It is for this reason that people think Parashat Hachodesh is related to Rosh Chodesh. But in fact, the idea of Rosh Chodesh encompasses only the first two verses of a twenty verse maftir. Most of the maftir is dedicated first to the Paschal Lamb and then to the seven day festival of Passover.

What ties these three commandments together is that they all concern the birth of the Jewish People. The calendar is important, not just because it creates a system of dates or that it is a commandment in its own right. The calendar is a herald that there will be a Jewish People who will have festivals and time-based commandments and will need a way to keep track of when they occur. It implies that there will be some ruling body of Judaism to adjudicate this. The calendar is a foundation upon which Judaism can develop.

The Korban Pesach, the Paschal Lamb, is going to be the first ritual of this new People, and the first event ever marked on the Jewish calendar. It is the moment of the birth of the nation. This birth took place at a scary time, when Gd smote the world around the people. But by giving this commandment, Gd gave the nation a chance to influence its own birth. Every family that would bring the offering would become part of this new Jewish People. Every family that abstained would not be. The blood on the doorpost would represent this commitment to be part of the birth of the new Jewish People and separate from everyone else.

The maftir continues with a discussion of what we now call Passover, the seven day (eight in the diaspora) holiday called in the Torah the Festival of Matzot, which will be given to the Jews to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt in future years. As Rabbi Menachem Liebtag points out, there is seemingly no purpose for putting this command here. It does not concern the national birth per se. Although Gd seemingly commands Moshe to tell the Jewish People about it now, he does not tell the Jews about this commandment until after the Exodus happens. In fact, if one looks in the Torah, it is almost as if our verses Shemot 12:15-20, where Gd commands the celebration of Passover for all generations, and the later verses 43-49, which detail more laws about the offering are swapped. Really, the laws of the offering should be taught before the offering occurs, and the laws of a future commandment can wait until such time as there is a reason for those laws to exist. Yet, the Torah switches the order to emphasize that the birth of the Jewish People is connected to the commandments that they will be given. They are not just being born. They are being born with a purpose.

Our parasha, too, deals with birth. But here, the birth is not a national birth. This is a personal birth, the birth of a Jewish child, as in the verse, “A woman who sows and gives birth to a male…” In both cases, there is blood. For the national birth, the blood is the blood put on the doorposts, to mark that those inside the house will burst forth with a status separate from the rest of the world. For the woman, the blood is from childbirth, a near-death experience that separates mother and baby from everyone else and from each other. She now needs to go through an elaborate purification process to regain her status in her community. The difference is that the shared blood and near-death experience brings the community together and excludes the world, and the private blood and near-death experience unfortunately removes the woman even from her community and her husband.

There’s a second commandment related to blood which is shared between the two experiences, circumcision. Circumcision is both national, inducting a new man into the Jewish people, and personal, a commandment performed by the parents on their own child. This has an interesting effect. A woman who has a girl has twice as long a period of separation and impurity than a woman who has a boy. Rav Shimshon Rephael Hirsch suggests that it is mila which causes this difference. Because mila is performed on day eight, her separation, must end with the baby's. When the baby is joined to the Jewish People, his mother returns with him. But a girl does not get circumcised, and so the mother must make a longer return on her own. While this is no longer practiced, girls used to be taken to the mikvah as newborns to bring them into the People.

The bloods are tied together. One symbolizes separation and illness and withdrawal from being able to function, and the other symbolizes a commitment to the commandments. Rav Hirsch suggests that the whole process of impurity and purity is supposed to teach us this idea. The purpose of being alive is connection to Gd. When, due to an illness or traumatic experience, life is impaired, a person becomes impure, as the spiritual connection to Gd reflects the physical one to life. A person, and a nation, live by their blood. They live for the purpose of improving upon Gd’s world.

What does this have to do with our lives in this moment when Passover is sneaking up on us, and the flurry of cleaning and preparation has already begun to consume our attention? Birth, in its most physical and literal sense, is a violent experience. When it is done, the cord must be cut and the baby later circumcised if it is a boy. It is a very real reminder of how our lives are in Gd’s hands and we cling to them with His help. But why are boys born needing circumcision at all? Because Gd wants us to forever strive towards Him from infancy until death. As our People re-experiences Its birth, let us meditate on what efforts we’ve succeeded in and what new challenges we will tackle to come closer to Gd. May your ovens clean easily and your souls grow happily.