Parashas Tazria

This week’s parashah begins with a discussion of the laws pertaining to a woman who has given birth. In Vayikra Rabbah 14:4, the Midrash analyzes the process of birth. The Midrash builds on a discussion Hashem had with Iyov. Hashem said (Iyov 38:4-11):
Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world? Tell, if you know understanding. Who set down its measures, if you know, or who stretched out the line upon it? Into what are its bases sunken, or who laid its cornerstone? … As He dammed in the sea with bolted doors, as its flow issued out of the womb … And I bounded it with My designated limits, and emplaced a bar and bolted doors. And I said, “Until here you will go and no further, and to here will be confined the majesty of your waves.”
The Midrash states:
And bounded it with My designated limits – this refers to the first three months of gestation. And emplaced a bar and bolted doors – this refers to the second three months. And I said, “Until here you will go and no further” – this refers to the last three months. “And to here will be confined the majesty of your waves (בגאון גליך). R. Aivu expounded homiletically: “The unsightliness of your filth (בעון גלליך). For when the infant exits the mother, it comes out covered with filth, and everyone embraces it and kisses it.”
The Maggid sets out to explain this Midrash. He considers the contrast between spiritual pursuits and worldly pursuits. Spiritual pursuits – growth along the Torah path – involves wisdom, understanding, purity of heart, and a love of noble character traits. It is just the opposite with worldly pursuits, such feeding and clothing oneself, earning a living, defending one’s rights, and building a family. The drive to satisfy worldly needs involves a large measure of self-delusion: One must hunger for worldly pleasures and gains, such as food, marital relations, honor, and wealth, losing awareness of their temporary nature.
We can wonder how Hashem, who is a God of truth, could have fashioned a world that runs on such foolishness. Was it beyond His ability, far be it, to arrange for worldly needs to be satisfied in the same way that spiritual eminence is attained, through the exercise of wisdom? Of course not. Hashem in fact originally designed the world to run entirely on wisdom. And initially it was easy for man to tend to worldly matters. As the Gemara in Shabbos 30b indicates, originally the earth gave forth loaves and woolen robes. But Adam and Chavah’s sin brought an end to this state of affairs, causing childbirth to be fraught with pain and the earth to cursed, so that man must earn his bread by the sweat of his brow. Under this new regime, it is extremely difficult to tend to worldly matters. Man must therefore be infused with the type of self-delusion described above, so that he will be motivated to overcome the difficulties.
All this is reflected in Hashem’s words to Iyov. Hashem says: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world? Declare, if you know understanding.” Hashem is telling Iyov to reflect and recognize that spiritual pursuits are grounded in wisdom and nobility of character, just as they were when He laid the foundations of the world. Hashem continues: “Who set down its measures, if you know, or who stretched out the line upon it? Into what are its bases sunken, or who laid its cornerstone?” Here, Hashem is alluding to the line of confusion and the cornerstone of emptiness which Adam and Chavah’s sin introduced into the world. Hashem speaks as if He is amazed over what the world is like: “Look – the world is sunken into vanity and falsity! Who placed a stumbling block before man, the work of My hand? It is all due to the defilement that entered man due to the serpent’s enticement.”
The Midrash illustrates the extent of man’s self-delusion. An infant comes out of its mother’s womb covered in filth, yet everyone embraces it and kisses it. At birth, a human being is in its lowliest form; as it grows older, it becomes more refined. This being so, one would think that that the degree to which parents are attracted to their child would grow over time. But in fact, it is just the opposite: It is at the time of birth that the attraction is strongest. Through delusion, Hashem arranges for the attraction to be strongest when the need is greatest.
The Midrash also indicates how the need for this delusion arose: בעון גלליך – through the defilement that entered entered man due to the serpent’s enticement. Adam and Chavah’s sin introduced into the world the curse of “with pain you shall bear children.” Before the sin, human beings were born instantly and fully-grown, without any need for anyone to raise them; as the Midrash says (Bereishis Rabbah 22:2): “On that very day they were created, on that very day they cohabited, and on that very day they had offspring … two went up into the bed, and seven came down – Adam, Chavah, Kayin and his twin sister, and Hevel and his two twin sisters.” But after the sin, human beings are born as infants, and they need their parents’ compassionate care to survive and grow. Initially, the amount of care needed is very great, and so Hashem arranges for the parents to feel a very strong attraction toward their child. As the child grows, the need diminishes, and the attraction diminishes correspondingly.
By analogy, consider the damages a person must pay for striking someone else. If the victim is so badly injured that he cannot work, the attacker must pay the amount required to cover all his daily needs. If afterward the victim’s condition improves and he is able to work part-time, the amount the attacker must pay diminishes. And if still later the victim recovers entirely, the attacker is no longer obligated to cover any of his daily needs, for he can now work for himself.
Similarly, when a child is first born, the effect of Adam and Chavah’s sin, with the associated curse of “with pain you shall bear children,” is very strong – the child is a helpless infant – and so the parents must put a very large amount of effort into caring for the child. As the child grows, the effect of the sin diminishes – the child matures – and so the effort the parents must put into caring for him or her diminishes, since they are only compensating for the effect of the sin. Accordingly, the attraction the parents feel for him or her diminishes, as we explained above. Thus it is written: “And I said, ‘Until here you will go and no further, and to here will be confined גאון גליךעון גלליך.’” The intense attraction that parents feel toward a child is confined to the time during which the effect of עון גלליך is greatest, for that is when it is needed.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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