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Parashat Tazria: Eliyahu Ha’nabi and the Berit Mila “Redemption”

Parashat Tazria begins with the law of "Tum’at Yoledet" – the state of impurity that descends upon a woman after she delivers a child. The Torah establishes that the woman is impure for either seven or fourteen days – depending on whether she delivers a boy or a girl – and she is later required to offer a special sacrifice to regain her status of purity.

This Halacha seems, at first glance, very difficult to understand. The very first Misva that G-d commanded after creating the first human beings is "Peru U’rebu" – the obligation to procreate. Having a child is something precious and beautiful. It is one of our most sacred duties. Why, then, would childbirth bring upon a woman a state of Tum’a (impurity)? In fact, the Gemara tells that Hashem has a "container" in the heavens containing all the souls destined to come down into our world, and once this container is empty, Mashiah will come. As such, every time a woman delivers a child, she brings the world closer to its state of redemption. For what reason, then, does she become impure?

Another seemingly peculiar aspect of the Torah’s discussion of "Tum’at Yoledet" is the mention of the Misva of Berit Mila in this context. As it discusses the case of the birth of a boy, the Torah found it necessary to reiterate the command to circumcise the child on his eighth day. Why is this Misva repeated here? Of what relevance is Berit Mila to the Halacha of "Tum’at Yoledet"?

The answer lies in an understanding of the concept of Tum’a. This word does not, as many people mistakenly believe, refer to "contamination," or any sort of filth. Rather, as the Zohar teaches, Tum’ah is the result of lost sanctity. When something is filled with Kedusha, and then that Kedusha is lost, the forces of impurity fill the vacuum that is created. A number of sources draw a comparison to two jars – one that contained honey, and another that contained vinegar, which were emptied. Not soon afterward, insects and flies descended upon the empty honey jar to consume the sweet drops of honey that remain, but no insects go to the vinegar jar. Similarly, as long as a soul is in the body, the Kedusha of the soul keeps the "insects" – the forces of Tum’a – away, but once the body is "emptied," the vacuum is filled by these forces that seek to feed off the "sweetness" of the residual Kedusha which remains. These forces go only to where there was "honey" – Kedusha – but not to where there was "vinegar." They are attracted to the "sweetness" of Kedusha, and are able to descend upon a holy place once the Kedusha is no longer present.

In other words, Tum’a is what happens when Kedusha departs.

This, then, explains the concept of "Tum’at Yoledet," the state of impurity that befalls a woman after childbirth. The Gemara famously tells us that during pregnancy, an angel sits with the fetus and teaches the child the entire Torah. Remarkably, a woman during pregnancy is a "mobile yeshiva," with Torah being studied inside her. There is great Kedusha inside the woman during those months. Once the child is born, this Kedusha is lost, and the void is filled by the forces of impurity.

Extending this notion further, we can explain why the period of Tum’a is longer after the birth of a girl than after the birth of a boy.

The primary difference between the birth of a girl and the birth of a boy is that after the birth of a boy, there is a Berit Mila – and the Berit Mila has the effect of eliminating the woman’s state of Tum’a.

Tradition teaches that Eliyahu Ha’nabi attends every Berit performed on a Jewish child. And, as we know, Eliyahu is going to be sent to us before the arrival of Mashiah in order to prepare us for redemption. He will inspire, motivate and guide us to repent, to eliminate all our "impurities," and draw closer to Hashem so we will be ready to greet Mashiah. Eliyahu attends a Berit because a Berit is what we might call a "miniature redemption." A Berit Mila is a moment of immense Kedusha, an occasion that brings a level of purity and holiness to all those who are in attendance – resembling, in small measure, the purity and holiness that Eliyahu will help us achieve when he will arrive to prepare us for the final redemption.

Naturally, then, the period of Tum’a that follows childbirth ends after seven days – because at that point, the child is circumcised, and Eliyahu arrives and eliminates the impurity. And this is why the Torah mentions Berit Mila in this context – because it is the reason why the period of Tum’a after the birth of a boy ends after only seven days. The Torah is indicating to us that the occasion of a Berit has a profound spiritual impact which rids the woman of her state of Tum’a – giving us a glimpse of the spiritual elevation that we will experience in the future, when Eliyahu comes to prepare us for Mashiah, speedily and in our days, Amen.