Parashat Tazria: Childbirth and Eliyahu Hanabi
The opening section of Parashat Tazria deals with the topic of Tum’at Yoledet, the special status of Tum’a (impurity) that applies to a woman after childbirth. The Torah instructs that after delivering a baby boy, a woman has a status of Tum’a for seven days, whereas after the birth of a girl she is considered impure for fourteen days.
Why does childbirth result in Tum’a? Delivering a child is precisely what women are supposed to do; it is the most joyous and wondrous of events. In fact, our Sages teach that Mashiah will come once all the souls in the heavens have been dispatched to the earth. Each birth thus brings us a bit closer to our final redemption. Why, then, should it cause impurity?
Another question that arises from this section is the inclusion of the Misva of Berit Mila. After mentioning that a woman is impure for seven days after a boy’s birth, the Torah immediately adds that the boy must be circumcised on the eighth day. Why must this be mentioned in this context, amidst the discussion of impurity?
The answer touches upon the fundamental nature of Tum’a generally. Tum’a surfaces when something that had been endowed with holiness loses that Kedusha. Thus, for example, a human corpse has the most intense level of Tum’a, because it had contained within it a soul, which is part of God Himself. When something possessed such a high level of Kedusha and was then emptied of that Kedusha, the forces of impurity attach themselves to it, resulting in the status of Tum’a.
Our Sages teach that during pregnancy, the infant studies Torah with an angel. The body of a pregnant woman is endowed with extreme sanctity, as it is occupied by an angel who sits and teaches Torah to the child. This Kedusha is lost at the time of childbirth, and this loss is what results in Tum’a. A place that had been filled with high levels of holiness for nine months now loses that special quality, and for this reason the woman becomes impure.
Why, then, is the Tum’a period briefer after the birth of a boy? Why is a woman considered impure for fourteen days after the birth of a girl, but only seven days after the birth of a boy?
The Torah itself answers this question by mentioning the Berit Mila in this context. A week after the birth of a boy, a Berit Mila is performed, and it is attended by Eliyahu Hanabi. As we know, it is customary to designate a special chair for Eliyahu at a Berit because he personally attends every Berit Mila ceremony. Eliyahu’s presence has a profound purifying effect. Just as Eliyahu will come before the arrival of Mashiah to purify the Jewish people and prepare them for redemption, similarly, whenever he comes he brings purity to those around him. This is why, for example, many people try to position themselves near Eliyahu’s chair at a Berit, so they could be as close to him as possible and come under the influence of his purification. More generally, this is why attending a Berit Mila is such a valuable and significant Misva, as it has a purifying effect by virtue of Eliyahu’s presence.
This explains the distinction drawn by the Torah between the birth of a boy and the birth of a girl, and why the Misva of Mila appears in this context. The Berit Mila held a week after a child’s birth has a purifying effect, and the mother’s period of Tum’a thus ends at that point. Whereas the Tum’a following the birth of a girl lasts for two weeks, it lasts only one week after a boy’s birth because of the Berit Mila. Eliyahu Hanabi’s attendance at the ritual brings purity to everybody in the room, and especially to the child’s mother, enabling her to conclude her period of Tum’a. The great prophet comes to the Berit and purifies the mother who had lost the great levels of Kedusha she had possessed during pregnancy, and at that point her purity is restored through the powerful influence of Eliyahu.