Parshas Tazria Metzorah
The Purpose of the Impure Condition is its Resultant Rapprochement with Hashem
וידבר ה׳ אל משה לאמר, דבר אל בני ישראל לאמר אשה כי תזריע וילדה זכר וטמאה שבעת ימים כימי נדת דותה תטמא – And Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying. Speak to the children of Israel, and say: “If a woman conceives and gives birth to a male, she shall be unclean for seven days; as [in] the days of her menstrual flow, she shall be unclean” (Vayikra 12:2).
It seems obvious to ask how is it possible that through the birth of a Jewish child which is a new light, a Jewish soul, tumah-impurity should result?
The Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 14:1) links this passage to the pasuk in Tehillim (139:5) אחור וקדם צרתני – You have formed (lit. ‘hemmed’) me behind and before . . .: Reish Lakish said: Dual faces [together] they were created, (when man was created, it was fashioned with two body-fronts,) and it was divided, and two were made a male and a female.
To what connection between this pasuk in Tehillim and our pasuk in this week’s parashah is Reish Lakish referring?
The Kozhnitzer Maggid (Avodas Yisroel, Rabbi Yisroel of Kozhnitz 1733-1814) on parshas Vayeira expounds on the narrative of the ordeal that Avrohom experienced when, as a test, he was asked by Hashem to sacrifice his beloved son Yitzchak. The passage reads, “ – וירא את המקום מרחוק – He saw the place from afar.” (Breishis 22:4). The word Makom – place – is often used as a metaphor for Hashem (who is the Place of everything in this world). The Maggid suggests that this refers to the very heart of the incredible test that Avraham faced at that time, for at that very moment Avrohom perceived himself as being distant from Hashem, hence the phrase, “ He saw the “Place” from afar.” Indeed Chazal tell us that during this “nisayon” or trial, the Satan was quite industrious in his challenging of Avraham. The Satan first appeared to Avraham in the guise of an old man who questioned Avraham regarding his destination and further attempted to discourage Avrohom from obeying Hashem’s command. Avrohom refused to engage in any dialogue with the Satan for he knew that any relationship with the Satan would be devastating. Since Avrohom felt distant from Hashem at that time, he was vulnerable to the Satan’s machinations, but he nevertheless strengthened his resolve to do the will of Hashem. Avrohom Avinu was successful in his struggle because he realized that Hashem was with him even if He appeared to be far away. The perceived distance was a mere illusion, a distraction that was indeed in itself the test. After Avrohom passed Hashem’s test he became even closer to Him. He praised Hashem for he understood that the entire test, including the perception of distance, was for his own benefit. It provided him with the opportunity to experience Hashem’s holiness even from a perception of distance from Him.
As a result, Avrohom Avinu was able to bequeath this legacy to his descendants; the concept that no matter how distant we may feel from Hashem at times, the reality is that Hashem is with us always. There is a spark often referred to as the “Pintele Yid” within each of us that represents closeness to Hashem. When Hashem told Avrohom Avinu, “אנכי מגן לךְ – I will protect you,” (Breishis 15:1), He was referring to protecting this spark of closeness that we Jews have to Hashem. (Parenthetically, The Chidushei Harim (Rabbi Yitzchock Meir Alter (1799-1866) the first Rebbe of Gur) writes that this is the meaning of the blessing of “Magen Avrohom”. We thank Hashem three times daily for actively protecting the spark of Avraham within us. Even if we ourselves would allow that spark to be extinguished by behavior incongruous to the presence of the Divine One, Hashem keeps His promise to Avrohom, and defends His relationship to us.)
What follows from the above is that when we perceive Hashem as being distant from us, paradoxically it is a consequence of His desire for us to approach Him. Furthermore, were we to be constantly cognizant of our connection to Hashem we would eventually lose our drive for an intimate association with Him. As our Rabbis teach us: It is said, “taanug t’midi aino taanug,” – consistent pleasure will not be pleasurable. Therefore part of our staying close to Hashem includes what appears to us to be a distancing.
This is the meaning of the Medrash. The Medrash was perhaps troubled by the question we posed at the onset of the dvar Torah: how is it possible that the birth of a Jewish child, which is a new light, a Jewish soul, should result in tumah – impurity? The answer to this is understood from the pasuk “You have formed (lit. ‘hemmed’) me behind and before”. “Achor” – behind – alluding to being distant from Hashem, and “kedem” – before is symbolizing being close to Hashem.
Both of these levels were created simultaneously as Reish Lakish teaches; they were created dual faces together. This teaches us that not only is Hashem’s perceived distance from us a signal for us to approach Him, it is also in itself Hashem’s being close to us at that moment when He is appearing to be distant.
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