Parshas Tazria begins with women’s laws of impurity after having given birth. Actually, in pasuk 3 there is an important mention of bris milah: ‘and on the eighth day he shall have his milah skin removed.’ And important halachos about bris milah are learnt from this pasuk; that one may not perform bris milah at night, and that a bris milah may be done on Shabbos.[1] The question asked, however, is why exactly is bris milah mentioned here of all places; why not mention it amongst the psukim in Chumash Bereishis which are the source for the mitzvah of bris milah? What does a bris milah have to do with a woman’s impurity after birth? The Sforno[2] answers that the juxtaposition between a mother’s post-birth impurity and bris milah being on the eighth day tells us that the former is a reason for the latter. Thus, the pasuk is telling us the reason a bris is on the eighth day of the baby’s life; because the ritual impurity (niddah)

of the mother has finished, and so the baby now acquires a greater level of purity to enter into the bris milah covenant with his Creator.

However, we shall focus on the approach of the Or Hachaim on our pasuk. The Or Hachaim also discusses the reason as to why a baby’s bris is on the eighth day. His first answer is similar to that of the Sforno, and he quotes the gemarra[3] which addresses this very issue. His second answer is based on the Midrash Rabbah,[4] which says, referring to a bris being on the eighth day, that ‘HaShem had mercy on each child and waited for him until he has strength.’ The Or Hachaim explains that this does not mean physical strength; rather, the point is that the baby acquires a certain spiritual strength. How is this, and what does the eight days have to do with this? The Or Hachaim continues that the eight days is a way of ensuring that, whichever day he is born on, the baby ‘experiences/lives through’ one Shabbos before his bris – and it is from this Shabbos that he gets his special spiritual strength. As we say in Lecha Dodi, that Shabbos is ‘the source of blessing.’ But still, what exactly is this special spiritual strength or power imbued within Shabbos that finds expression in this newborn baby? Perhaps one can define this power via a comment that the Or Hachaim makes elsewhere; in parshas Bereishis,[5] where he reveals to us a tremendous fundamental about the day of Shabbos.

The pasuk which we say in our Shabbos morning kiddush (Shemos 20:11) tells us that ‘six days HaShem made the Heavens and the earth…’ [‘ki sheishes yamim asah HaShem as hashamayim ve’es ha’aretz.’] But the pasuk has a seeming grammatical problem; it should say ‘in six days HaShem created…’ [besheishes yamim…’], but instead just says ‘six days HaShem created…’ What’s going on? The Or Hachaim explains via a fundamental principle. He writes that the world was only created to last for six days. Adam HaRishon was the most spiritually superior human being, and had he not sinned, Moshiach would have arrived for the first Shabbos of the world’s existence. But on Friday, Adam sinned, and the world has been suffering the consequences ever since. The point relevant to our discussion is this idea that the world was only created to last for six days. Shabbos comes along and gives a new ability to the world to be reinvigorated and to last another six days. Using this principle, the Or Hachaim explains the gemarra[6] which says that ‘anyone who davens on Friday night and says vayechulu, it is as if this person is a partner with HaShem in the creation of the world.’ What does this mean? In light of the above, explains the Or Hachaim, this gemarra becomes clearer. The gemarra is saying that Shabbos provides the world with the ability to last for another six days. But this ‘reinvigoration’ is not automatic; it is dependant upon the Jewish people honouring and observing Shabbos. Therefore, one who observes the sanctity of Shabbos (davens, says vayechulu, etc.) really does take on the role of a partner with HaShem in creation, because it is this person’s observing of Shabbos which facilitates the creation to last another six days. This person’s observance of Shabbos has given him a hand in the re-creation of the world.

Armed with this principle, we can now understand what the power is that is passed to a baby by his living through a Shabbos in the build-up to his bris milah. The power is the power to endure and survive; the same power that Shabbos provides to the creation. There is another relevant point about Shabbos which is brought out via our sedra(s). The Ramchal[7] points out that there is a constant battle between the forces of spiritual tumah (impurity) and kedusha (sanctity/holiness). A decrease of one means an increase of the other. Thus, a mitzvah should increase the kedusha and decrease the presence of tumah, whilst a sin will have the opposite effect. The same principle can be seen on a more physical plane with regards to the impurity resulting from birth (mentioned at the start of Tazria), as explained by the Kotzker Rebbe. He quotes the gemarra[8] that giving birth is one of the ‘three keys’ which stay exclusively in the hands of HaShem and were not given to an emissary to conduct. As a result, when a woman is on the birthing stool giving birth, she has a special kedusha accompanying her. But when the baby comes out and the birth process has ended, the ‘giving birth’ kedusha goes away. Consequently, the tumah (impurity) is there as a result of the void of this extra kedusha. This, the Kotzer Rav says, is also why there is impurity (tumah) from a dead person - because when the neshama takes leave, it means that there is now a certain void of kedusha and so the natural result is the presence of tumah. The point we are highlighting here is the inverse proportionate relationship between the presence of tumah and kedusha. Another illustration of this is found in the day of Shabbos, as we shall explain.

To a certain extent, the spiritual force of tumah that the Ramchal is talking about is housed by our physical world. It is the fact that the physical world ‘clouds’ HaShem’s Presence, so to speak, that makes it such a challenge for us to keep to a spiritual path. Thus, one should not become too involved in the physical world to the extent that one’s spiritual goals become diluted with physical and materialistic pursuits. But on Shabbos, something interesting occurs; it is supposed to be the holiest day of the week, yet it is the one day in which we indulge most in the physical world – whether it be by sleeping and/or eating. Why should this be? Rashi[9] gives us the answer. He explains that ‘extra neshama’ that we receive on Shabbos is that which allows us to eat, drink and be merry. It is the fact that there is a greater potency of kedusha on Shabbos that allows us to indulge in the physical world more, because the greater level of kedusha means that the level of tumah is decreased, and so we can indulge in the physical world whilst maintaining a healthy spiritual equilibrium. Therefore, in summary, we have learnt two important principles; both connected to Shabbos. The first is the Or Hachaim’s point about how the world is only created to last for six days, whilst each Shabbos puts the energy of survival into the world to allow it to last for another six days. And secondly, that there is a balance between forces of tumah and kedusha, which can be seen through our physical indulging on Shabbos. Have a great Shabbos!

[1] Gemarra Shabbos 132a [2] Sforno Vayikra 12:3 [3] Gemarra Niddah 31b [4] Midrash Rabbah Devarim 6:1 [5] Or Hachaim Bereishis 2:3 ‘ki’ [6] Gemarra Shabbos 119b [7] Derech HaShem chelek dalet, 4:3-5 [8] Gemarra Ta’anis 2a [9] Rashi Beitzah 16a ‘neshama yeseirah’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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