Life, Death, and Impurity

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Giving Birth Today

In light of recent events, I have contemplated another possible explanation for the impurity of childbirth. In a haunting discussion about instability in the Middle East and the vulnerable state of world affairs, a colleague described the frightening experience of bringing a child into this world: "While I feel great joy in creating a new life," he remarked,"I also know that I have created a new potential for death." Every human being will die. Each birth brings another fragile, mortal being into the universe. In our precarious world, this reality quickly comes into sharp focus.

Herein lies one explanation for the double period of impurity following the birth of a female child. The baby girl embodies the potential to one day bear another new life. Each life that is brought into the world will also bring another death. Therefore, the Torah marks the birth of a girl, a future holy vessel for the creation of life, as fraught with twice the amount "death symbolism."

Perhaps the laws of Leviticus Chapter 12 respond to the conflicting emotions of any new parent. A new birth brings joy and trepidation, awe and fear. A new parent has faith in the potential for life, yet dreads the possibility of death. The biblical purity system proclaims that our confrontations with the temporal nature of life leave a deep spiritual imprint--from conception to birth to illness to death. At every stage in life, we acknowledge and ritualize our encounters with death. Then we embrace and immerse in life anew.

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Rabbi Lauren Eichler Berkun works as a community adult educator at Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center in Aventura, Florida.