Parental Sacrifice

The burnt offering and the sin offering that a woman brings after childbirth symbolize the dual nature of parenting.

Commentary on Parashat Tazria, Leviticus 12:1 - 13:59

The opening verses of Tazria deal with the various rituals a woman undergoes after childbirth. After the birth of a child she brings two offerings: a year-old lamb or a turtledove or a pigeon as an olah, a burnt offering; and a turtledove or a pigeon as a chatas, a sin offering.

The Talmud questions the order of the offerings as they are described in the Torah, pointing out that when these two offerings are brought as a pair, the chatas is always offered first. Yet in these verses about childbirth, the olah is listed first.

Raba maintains that, in fact, the chatas is brought first. Why, then, is it listed second?

The late Rabbi Menachem Sacks of Chicago, in his wonderful homiletic work, Menachem Tzion, views this sequence as a message on how we ought to view our children’s future.

Parents continually sacrifice for their offspring, with their efforts, funds and time spread out on the altar of child development. The olah and the chatas symbolize the dual nature of parenting.

High Aspirations for Children

The olah, considered the highest offering, symbolizes the high aspirations we parents have for our children. We expect great things from them in their Torah learning and personal piety, in their academic and financial pursuits, indeed, in almost everything they do. We want them to be great and we want them to be perfect.

And we want to be perfect parents. We want to give them everything they need to succeed and shelter them from any obstacles to success.

But commonly it is the chatas that is brought for unintentional sins that more closely resembles our efforts. We make mistakes while parenting. We make mistakes raising and training our children. No parent can avoid this.

The Gemara’s interpretation of the pasuk (verse) teaches a profound truth. The olah is listed first in the verse. When a child is born, we have high hopes, and we should never give up those hopes and dreams; we must continue our struggles and efforts, so that our sons and daughters can be the best they possibly can be.

We are bidden to dedicate all our efforts to this end, even though we know that, in reality, perfection is unattainable. We, as parents, cannot always implement every one of our dreams.

Thus the chatas is, in actuality, brought before the olah.

Rav Sacks points out that the chatas represents the Rambam‘s “golden mean.” Reality may not equal the dream, but it can be quite good.

If we keep our dreams in focus, we can reach many of them and enjoy satisfaction and nachas (pride) in seeing our children grow as Jews and as human beings.

Provided by the Orthodox Union, the central coordinating agency for North American Orthodox congregations.

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