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Home » Birth, Featured, Marriage, Tazria

Tazria: Reconciliation

Submitted by on March 23, 2014 – 5:37 amNo Comment | 4,387 views

Reversing the Order

The Torah mandates that after giving birth, mothers bring two offerings[1] in the following order. “She shall take two turtle doves or two young doves: one as a burnt offering and one as a sin offering.”[2] The burnt offering first, then the sin offering. The Talmud stipulates that though the burnt offering is cited first in the Torah,in actual practice the atonement offering comes first. [3] The Talmudic sages didn’t summarily change the order dictated by G-d, rather, they had an oral tradition, traced back to Moses and transmitted through the generations, that the practice in this case was different from the text. Yet, this gives rise to a perplexing question, why does Torah cite the offerings in the opposite order?

The only possible answer is that there is somehow value to both orders. When it is studied, the burnt offering must come first, but when it is practiced, the atonement must come first. How does this work?

The Power of Reconciliation

Burnt offerings symbolize our total devotion to G-d. Sin offerings represent our quest for atonement. In actual practice it make sense to offer the sin offering before the burnt offering because atonement for sin ought to be secured before one aspires to total devotion. Yet, when you think about it, one would only seek atonement for sin if they were trained throughout their life to value G-d.

Our relationship with G-d doesn’t end when we commit a sin. Though sin closes a door in the relationship, it can always be reopened through repentance. In fact, the penitent’s bond with G-d is often more meaningful and intense than it was before sin.

The sinner’s bond with G-d is akin to a fraying rope. The rope tears at its weakest point just like the sinner fails in his or her weakest area. Yet, once the rope is repaired, the formerly weak strand is reinforced to the extent that it becomes the sturdiest part of the rope. So too with penitents. Once they regret and repent, the area in which they formerly faltered becomes their strongest link with G-d. reconciliation - innerstreamThey know they are vulnerable in this area and reinforce it to render it impenetrable.

This is the secret behind the order of the offerings in actual practice. In every instance that sin and burnt offerings are required, the sin offering is brought first. The sin offering symbolizes the sinner’s genuine quest for atonement. The link with G-d was broken and the sinner wants to repair it. Once atonement is secured, the link is not only repaired, but reinforced. The sinner becomes totally and completely devoted to G-d, which is why he or she will now bring a burnt offering.

It Was Once Suggested

Many years ago, I engaged a fellow Jew in heated debate on the value of daily prayer. I insisted that daily prayer is a sign of total devotion and he insisted that occasional prayer is more intense. He actually recommended that I try an experiment and not pray for several days just to see how exciting and intense it would be to return to it after a hiatus. I chuckled, but never took him up on it.

On the face of it, the man had a point. Daily prayer can become routine, making it difficult to maintain vigor and enthusiasm. When prayer is a novelty, it is perforce more exciting. The same holds true for all of Judaism. If the penitent’s bond with G-d is greatest where it is repaired, it follows that we ought to indulge in sin for the opportunity to strengthen our bond through repentance and reconciliation.

Yet, if this approach were recommended it would result in chaos. It is akin to suggesting that husband and wife cheat on each other, so that their relationship would grow stronger once they reconciled. Such a careless suggestion could ruin a marriage for once cheating is introduced it is difficult to rebuild trust. Once the bond is broken it is difficult to fix it. Surely if it were fixed, the bond would be strong, but what if it proved unfixable? What if one of the partners discovered they didn’t want to repair their marriage?

If we advised our students to indulge in sin to manufacture a need for atonement, some might in fact enjoy their lives of sin so much that they lose interest in G-d. It is a careless approach because there is no guarantee. The proper way is to teach our children to refrain from sin. It is only if they sin that we teach them about the power of repentance to make our bond stronger.

Accordingly, the order of sacrifices as it appears in the Torah is the burnt offering first.When we study the Torah and seek instruction on the proper path, we are taught to aspire to total devotion and avoid sin altogether. We seek to bring a burnt offering first. The atonement offering is presented to us only after the burnt offering because it is a last resort for those, who have in fact sinned.

Nevertheless, in actual practice the sin offering is brought first because once we have sinned, atonement must be secured before we can aspire to total devotion.

The Birthing Mother

This leaves us with one more question. Why does this discussion belong in the chapter about birthing mothers? She hasn’t committed a sin, on the contrary she partnered with G-d in the process of creation. She created a new link in the chain of our people. Why does this discussion take place here?

A birthing mother enters the state of Nidah, when relations with her husband is forbidden. This state continues until she brings the offerings after which point husband and wife may resume relations.

The Talmud teaches that a couple’s separation during and after menstruation or child birth stimulates desire for one another.[4] It our nature to take routine for granted. No matter how thrilling and significant our routine, once we grow accustomed to it, we take it for granted and it loses its appeal. By creating cycles of togetherness and separateness we break up the routine, allowing us to cherish each other and our time together. It a way of manufacturing intensity long after it otherwise fades.

When you think about it you will realize that what my friend recommended I do with prayer is precisely what G-d recommended for husband and wife. Separate for several weeks to rekindle your ardor and devotion. It works for marriage, but don’t make the mistake of thinking it might work for religion.

G-d hastens to set forth the order of sacrifices with the burnt offering first to tell husband and wife, despite the fact that you are enthralled about being together again after a period of separation, don’t recommend the same for religion. Separation from G-d is not akin to separation from a spouse. Sin is a betrayal of G-d, akin to cheating on a spouse, which as discussed earlier destroys a marriage.

 


[1] The Talmud (Nidah 32b) explains that this is because she would have expressed herself during labor in a manner that causes distance between herself and G-d or between herself and her husband. Upon recovery she reconciles.
[2] Leviticus 12: 8. The following essay is based on commentary of Maharam Shik ad loc.
[3] Rashi  ad loc. Quoting Babylonian Talmud, Zevachim 90a.
[4] Babylinian Talmud, Nidah: 32b.
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