Appreciating Life

Two questions: Why is it
that these parshiyos, which are almost entirely concerned with tsora’as,
begin with the parsha of laidah, of giving birth? Secondly, the opening
phrase, isha ki tazriah v’yalda zachar, makes it sound as if conception
is followed immediately by birth. Why doesn’t the Torah mention the nine months
of pregnancy in between?

The answer I will suggest to the second question will provide
an answer to the first question as well. And that is, that the Torah is
describing the ideal situation. The sufferings of pregnancy, birth
and childraising came into existence only after the sin of Adam and Chava;
ideally, though, they should not exist. The process of tumah and
taharah
detailed here by the Torah is, as we shall see, necessary for the
human condition after the chet, as a tikun for a situation that is less
than ideal.

Initially, Adam and Chava were put into the world to choose
eternal life over temporal gratification. They had the opportunity thereby to
bring the world to its completion; but as a result of the chet they lost
that opportunity. They failed to appreciate life, which is the connection to
HaShem, which is eternal life. So HaShem wanted to give them incentives to
appreciate life.

The Sforno says that death was decreed upon them in order
that they would better appreciate life. When you know that your time in this
world is limited, you are likely to take the opportunity which life offers more
seriously. There is still a choice to ignore it, but the opportunity is there.

Secondly, they would have to work to earn a living. You tend
to appreciate more what you have to work for, suffer for. It makes you think. In
fact, that’s the whole idea of suffering, of yissurim. The word
yissurim
comes from the word tasur, to turn away. Normally, life just
flows, without any hitches, so you’re lulled into complacency. Yissurim
make you stop and think about life, and perhaps appreciate it more.

Women have the opportunity not only to live in this world,
but also to bring new life into it. The suffering that attends the creation of
life—of pregnancy, birth and then childraising—generates a greater appreciation
of that life.

However, there is a danger that one will focus on the pain
itself, and forget its purpose.

When a woman gives birth she is preoccupied by the intense
pain, and she swears that she’ll never have any more children. Not necessarily
consciously, but there is an underlying feeling that the woman has that, “This
is it, I’m joining a convent, no more kids.”

To correct this reaction, the Torah first distances her from
her husband for 7 days. She’s also distanced during this time from the Mikdash.
This forces her to appreciate being close. Then, for the next 33 days (min
haTorah), she is required to be close. Even when she sees blood, she’s tahor.
But she’s still not allowed into the Mikdash, she’s still kept distant from
HaShem. After that, she brings certain sacrifices. A chatas, which
represents the idea that everything wasn’t ideal, and the olah, which
represents the return to the ideal state.

Now we can also understand why laidah precedes
tsora’as
in these parshios. If the Torah presented tsora’as by
itself, I would think that God merely wants to punish us. But if we understand
that the process of laidah is not a form of Divine revenge-taking but a
corrective process, then it can in turn inform our understanding of tsora’as.

Indeed, there is a striking parallel between the laws of
laidah
and those of tsora’as.

According to the Midrashim, there are three primary sources
of tsora’as: kinah, envy, which leads to lashon hora; ta’aveh,
which is selfishness, hoarding; and kavod, haughtiness.These are the
things that, as it says in Avos, “take a person out of the world,” meaning that
they cause one to forget the eternal, spiritual value of life A person involved
in these things is reminded of what he is doing to himself when a little portion
of his body turns deathly white, like a corpse. At that stage, you have to
realize that there’s something wrong.

But that’s not enough, a process is needed to assimilate this
information. The process is involves a distancing from all those things that
brought him to this state. First, social isolation; he can’t greet people, we
quarantine him. Since he was envious of others, didn’t know how to appreciate
them, we isolate him from them. Because of the selfishness, he must tear his
clothing and let his hair grow, thus relinquishing that excessive attachment to
the physical. Finally, to correct the haughtiness, he has to denigrate himself
by going around, saying “tameh, tameh.”

This parallels the distancing process of the woman who gave
birth. Not as punishment, but as a Divinely-given opportunity to correct the
mistakes of the past, to appreciate life and thereby draw close to HaShem.