Tazria: Freedom through Dedication

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    • Tzvi Chulsky 3 months ago

      While most of parshat Tazria actually deals with נגעים, which we believe we should save for next week, the first eight verses—interesting already, coming right after parshat Shemini as they do—are about women who give birth, and their tum’ah and tahara. As we began to discuss a couple of weeks ago, tum’ah is often symbolic; and when not, it can be thought of as a measure of “how much life” is in something. And when humans are physically alive, the more free they are, the more “whole” their lives are.

      The name itself of parshat Tazria, writes Rav S.R. Hirsch, points to the process of birth making man feel like a plant, like a biological being forced simply to follow the laws of nature.

      The highest and noblest task on which the whole future of the human race depends and in which the uniqueness of womankind finds its highest expression—the mother’s effort and labor in producing a child—is merely a physical process. Man is formed, takes shape, and grows like a plant, and the most wonderful name that the human tongue can utter—the name “Mother”—reminds us, at the same time, of the purely physical process of our coming into being, which is not by our own free will.

      For this reason the moral freedom of man, who is brought into being, must be stressed precisely here.

      Thus, v. 2 of Vayikra 12 tells us of a woman’s seven days of tum’ah upon the birth of a baby boy. Immediately following is v. 3, telling us of his circumcision on the eighth day—note again the number eight—and then (v. 4) of the mother being tehora for 33 days—though not tehora enough to come to the Temple.

      Of circumcision, Rav Hirsch writes:

      A person ceases to be an unfree created being (symbolized by the number six) and becomes a human being endowed with freedom (symbolized by the number seven); and he attains this only through a covenant with God. On the eighth day he is reborn for the Jewish mission. This rebirth is on the basis of man’s innate godly freedom, for the sake of a higher level of freedom, a higher calling.

      Rav Hirsch points out the many similarities between the ערל and טמא: they are both prohibited from eating תרומה and קדשים, both are exempt from ראייה ברגל[1], both are פסולים לעבודה[2], and Rav Hirsch believes that both are אסור בביאת מקדש.

      This fits well into our discussion of tum’ah. It is our victory over our physicality, as represented by circumcision, that is a primary component of tahara. When terrorists and totalitarian regimes attempt to control our thoughts and discourse, they do so by threatening our physical bodies and physical property; it is precisely those that make us vulnerable to these people. Committing our bodies and property to God means that we stop fearing such people—for we will walk right into death if we know that by doing so, we are accomplishing our God-given mission. That is true freedom—at least until these people leverage the physicality of our families against us[3]. As individuals, there is a limit to how far we can go.

      Rising above our physicality en masse, on the other hand, can truly take a society toward freedom. In the United States, for example, it is the descent to a purely physical life that has been gradually enslaving the society. People who only want to survive physically are willing to give up their freedoms to be maintained physically. These are the people willing to accept various forms of government largesse, and be controlled thereby; these are also the people who accept endless lockdowns—after all, when life is reduced to physical existence, why not spend it locked in a room, safe from virus particles? When life is purely physical, and nothing else has meaning, why not violently force everyone around to get vaccinated, if there is a chance that it will make one’s physical survival more secure? The idea of a meaningful life, of moral freedom or a loss thereof, does not factor into these people’s calculations. This is how people operate when they think of existence as physical; and when we are circumcised, it is a sign that this is an approach to life that we unequivocally reject.

      During shacharit, we say מתיר אסורים at least three times: in the morning blessings, in Tehillim 146 (the original source), and in the second blessing of the Amidah. It is critically important that dedication of ourselves to God makes us free. It grants us partial immunity to the threats of dictators and terrorists, and it makes the difference between a free society and a slave one.

      [1] Yevamot 70a; Chagigah 4b
      [2] Zevachim 22b
      [3] Obtaining this freedom makes one immune to threats against his person; but it does not render him immune from threats against his family.

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