At the beginning of this week’s parasha, we are told that having given birth, the mother of the newborn baby is commanded to bring an “Olah” and a”Chataat” (an “Elevation-offering” and a “Sin-offering”) to the Bet Hamikdash upon the completion of the “days of her purity”.
During this shiur, I would like specifically to deal with the “Sin-offering”, the “Chataat”.
Why would the Torah require of the mother of a newly born child to bring a Sin-offering to the Bet Hamikdash?
The Talmud in Massechet Niddah (31b) suggests that the Sin-offering atones for the possibility, that in her agony; the mother may have sworn never to live with her husband again. The Ibn Ezra, following a similar line, explains that the Elevation-offering atones for resentful thoughts she may have had against her husband or even her Creator during her labor pains.
Rabbeinu Bachya suggests that it would make much more sense for the Mother to bring a Thanksgiving-offering, yet the reason that she is required to bring a Chataat and an Olah is not directly to do with her, but in relation to the very first mother – Chava.
Had it not been for the initial sin of Chava, then children would be born as easily as trees bare their fruits, with no pain or suffering whatsoever. Thus the mother is required, having gone through the painful process that is a direct result of the acts of Chava, to remember the sin of her Matriarch. A sin that was in both thought and deed, that is atoned for with the Olah and Chataat respectively.
Abarbanel explains that the Olah is brought by the mother in order to show her complete devotion to Hashem, it reflects the absolute thanks that a person saved from great danger has for their savior. We could suggest that according to the Abarbanel, the gratitude of the mother is so great that the normal Thanksgiving-offering can in no way reflect her feelings. In the case of birth not only has the mother been saved, but she has given birth to a beautiful baby, she has witnessed the greatest miracle with her own eyes. The ideal way to express her gratitude is by way of an Olah, an offering that is offered up in its entirety on the Mizbayach.
The Chataat, according to Abarbanel, comes to reflect that whenever a person experiences trauma in this world it will always indicate that they have sinned in one way or another. If a person was of absolute righteousness he would never experience pain in any way, thus when pain is experienced, even in a positive manner, it must be indicative of atonement for sins. The mother having experienced great pain thus brings a Chataat to atone for the sins that this pain surely reflected.
The explanations provided above all aim to deal with this most perplexing commandment, yet each suggestion can be questioned.
According to the initial opinion, quoted by the Talmud that a woman may have vowed inadvertently during labor; surely the Torah would not insist on every women bringing a sacrifice because of the few who had made such a vow?
According to Rabbeinu Bachya , though indeed the pain of the women in labor is directly due to the sin of Chava, surely the pain itself is enough to remind us of the initial sin of our Matriarch?
Possibly, Rabbeinu Bachya is stressing that exact point. For many women, the reason for such pain is inexplicable, thus the Torah commands us to bring the Olah and Chataat in order to remind us why that pain exists, and possibly to hint to us that we are direct descendants of Chava, and are quite likely to fall into the same trap set for us by the contemporary serpent who attempts to derail us daily.
According to Abarbanel, in order for his theory to be absolute, one would have to accept the premise that pain automatically reflects sin. However, it is not so clear that this is the case. In support of his theory, Abarbanel quotes the Talmud in Shabbat (55a – 55b), that pain will not come if there is no sin.
However, when talking of “Yissurim Shel Ahava” in Berachot (5a), Rashi distinctly explains that Hashem will bring suffering to a person in this world even if they have never sinned in order to increase their reward in “Olam Haba”. That is to say, Hashem will often bring suffering on a human being not because they have sinned but to test their belief in Him. A person who comes through such a test will benefit enormously in his spirituality, in his relationship with Hashem and ultimately in Olam Haba.
These comments of Rashi would stand in direct conflict with the premise of Abarbanel, though of course it is quite possible that Abarbanel will explain the Gemara in Berachot differently to Rashi.
However, the initial gemara in Shabbat quoted as a support by the Abarbanel himself is in fact problematic, since even though R. Ami does indeed state that there is no suffering without sin, at the conclusion of the talmudic discussion relating to his statement, the view is refuted, and the gemara in Shabbat itself concludes that there is indeed suffering without sin.
In conclusion, I would like to make a suggestion regarding our topic, using a Midrashic source from Vayikra Rabbah:
“Rabbi Levi said three things (regarding the birth of a child): (1) In the ways of the world, if a person was to deposit a purse full of silver with his friend in secret, and have a box full of gold returned to him publicly, would he not be grateful?! So it is with the Heavenly Master, man deposits a “putrid drop” in secret, and Hashem provides him with the most beautiful being with purest of souls in public.
(2) In the ways of the world, when a man is in prison, and no one looks out for him, no one cares for him; if a person were to come to his cell, and light him a candle, would he not be grateful to him?! So it is with the Heavenly Master, the embryo lies alone in the womb of his mother, and Hashem comes to him and lights him a candle.
(3) In the ways of the world when a man is in prison, and no one looks out for him, no one cares for him; if a person were to come to his cell, and release him into absolute freedom, would he not be grateful?! So it is with the heavenly Master, were it not for Him the miracle of life would not exist – the world itself would not exist.”
To my mind Rabbi Levi is looking at birth from three perspectives:
(1) The initial creation of the embryo
(2) The continued life of that embryo in the womb
(3) The birth of the embryo
Rabbi Levi is coming to stress to us the absolute miracle of the embryo from the moment of fertilization to the moment of birth. Whenever students state that they have never seen miracles, I immediately reply, that once they are married, and bezrat Hashem have children, they will see miracles that they could never believe. However, in truth, if we just open our eyes we see miracles all around us, wherever we are, whatever we are doing.
Life is a miracle. When we stop to think about how we came into this world. Indeed, if we take the time to ponder on our actual existence from the moment we rise-up in the morning until we go to sleep at night. When we consider, how we can close our eyes at night, continue to breath, and awaken in the morning refreshed. When we consider, how we can sit at a table, eat food, and our body will decide what it needs and what can be rejected. When we can get up in the morning and see and hear, and walk and run – indeed there is no miracle greater than life.
When discussing “Emunah VeBitachon” the Chazon Ish spends much of the first part of his sefer dealing with the human body. How can one know the human body and its workings and not believe in Hashem? How can one see the birth of a child and not say Hallel?
Yet as human beings we, more often that not, choose to see our own greatness, and conclude that we are the gods of the world, that we are in control, that fate lies only in our hands. The fear of Moshe Rabbeinu that once manna from Heaven ceased and once the people became farmers on “their own land” – they would conclude – “My strength, and the power of my hand created this wealth” (Devarim Chapter 8, Verse 17), has realized itself today more than ever before. The more man advances technologically, the less he believes in G-d. There is a direct correlation between scientific advancement, and lack of belief. Clearly this correlation needn’t exist, but it does nevertheless.
When a child is born, the experience is almost totally that of the Mothers. She has carried this embryo for nine months; it has affected her life in everyway. Finally, she has given birth, a process involving enormous pain and effort. As the nurse brings the mother the newly born child she can react in one of two ways:
(1) She can be totally overwhelmed by the miracle that she has just played a direct part in. She can be totally grateful to Hashem for having enabled her to give birth to a healthy newborn child – this is represented by the “Olah” sacrifice. The sacrifice comes to show the mother how she should react, to open her eyes to the most wonderful miracle that she has experienced.
(2) On the other hand, the mother can totally ignore the hand of G-d, she will of course be extremely grateful to science, to the staff at the hospital. She can be proud at herself for what she has created. A mother could mistakenly believe, that it was her efforts alone that brought about this child, that she is in fact the creator, that she is in control. This possible reaction is represented by the “Chataat” sacrifice. This sacrifice is always brought, because as human beings, there is always an element of “Chataat” in our approach to life, there is always a little too much reliance on science alone, with a disregard of the true ruler of Earth – Hashem.
Thus, the mother comes to the Bet HaMikdash with a double offering, one reflecting the ideal, the objective, the other reflecting the reality at present. The greatest battle that the newborn child will have to face is the same exact battle that his mother and indeed every one of us has to face every day of our lives. The ultimate objective will be that after 120 years on this earth, the soul of that newborn baby will return to heaven having truly accomplished the purpose of life.