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Browse Torah Articles: Sefer Vayiqra: Parashat Tazria: The Offerings after Childbirth

Contributed by: R. Ezra Mizrahi

In this beginning of Parashat Tazria, we learn of the purification of a woman after childbirth. We read:

".A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son.On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised . . . When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the kohen at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering. He shall offer them before Hashem to make atonement for her" (Leviticus 12: 1-7)

There are two main questions we can pose on these verses:
1. Why does a woman who gave birth have to bring a "sin offering" (hatat)? What did she do wrong?
2. Why do the verses first state that she brings a "burnt offering" (olah) and then a sin offering (hatat), when in reality the Rabbis teach us that as a rule the sin offering is always sacrificed first?

The Rabbis tell us that this atonement is for the woman's cursing of her husband in the throngs of pain during childbirth, saying that she will never allow him again to come upon her.

This strange answer is brought in various Gemarot (Niddah, Keretot, Shevouoht). However, this answer is problematic. Not every woman actually does swear in such a fashion. Secondly, she is not brings the customary sacrifices that a woman who used the name of Hashem in vain, would bring. Thirdly, why is she permitted to her husband without any sort of nullification of her vow?

Understandably, another answer is given to this question. Our Rabbis teach us that this sin offering and atonement is due to the original sin of Havah, the mother of all life. It was due to Havah's sin that women were cursed to experience pain during childbirth. The sources tell us that childbirth was to be a natural painless experience similar to a tree bearing its fruit. However, after the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge, women were cursed to experience this pain.

We can now understand why the Torah mentions the burnt offering before the sin offering. The Gemara in Zevahim (90a) states that the Torah placed the burnt offering first "lemiqra’ah" meaning "for reading purposes". Rabeynou Bahyeh explains that the order mentioned in the verses is only "for reading" meaning to "hint" to us that the sacrifices are for the sake of the original sin of Havah, which first dealt with sinning in thought, and then in action. Havah sinned first in thought, the rationalization that she took a part of (with the snake) and the actual sin of eating from the tree. The burnt offering is to remind the woman of the sin in thoughts, and the sin offering is to remind the woman of the actual sin.

Ultimately, this kappara is very important, as the later verse states "Vehiqrivo" - "[the kohen] sacrifices it" in singular form, and not "he sacrifices them". From here it is taught in Torat Kohanim that the olah (burnt offering), if not offered, does not stop the woman from achieving kappara or atonement. Only one of he sacrifices is vital and necessary, and that is the hatat (sin offering).
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