Life, Death, and Birth Offerings

Paster Drawing for Parashat Tazria, Barkai Yeshiva Series, 2014

Parashat Tazria (Lev. 12:1-8) opens with matters of birth: A new life, boy or girl, and the related issues of ritual impurity and the offerings the woman would bring to the Tabernacle (Mishkan).

The two children of Aharon had just been consumed by fire (10:1-11), at the climax of the inauguration of the Mishkan. Immediately following the event, the Torah plunges into a long list of kosher and non kosher animals, forms of bodily and structural dysfunctions such as leprosy, and bizarre types of impurity and purification processes.

This tangential issues is, in the least, concerning. Must it take two whole weeks of public Torah reading (or longer, in the triennial cycle), until this matter is addressed?

The laws of Kashrut (Tazria and Metzora) all share a common theme: the importance of boundaries and distinction – whether in signs of kosher/non-kosher, celular deterioration and bodily fluids, or speech that is out of line. Nadav and Avihu, the two children of Aharon, overstepped their boundaries – out of pure love or rapture – and got themselves consumed.

Life and death, establishing boundaries, love and rebirth – all so central to our lives – are issues of intense nuance, subtlety and consequence.

This drawing shows a new mother and her child, bringing a thanksgiving offering to the Mishkan that is almost empty, for there are only few of Aharon’s sons left to serve. And yet she is celebrating life. And they are deeply involved in the process of blood, guts, fire, life and death, elevating this world through consciousness into the higher realms, into a connection with G-d, and into the betterment of humankind.

Though often tragically misunderstood, laws of kosher, boundaries regarding how we eat, dress, act and speak, are all part of the nature of relationship. And animal offerings, distant from the sentiment of the modern human (who rarely comes into contact with animals) can be a very meaningful and moving opportunity.

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