וידבר ה’ אל משה לאמר. דבר אל בני ישראל לאמר: אשה כי תזריע וילדה זכר, וטמאה שבעת ימים, כימי נדת דותה תטמא
(ויקרא יב, א-ב)
This week’s parasha deals mostly with the laws of the metsora, a person who suffers from a physical disease and is ritually impure. But it opens with the laws of another kind of ritual impurity, that of a woman who gave birth:
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying. Speak to the children of Israel, saying: If a woman be delivered, and bear a son, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of the impurity of her sickness shall she be unclean.
(VaYikra 12, 1-2)
Both the woman giving birth and the metsora need to complete their purification process by bringing sacrifices to the temple, including an olah sacrifice. However this olah sacrifice is an exception, a special type called “rising and falling” sacrifice. The type of animal brought depends on the economic status of the person bringing the sacrifice. If wealthy – an animal; if poor – a bird. What do the woman giving birth and the metsora have in common to warrant this exception?
One explanation is that in both cases the impurity was “forced” upon them. Neither intended to become impure, so the Torah eases the rules. However, this is not a full explanation, as the woman certainly intended to get pregnant, and the metsora (at least according to most interpretations) was inflicted because he spoke in a derogatory fashion about other people.
Another way to look at the commonality between the woman giving birth and the metsora is that they are both bringing a new life into the world. In the woman’s case it is obvious. But the metsora too is brought back to life in a sense. All the time he was inflicted he was shunned from society (niduy), unable to live among other people. Our sages likened the metsora to a dead person. After his purification is over, he can come back to normal life among men. So as in both cases there is joy in bringing a new life into the world, the Torah eased the rules.
Often, our week’s parasha is read on the shabbat before the month of Nissan (or on the first day of Nissan), so we also read parashat HaChodesh. In it, we read about the first mitzvah that the people of Israel received: counting the months of the year and sanctifying the new month. Here too there is a kind of a “new life”. By counting the months we “give birth” to a new month. And in Nissan especially, the first month of the year, we also “give birth” to a new year. It is also the month in which the people of Israel were born as a nation, by gaining freedom from slavery in Egypt, and the month that they will be “born again” when the Messiah will come.
As we approach Pessach, may we be blessed with new life and new beginnings, just like the woman giving birth, the metsora and the month of Nissan.