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Vayikra/Leviticus 12:4 and [for] thirty-three days she shall remain in the blood of purity
Boundary conditions are well attested in the mathematical world: a set of conditions that specify the solution to a set of differential equations at the boundary of its domain. In less precise terms, boundary conditions specify where the general solution to a problem does and does not apply. More practically, we know that life normally works according to a reasonably well-defined set of rules or principles; when you approach the boundary - or limit - of where those rules apply, anomalies and exceptions become more common. Ultimately, as you get closer and closer to or even cross over the boundary, the normal rules cease to apply.
Judaism is very clear that contact with the boundary of life and death - in many different forms - is an occasion where care must be taken because boundary conditions mean that the normal rules of behaviour, emotion and reason are often suspended or abandoned. Tough male men, who would otherwise scorn to show such emotion, will cry when their child is born; soldiers will spend their weeks on leave from a combat zone getting drunk or picking fights with people in their home town; women will zealously purge the home and belongings of a close relative who has died; those whose hearts have been stopped and restarted for open heart surgery often suffer hallucinations for several months after the procedure. All these are examples of irrational behaviour brought on by close proximity to the boundary of life and death. Within Judaism, touching a corpse, giving birth, even finding a dead insect in a cooking pot, are all events that are surrounded by varying degrees of ritual and prescribed behaviour. These provide frameworks and coping mechanisms that allow the boundary touchers or crossers to process their emotions in a safe environment and with the appropriate understanding of others.
The text above comes from a series of instructions given in the first eight verses of this week's parasha that govern the behaviour of a mother in the period immediately following giving birth. Although the lengths of time differ depending on the gender of the child - being doubled in the case of a female - there are essentially four states and three events involved in the process. The first state is that of the pregnancy and its terminating event is the birth of the child. The second state is that of niddah, similar to the seven days of menstruation, arbitrarily fixed to seven/fourteen twenty-four hour days and ended - according to Jewish tradition - by immersion in the mikvah. The third state is a period of waiting, thirty-three days for a male child, sixty-six for a female, ending in a ritual of atonement and purification; the fourth sees the mother restored to full participation in normal society.
The anomaly in these otherwise straightforward rules is the last words in the text: - blood of purity, referring to the third state: of waiting. A few chapters later, the Torah will tell us, "If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness. As in the days of her impurity, she shall be unclean" (Vayikra 15:22, ESV). So is this time of waiting, which may involve the loss of blood, a time of ritual cleanness or uncleanness? The rest of the verse from our text says "She shall not touch anything holy, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed" (12:4, ESV), which implies that she is not ritually clean, butSefer HaChinuch comments, "Then whether she saw [blood] some days of the seven, or even all seven, on the evening of the seventh, which is the night of the eight, she undergoes immersion and is ritually clean [permitted] to her husband", showing that the traditional rabbinic interpretation is that she is ritually clean. Nevertheless, the Torah does not permit her to enter the sanctuary nor eat or touch food that is holy - the portion of the priests. The wife of a priest would be affected by this latter restriction.
Rashi comments, "For this [woman] is immersed of an extended day, since she immersed at the end of seven days, but her sun does not fade into evening until the setting of the sun of the fortieth day (i.e. seven plus thirty-three)." With some other types of ritual uncleanness, the person washes themselves and their clothes and has to wait until sunset to be ritually clean, sometimes followed by a sacrifice on the following day, being then known as meshucar kippurim, one lacking atonement. Here the rabbis regard the thirty-three/sixty-six days as if it were one long day between the immersion at the end of the seventh day and the sacrifice brought on the forty-first or eighty-first day.
Luke's gospel records that Yosef and Miryam, Yeshua's parents, brought their son to the Temple in Jerusalem to fulfill this obligation: "When the time came for their purification according to the Torah of Moshe, they took him up to Yerushalayim" (Luke 2:22, CJB). We know that this isn't His circumcision and naming, because the previous verse tells us explicitly "On the eighth day, when it was time for his b'rit-milah, he was given the name Yeshua" (v. 21, CJB). The meeting with Simeon and Hannah took place on the 41st day after the birth, probably some time in November.
Death, colloquially known as the final frontier, is the other great barrier that marks the boundaries on earth; birth starts our physical lives, death ends it, when we pass from this world into the next. Yet death is something that only we can do; no-one, no matter how they sit with us, pray for us, cheer us on or hold our hand until the final breath, can cross that boundary for or with us. Everyone else is left behind, skipping away like a stone skimmed over the surface of the water, thrown off on a tangent from the crossing point. Some come up to the barrier like a speeding train and just crash straight through; others sidle up to it and perhaps after several near misses, diffidently put one leg over and are gone without noticing. Some screech loudly to a halt a few tenths of an inch from the line and then huff and puff, protesting about going, until they give in to the inevitable; yet others are afraid and lonely, uncertain of what is to come but fearing that - whatever it is - they won't like it. Believers and non-believers alike seem to show the whole range of emotions and behaviours.
These are all boundary conditions, where the normal rules have been suspended. Men and women of great faith sometimes seem to lose it at the last minute and are panicked into an intemperate display of emotion; some of little or no faith show amazing peace and tranquility. Others stand firm in their faith, encouraging those who are about to be left behind until their last breath. When push comes to shove, when we are faced with that moment of departure, all bets are off and "stuff happens". Yeshua Himself was no stranger to the phenomenon. He was called to the house of Jairus to find mourners weeping and wailing, exhibiting high emotional distress at the little girl's death (Mark 5:38); He passed the funeral procession of the son of a widow who was now left alone and without support (Luke 7:12). Even His own encounter with physical death saw strange boundary conditions, both before: "And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (Luke 22:44, ESV) and after: "The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many" (Matthew 27:52-53, ESV).
Nevertheless, whatever may physically happen, as believers in Messiah Yeshua, we know that death is only a crossing of the line, only the door to eternity with the L-rd. Yeshua told us, "I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also" (John 14:3, ESV) and, "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" (John 10:28-29, ESV). Rav Sha'ul, echoing Isaiah, explained that "Death is swallowed up in victory" (1 Corinthians 15:54, ESV) because when G-d "had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through [Yeshua]" (Colossians 2:15, NASB). Beloved, we know the end of the story, because we know the author of the story. However boundary conditions may affect us or those we love, let us hold fast to the faith that we have and our relationship with G-d, knowing that He will never leave us or forsake us and He will be there to welcome us home to be with Him for ever.
Further Study: John 11:23-27; 1 Corinthians 15:51-54
Application: Are you scared of boundary conditions, fearing that emotion may get the better of you? You need to take courage from the words of Rav Shaul: "So take up every piece of war equipment God provides; so that when the evil day comes, you will be able to resist; and when the battle is won, you will still be standing" (Ephesians 6:13, CJB).
© Jonathan Allen, 2011
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