At the beginning of Parshat Tazria, the Torah introduces a new concept called “ימי דמי טהרה”. Seven days after a woman gives birth to a boy (14 days after she gives birth to a girl) she must ‘sit for 33 days’ (66 days for a girl) in her דמי טהרה””, after which time she brings a korban, receives atonement, and returns to a state of purity – which concludes this unique “דמי טהרה” time-period. What does “דמי טהרה” actually mean? What is the Divine meaningfulness behind this obligatory post-birth period? And, more technically, why is the time doubled when it is a girl who is born?
The central component of this enigmatic period is the newly introduced concept of דמי טהרה. Many commentators (along with the midrash) explain this uniquely circumstantial blood as ‘quasi-pure’, specifically different than the ‘more common’ totally impure blood of נדה and זבה. According to their approach, while the latter two prohibit any interaction with sanctified material and any sexual contact with her husband, when the woman ‘sits’ in her דמי טהרה, however, she is permitted to her husband (although still prohibited from interacting with sacred material). This approach is difficult to accept for two reasons. At the end of this section, the Torah instructs the woman to bring her korban at the conclusion of the 33/66-day cycle, ‘and she will receive atonement, and be purified from her blood flow (מקור דמיה)’ (7). In Vayikra 20:18, the ‘fully-impure’ נדה blood is referred to as מקור דמיה – so it would seem she is still, totally impure (i.e. even prohibited from her husband!) at the conclusion of this 33/66-day cycle (a state she began immediately after the birth (2)). The second difficulty with the popular ‘quasi-pure’ definition of this distinctive דמי טהרה is that the word טהרה is not pronounced ‘ta-HA-rah’, but rather ‘to-HO-rah’. The former would have been translated as ‘blood of purity’ (as the midrash and commentators explained); however, as seen in the following three instances in the Torah, the word ‘to-HO-rah’ is used to describe a purification process:
ויקרא יג לה וְאִם־פָּשֹׂ֥ה יִפְשֶׂ֛ה הַנֶּ֖תֶק בָּע֑וֹר אַחֲרֵ֖י טׇהֳרָתֽוֹ:
And if the scall spread after his purification
שם טו יג וְכִֽי־יִטְהַ֤ר הַזָּב֙ מִזּוֹב֔וֹ וְסָ֨פַר ל֜וֹ שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִ֛ים לְטׇהֳרָת֖וֹ וְכִבֶּ֣ס בְּגָדָ֑יו וְרָחַ֧ץ בְּשָׂר֛וֹ בְּמַ֥יִם חַיִּ֖ים וְטָהֵֽר׃
…And he will count seven days for his purification and wash his clothing…
במדבר ו ט וְכִֽי־יָמ֨וּת מֵ֤ת עָלָיו֙ בְּפֶ֣תַע פִּתְאֹ֔ם וְטִמֵּ֖א רֹ֣אשׁ נִזְר֑וֹ וְגִלַּ֤ח רֹאשׁוֹ֙ בְּי֣וֹם טׇהֳרָת֔וֹ בַּיּ֥וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֖י יְגַלְּחֶֽנּוּ׃
…and he will shave his head on the day of his purification…
Therefore, in our section, we can more properly define the new mother’s דמי טהרה as blood that actualizes her purification (as opposed to the blood itself being ‘quasi-pure’). However, this definition instigates an immediate question: when has blood ever actualized purification for a woman?! The other two examples of a woman’s blood flow in the Torah – נדה and זבה – both render her (totally) impure – so how can it be that this blood actualizes a state of purity?!
There is one other time in all of the Torah where this distinct unexpected juxtaposition between blood and purification is found. During the Yom Kippur service in the mishkan when the מזבח הזהב is sprinkled with blood, which then serves to purify it:
ויקרא טז יט וְהִזָּ֨ה עָלָ֧יו מִן־הַדָּ֛ם בְּאֶצְבָּע֖וֹ שֶׁ֣בַע פְּעָמִ֑ים וְטִהֲר֣וֹ וְקִדְּשׁ֔וֹ מִטֻּמְאֹ֖ת בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
“19 and the rest of the blood he shall sprinkle on it with his finger seven times. Thus he shall purify it of the defilement of the Israelites and consecrate it.”
And the Torah actively labels – and accepts – this blood-purification formula as an exception, and openly declares this uniqueness when first describing the מזבח הזהב back in Sefer Shemot:
שמות ל ח וּבְהַעֲלֹ֨ת אַהֲרֹ֧ן אֶת־הַנֵּרֹ֛ת בֵּ֥ין הָעַרְבַּ֖יִם יַקְטִירֶ֑נָּה קְטֹ֧רֶת תָּמִ֛יד לִפְנֵ֥י ה’ לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶֽם׃
ט לֹא־תַעֲל֥וּ עָלָ֛יו קְטֹ֥רֶת זָרָ֖ה וְעֹלָ֣ה וּמִנְחָ֑ה וְנֵ֕סֶךְ לֹ֥א תִסְּכ֖וּ עָלָֽיו׃
י וְכִפֶּ֤ר אַהֲרֹן֙ עַל־קַרְנֹתָ֔יו אַחַ֖ת בַּשָּׁנָ֑ה מִדַּ֞ם חַטַּ֣את הַכִּפֻּרִ֗ים אַחַ֤ת בַּשָּׁנָה֙ יְכַפֵּ֤ר עָלָיו֙ לְדֹרֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם קֹֽדֶשׁ־קׇדָשִׁ֥ים ה֖וּא לַה’׃
“8 and Aaron shall burn it at twilight when he lights the lamps—a regular incense offering before God throughout the ages.
9 You shall not offer alien incense on it, or a burnt offering or a meal offering; neither shall you pour a libation on it.
10 Once a year Aaron shall perform purification upon its horns with blood of the sin offering of purification; purification shall be performed upon it once a year throughout the ages. It is most holy to God.”
After having just stated what is permitted to be brought on the מזבח הזהב – the daily incense – in pasuk nine, the Torah then conscientiously (and uncharacteristically) enumerates each and every item that is not allowed to be brought upon the מזבח הזהב: foreign incense, an Olah, a Mincha, or any libations. And then, in stark contrast to this (extraneous?) complete list of prohibited items, in the following pasuk, the Torah then lists the one exception to the ‘nothing foreign on the מזבח’ rule, that once a year (stated twice!), blood will be placed upon the מזבח during the Yom Kippur service (to purify it). This blatant ‘exceptional yet accepted’ case of the מזבח הזהב and its purifying blood becomes a perfect precedent for accepting the exceptional case of a purifying blood of a woman who has recently given birth, just as the word טהרה (to-Ho-ra) implied (as explained above).
So what is this purification she is to actualize ‘through’ her blood? What does God want this woman to achieve during these days of her דמי טהרה?
There are three more points that require elucidation to enable us not only to answer the questions above, but to also formulate an understanding of the larger message of this entire section:
1) In pasuk four, the Torah states that during her days sitting in her blood of purification, ‘[the woman] may not touch anything sanctified, nor go to the Mishkan’. The Torah never specifically mentioned these two restrictions in reference to any other period during which a woman is in impure (although the Rabbis did in fact also include them in the restrictions of her impure states of נדה and זבה). In other words, it’s during this specific (and unique) דמי טהרה period that a woman, who has just given birth, may not access outside vehicles of holiness to assist her in this purification process. The charge, therefore, is for the woman to independently actualize her own purification. In the same vein, also in pasuk four, the Torah states that the woman must ‘sit/dwell’ –תשב”” – in her דמי טהרה. This verb is never used to describe her ‘actions’ or status during a blood-impurity period (by נדה and זבה she is ‘just’ impure, and must count the days until it’s over). This novel word of תשב, therefore, reflects her unique charge to consciously and purposefully ‘dwell’ on her purification during this period.
2) We know that the purity she is achieving during these days of דמי טהרה cannot possibly be a purification from a ‘normal’ blood-impurity, for at the conclusion of this period she must bring Korbanot in order to ‘receive atonement and be purified from her flow of blood’ (7). She is still impure from her blood-flow until the very last day; even having successfully fulfilled her previous דמי טהרה – and it’s only once she brings the required Korbanot that she achieves her purity! There are over 35 examples in the TaNaKH when the word טהור – pure – is not used in the context of purity vs. impurity, but rather to mean complete or unadulterated vs. broken or tainted. For example, the gold used in the Mishkan needed to be טהור – pure and unblemished (Shemot 25:36); similarly, the קטורת needed to be ‘refined, pure and sanctified’ (ibid 30:35); also in Tehillim (51:12) and Mishlei (30:12), there is mention of a לב טהור and a דור טהור, respectively – both uses referring to a complete/whole state. Therefore, because we cannot understand דמי טהרה in this context as blood that enables purification from impurity (as stated above) we are able to define it instead as blood that allows her to become complete, whole and unblemished.
3) Lastly, concerning the (strange?) amount of time this unique דמי טהרה period lasts – 33 days (boys) or 66 days (girls). If you add the first seven days (during which the woman, who has just given birth to a boy, resides in a נדה-esque state) to the subsequent 33 days of her דמי טהרה – you get 40: the Torah’s go-to number for ‘an extended period of time’. And similarly, if you add the initial fourteen days of the נדה-esque state – when a woman gives birth to a girl – to the subsequent 66 days of her דמי טהרה – you get 80: a ‘2x’ extended period of time.
Therefore, putting all of these pieces together, the charge from the Torah for a woman who has just given birth would be understood in the following way: for an extended period of time (7+33 days = 40/14+66 days = 40×2), she must independently (‘do not touch sanctified objects or enter the Mishkan’) consciously dwell (תשב) on the process of actualizing her wholeness through the vehicle of the blood of child-birth (דמי טהרה). Undoubtedly there is also a state of impurity (טומאה) the woman will ultimately exit from (at the end of the 40/80 days) with the korbanot she will bring (7) which completes her ימי טהרה; however, what the ימי דמי טהרה introduce is yet another unique layer of her development during this time; one that charges the woman to discover a ‘purity of self’, a realizing of self-wholeness which was seemingly lost upon the birth of her child.
So, what is this personal wholeness she is charged with self-actualizing? What is the nature of her existing incompleteness that she is then commanded to reverse? The flow of blood from a woman’s body – during menstruation and of course more intensely during childbirth – is perceived, especially back in the time of the Torah, as her very life-force passing out of her body which did, in fact, often lead to the death of the mother during birth. Physically she was weakened by the loss of this life-blood; psychologically the dramatic, painful and often frightening nature of the birth was intensely draining; and even from the religious perspective, the blood rendered her ‘impure’, (temporarily) separating the new mother from her ‘normal’ life. The Torah, however, concerns itself deeply with the life it inspires, not the limitations it requires; God’s obligations for us are vehicles of advancement not restriction. And the same Torah-value is true concerning the biological ‘restrictions’ of life: the dangers, arduousness and wearying nature of pregnancy, labor, and the subsequent birth and continued care of the child are challenging realities, enforced obligations, and often life-threatening responsibilities. A woman would easily perceive herself, therefore, as a mere vehicle of creation, repeatedly sacrificing herself for a ‘more important’ greater good of familial and national continuity.
Therefore, the Biblical charge at the beginning of Parshat Tazria is the obligation for the Jewish woman to dwell within a significant period of self-reflection, introspection and edification, within this ‘baby-creator’ context, ensuring that the she has ample opportunity and focus to independently discover and understand that the existence of the new life before her doesn’t merely translate to a sacrificing of her own. There are many religions and cultures that foster, educate and treasure their progeny – the instruments of their continuity and legacy; God, however, demands that His nation also nurture, support and ennoble the parents themselves, the enablers of that future. Immediately upon introducing a new life into the world, the Jewish mother is charged with the unique and powerful obligation of the ימי דמי טהרה: to ensure that she understands her own significance, her own strength and her own substantial existence specifically within the context of one of the most biologically demanding selfless responsibilities – motherhood. By recognizing herself as something more significant than a mere physical ‘machine’ to create and sustain, the Jewish woman in fact becomes a greater force in enabling that creation and sustaining. For the most complete and profoundly significant children are empowered and inspired by the most exceptional, deeply confident and fulfilled parents. The greater the mother, the greater the child; the greater the child, the greater the nation.
The final issue concerns the discrepancy of the length of time for these ימי דמי טהרה depending on the newborn’s gender. On the one hand, the length of time to complete this process differentiates the genders; on the other hand, the Torah explicitly equates boys and girls concerning the obligation of this post-birth process, twice (!):
ו וּבִמְלֹ֣את ׀ יְמֵ֣י טׇהֳרָ֗הּ לְבֵן֮ א֣וֹ לְבַת֒…
ז …זֹ֤את תּוֹרַת֙ הַיֹּלֶ֔דֶת לַזָּכָ֖ר א֥וֹ לַנְּקֵבָֽה׃
“6 On the completion of her period of purification, for either son or daughter…
7…Such are the rituals concerning her who bears a child, male or female.”
There is one pasuk in this section that stands out as not directly connected to the newly introduced concept of ימי דמי טהרה:
ג וּבַיּ֖וֹם הַשְּׁמִינִ֑י יִמּ֖וֹל בְּשַׂ֥ר עׇרְלָתֽוֹ׃
3 On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.
Why would the Torah record – giving it its own, self-contained pasuk no less – the obligation of the Brit Milah which has been mentioned elsewhere, numerous times, throughout the Torah? Also, although obviously related to births, it is not directly part of the section which is seemingly specifically included to introduce this new concept of ימי דמי טהרה? We have learned that the days of דמי טהרה are given to the woman for self-introspection and self-edification; an opportunity to more deeply appreciate the life she is, within the setting of the new life she has just created. The Brit Milah is an objective demarcation of that new child’s significant role in the world; after eight days, the mother is ‘automatically’ given a vehicle with which to engender those feelings of personal fulfillment and wholeness – “Look what I just created! Another significant link in the chain of our national legacy; a vehicle of fulfillment of a Divine commandment!” Because the newly birthed girl does not receive this ‘objective mark’, God gives the mother ‘extra’ time – a time period that takes the child into its first stage of significant child-development – to allow the mother to properly appreciate those same feelings of self-actualization, personal contentment, success, pride and fulfillment in the role she has played and will continue to play as the mother of this new addition to her family and to her nation.
 The following idea was inspired by a question posed to me by Talia Davis MTA 2020.
 There are actually 13 references throughout TaNaKH quoted in the concordance, all with this same meaning.
 Additionally, the read of טהרה as a simple modifier of the blood (‘blood of purity’) is confusing because דם is masculine, and therefore טהור, not טהרה, would have been the correct usage.
 While the other vessels of the mishkan are also sprinkled with blood during the service, it is only the מזבח הזהב that the Torah then says it is also ‘purified’.
 This read on the word טהור would also fit nicely into the ‘purification’ of the מזבח הזהב on Yom Kippur. It becomes ‘perfected’ and ‘whole’ again after the damage from all the past sins of the nation.
 See for example, Bemidbar 13:25, Shemot 34:28 and Shmuel 1 17:16.
 Another layer to this post-birth independent introspection can be appreciated when taking Ancient Egyptian culture into consideration. While during birth women/midwives relied heavily on ‘magical’ medicines and incantations for a successful birth, there are records that also describe that even after the birth, the mother relied heavily on external talisman and magical spells to assist in her baby’s health and development. God’s requirement here would brilliantly counter this approach; demanding, instead, that the woman herself naturally find the strength, determination and inspiration to nourish and cultivate her new baby’s life, lending a deep feeling of personal achievement to her child’s existence.
 Between 2-4 months, a child reaches its first stage of significant physical and mental development. See for example, https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/index.html