Monday, March 24, 2014

Living into Transitions

Parshat Tazria
VaYikra 12:1-13:59
5774 Adar II 27 / March 28-29, 2014

Living into Transitions
by Zvi Bellin, MHHQ

Our parsha begins with seemingly archaic laws for new mothers:

VaYikra, Chapter 12
1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Speak to the Israelite people thus: When a woman at childbirth bears a male, she shall be t’meah seven days; she shall be t’meah as at the time of menstruation. — 3 On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. — 4 She shall remain in a state of blood purification for thirty-three days: she shall not touch any consecrated thing, nor enter the sanctuary until her period of purification is completed. 5 If she bears a female, she shall be t’meah two weeks as during her menstruation, and she shall remain in a state of blood purification for sixty-six days.

This passage begs a few questions for me:
1. Why should giving birth be something that is t’meah (usually translated as impure)?
2. Why is there a difference between boy and girl babies?
3. What does it mean to purify one’s blood?
4. What is the message for me today?

Let’s see how we do with some answers.

1. T’meah is ususally translated as impure, but when we look at the nuances of being tameh, we see that it is a category that says that someone is experiencing something physical which puts them in between the states of healthy and unhealthy, between life and death. When someone is in that state, the practice in ancient times was to separate them from the community - giving them time for respite and healing. In some cases, it would require soul-searching to consider if the person’s actions brought on the affliction, and for other times, as in childbirth, it was just a separation, with no judgement implied. We can all agree that in ancient times (and today too) having a baby was a great risk to the mother, and some time away from the responsibilities of the community to replenish and heal seems like a good idea.

2. So why the difference between a baby boy and a baby girl. When I read the parsha this time around I was reminded of Early Attachment Theory. The first few weeks of life require great attention from a primary caregiver in order for a baby to develop physically, emotional, mentally, and spiritually. It is amazing how important that early bond is between parent and child. Having space where mom has uninterrupted time with her newborn seems completely wise. In ancient times, community survival depended on the adoption of clear gender roles. In some ways, in modern times, we still depend on clear gender roles, though to an ever lessening extent (Amen!). Given the need for gender role training, and how early newborns begin to pick up on the way their assigned gender is supposed to act, it seems wise for mom to have an extended amount of time with her daughter to steep her new daughter in the presence of womanhood. Boy babies could more quickly join the world of men to begin their gender training.

3. I want to read that blood purification here is the healing that a new mom needs. At childbirth, a new mom experiences blood loss, and her body needs time to rest and regain strength. There is a spiritual teaching that when a baby is born, the mother experiences a spiritual emptiness and time is needed for her to feel a sense of wholeness again. This fits well with the prevalence of postpartum depression that women experience after giving birth. We see a connection between the loss of blood, the birth of the baby, and the need for the new mother to reconfigure to her new role - caring for the baby that is no longer a growing part inside of her body. Perhaps this process of holistic healing is blood purification.

4. Message for me today - Reflecting on the themes above gives me new insight and inquiry into the needs of new parents. Does our society create the proper space needed for new parents to successfully move from expecting parents to actual parents? Also, do I give myself the space needed to step into new stages of life - new jobs, new relationships, deaths, births? Every transition, even happy ones like childbirth, contain a vulnerable period that can be navigated with attention and compassion in order to step into that next stage of life with greater hope and clarity.


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