And it shall be a statute for ever for you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month…For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your transgressions shall you be clean before Hashem. It shall be the Sabbath of Sabbaths….it is a statute forever (Leviticus 16:29-31).
Of course, these verses from this week’s parasha describe the day known as Yom Kippur. In his own exegetical commentary, Philo of Alexandria taught that Yom Kippur is the ‘Sabbath of Sabbaths’ because it brings Jews together like not other holiday in tefillah, communion with Gd and the quest for atonement. Philo specifically says that it is not only the observant and righteous that sanctify the day, but also those Jews who do not observe Jewish practice the other days of the year. Whereas Philo’s teaching is certainly appropriate for our own day, he wrote these words 2,000 years ago!
The Hebrew word tum’ah is typically translated as ritual impurity. Tum’ah is most relevant in modern times to describe a woman’s status during and after her menstrual cycle ;‘impurity’ is a crass, misnomer of a translation. A better translation/explanation for the word is ‘a state-of-restrictedness.’ To what is she restricted? During ancient times, a person, male or female, with tum’ah was prevented from bringing a sacrifice to the Temple; and even today a woman in this restricted state must desist from conjugal relations until the status is removed. This week’s parsha contains the following: And when the days of her (a birthing mother’s) tum’ahare fulfilled, for a son, or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt-offering, and a young pigeon, or a turtle-dove, for a sin-offering, unto the door of the tent of meeting, unto the priest.(Leviticus 12:6) The burnt-offering was part of her ritual to remove the tum’ah – does the sin-offering connote some type of negativity concomitant to bearing children?
Explains the Talmud:
R.Simeon b. Yohai was asked by his disciples: Why did the Torah ordain that a woman after childbirth should bring a sin-offering? He replied: When she kneels to bear the child she swears recklessly that she will have no relations with her husband. The Torah, therefore, ordained that she should bring a sacrifice [in order to absolve her of her oath]. (B.T. Niddah 31b).
Rabbi Shmuel Mohiliver (Poland d. 1898) was a pioneer of religious Zionism and a founder of the Hovevei Tzion and Mizrachi movements. Many of Europe's religious Jewish population opposed the idea of a Zionism that was unfolding by way of human efforts rather than miracles and wonders of Gd as hinted at in the Tanach, As in the days of your exodus from Egypt, I (Gd) will show them wonders. (Book of Micah 7:15) After a rabbi verbally attacked Rav Mohiliver, R' Shmuel explained as follows: the big miracle of our first redemption (the exodus from Egypt) was the splitting of the Sea of Reeds; and yet despite this miracle of nature our redemption was not the parting of the sea but leaving Egypt as the Torah does not say, I am your Gd who split the sea for you, the Torah says, who took you out of the Land of Egypt. Why this wording? It was easier for Gd to part the sea than it was to motivate the People Israel to leave their exile. Similarly, argued Rabbi Mohiliver, the greatest act of Gd in modern Zionism is the desire of the Jewish people to return to the Land of Israel.