Parashat Tazria (She conceives)
Vayikra (Leviticus) 12:1–13:8
This week’s portion opens with an interesting yet mysterious ritual, which is actually the entire 12th chapter of Leviticus:
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘When a woman gives birth and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean for seven days, as in the days of her menstruation she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. Then she shall remain in the blood of her purification for thirty-three days; she shall not touch any consecrated thing, nor enter the sanctuary, until the days of her purification are completed. But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean for two weeks, as in her menstruation; and she shall remain in the blood of her purification for sixty-six days. And when the days of her purification are completed, for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the doorway of the tent of meeting, a one year old lamb for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering. ‘Then he shall offer it before the LORD and make atonement for her; and she shall be cleansed from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, whether a male or a female. ‘But if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two young pigeons, the one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.”
This is a difficult and mysterious text, which has left many commentators and teachers a bit baffled. The mystery in this portion of Scripture is connected to the time of purification after the birth of a male (40 days), whereas the purification time after the birth of a female is double that – 80 days. While I do not want to try to offer an explanation as to why God required double the amount of time for purification after the birth of a female child, I do want to focus on how it connects to the Hebrew word, “תַזְרִ֔יעַ” (tazria). In Leviticus 12, the word “תזריע” tazria is mistranslated in the English as “gives birth”. In reality, the most precise translation of this word is “to conceive a seed”. The root word here is “zera”, which literally means “seed”.
When the word “seed” is mentioned in the Scriptures, we should recognize that it carries with it a prophetic element, pointing to both Messiah and Israel as a nation.
We also find it in Genesis 1:11, which specifically pertains to vegetation: “Then God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit after their kind, with seed in them, on the earth’; and it was so.” We see that the purpose here is to bear fruit, be plentiful, and to be a blessing.
Speaking about producing fruit and being a blessing, God promised Abraham in Genesis 12:2–3:
And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
And later again in Genesis 12:7:
And the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your seed I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him.
While the ultimate seed of blessing is the Messiah, we can also find a deep connection between the seed, the land and the blessing, which is always connected to Israel. That is the reason that in our portion it is also written, “And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised,” which is a sign that the baby boy has joined the people of Israel:
This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you.
God’s promise to Abraham is very present in our Scripture portion for this week, even though we may not be able to immediately recognize it! As we dig deep into the Word, we find some amazing treasures, don’t we?
I would like to close with one last thought from our portion. As I mentioned before, the purity period for a woman who gave birth was either 40 or 80 days. The number 40 symbolizes transition in the Scriptures, which is a reflection of the incredible journey a woman takes when she brings another life into the world. Once again, we see amazing continuity and connection in God’s Word!
Dig deep into His Word, ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and you will find some amazing insights and treasures!