20 Apr 2023 Parshas Tazria: Lessons of a Sin Offering
This week we read the double sedra of Tazria-Metzora. The sedra begins in Tazria with the eight pasukim dedicated to the tumas ha’yoledes (spiritual impurity of a woman post childbirth). Following this is a lengthy, detailed and intricate exploration of the spiritual malady of tzara’as, its physical symptoms, effects, diagnosis and ultimate habilitation by the kohen. Metzora concludes with the impurity of the zav and zavah (those impure from bodily discharge).
In regard to the new mother post childbirth (Vayikra 12:1-8), the days of her impurity are stated by the Torah (the impurity following childbirth, the count of her days of impurity, and the process of purification were very different in Temple times than they are today), as well as the korbanos she must offer as part of her purification. The pasuk tells us that she is to bring two korbanos, an olah (burnt offering) and a chatas (sin offering): וּבִמְלֹאת יְמֵי טָהֳרָהּ, לְבֵן אוֹ לְבַת, תָּבִיא כֶּבֶשׂ בֶּן–שְׁנָתוֹ לְעֹלָה, וּבֶן–יוֹנָה אוֹ–תֹר לְחַטָּאת אֶל–פֶּתַח אֹהֶל–מוֹעֵד, אֶל–הַכֹּהֵן – And when the days of her purification are fulfilled, for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb in its first year for a burnt-offering, and a turtle-dove for a sin-offering, to the entrance of the tent of meeting, to the kohen (12:6).
A striking detail is noted in the Torah’s listing of her offerings. Chazal teach that whenever a korban olah, a burnt offering, and a korban chatas, a sin offering, are simultaneously commanded in the Torah text, as a general rule, the chatas always precedes the olah. This makes sense, as first the sinner must renew his/her connection with G-d, rectify and repair past misdeeds (with the korban chatas), and only then can he/she offer the gift and appeasement of the burnt offering to G-d.
However, the one exception is here regarding the purification ritual of the yoledes. First we are told she brings an olah, and then she offers the chatas. Complicating matters even further is that Chazal teach that in practice, the korbanos were offered in their usual order: olah, followed by chatas.
How are we to understand the reverse order as stated in the Torah text, as well as the reality of the offerings being offered in their usual order? What lesson does the Torah teach us with reversing the listing of the order of the korbanos of the yoledes? Of particular importance to us in our day and age, when we are so far removed from the avodas korbanos, is the search for meaning in a service we have no concrete way to relate to. Is there a lesson in these korbanos for us today, almost 2,000 years removed from the Temple service?
Certainly, the answer is yes, for the words of Torah are timeless and apply to each and every generation. If so, it behooves us to understand the message of these offerings, so we may study, learn and apply the lessons to our own lives, even in the absence of the Temple.
Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, in his Unlocking the Torah Text, suggests a novel and unique interpretation. “Perhaps,” he writes, “the Torah symbolically changes the sequence of the korbanot on this one occasion because this is the only case where a sin offering is brought not for a sin that occurred in the past but for one that is bound to occur in the future.
“The moment of childbirth is a moment of rarefied personal perspective… In that instant, cradling a newborn child in one’s arms, you recognize with unerring clarity that nothing in the world is more important to you than this child, than this precious gift that G-d has bestowed upon you (italics in the original).
“But then… Three months later, at two o’clock in the morning, when, more tired than you have ever been in your life, you are changing the diaper of a screaming infant; when, three years later, you are running in circles after a stubborn and difficult toddler; when, fifteen years later, your teenage son or daughter rolls his or her eyes at you in that frustrating way, as only a teenager can…
“At those moments, somehow, that child doesn’t seem quite so precious. You lose sight of the clear instant when you held a new life in your hands, when nothing was more important than the life and welfare of that newborn child.
“Perhaps the korban chatat of the yoledet is listed second because it addresses the future rather than the past. This particular sin offering is brought for all the inevitable moments when the crystal-clear perspective accompanying childbirth will be lost, for all the times when this precious life will not be appreciated as dearly as it was at the moment of its arrival.
“And maybe, in this one instance, the korban chatas will perform its task proactively. Perhaps the offering will serve as a reminder to work a little harder on the retention of perspective, so that we do not lose sight of the most precious gift granted to us by a loving G-d” (Unlocking the Torah Text, Vayikra, p.98-100).
What a profound and important insight into human nature. The same can be said of the many, many blessings in our lives. When a new blessing is bestowed upon us, we are often awed by the kindness of the One Who is Good and Does Good. And the excitement, the appreciation, the thanks, the humility lasts for a certain amount of time. And after some time… as is the general way of the human condition, the feelings of gratitude slowly dissipate and wear off, perhaps to the point where we forget we have been blessed at all.
And so, the Torah lists the chatas after the olah, as an allusion to the sin of ingratitude and forgetfulness that may occur at some time in the future. In the korbanos of the yoledes, the Torah comes to teach us a fundamental lesson about living with an attitude of gratitude. While life has many ups and downs, highs and lows, and good times along with difficult times, we must never lose focus of the bountiful and boundless blessings that the RS”O bestows upon us.
May we humbly and wisely learn the lesson of the yoledes and her offerings, so that perhaps every day of our lives will be a day when we recognize the need to offer a (proverbial) korban todah to the Tov v’Ha’Meitiv.
בברכת חודש טוב ושבת שלום,