Noahide Seven Commandments Torah classes
© 2017 by Rabbi Zvi Aviner
Torah Weekly Classes for the Children of Noah/
Parshat Tazriah (Leviticus 12:1-8)
Know your CREATOR, know yourself and know the difference
“And YHVH spoke to Moses saying
Speak to the Children of Israel, saying
If you seed a woman, and she gives birth to a male child,
Then she will be “impure” seven days
As in the days of her menstrual sickness shall she be impure
“And on the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised”
“And she shall then continue in her blood of her purifying
for thirty three days and shall touch no sacred thing
Nor come to the sanctuary until the days of her purifying are fulfilled “ (Leviticus 12: 1-8)
(1) Why does Moses repeat here the Commandment of Circumcision to Israel? We already know it from Abraham!
(2) Why is the mother of the newborn child ‘unclean’?
(3) Why does the Torah begin by saying: “If you seed a woman and she becomes impregnated…”? Couldn’t the Torah simply say ‘if a woman shall give birth to a male child’?
These and other questions are on our minds as we read the Parshah.
Indeed, HaSheM (;THE NAME’, Go-d) Commanded Abraham:
“And YHVH spoke to Abraham saying
I am El Shadai, walk before me, and be wholly…“ (Genesis 17: 1)
“And Abraham fell on his face,
And ELKM talked to him saying…
This is my covenant which you shall keep between me and you and your seed after you:
Every male child among you shall be circumcised…
And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you…
Every male child in your generations, he that is born in your household
Who is not of your seed….”
Here the Heavenly Court, YHVH and ELKM, appears before Abraham to ‘sign’ a Covenant. Like in the Rainbow Covenant of Noah, YHVH appears first, then ELKM. And like in Noah’s revelation, each Attribute speaks about issue close to it. The Merciful YHVH, who dwells in our heart, speaks about Abraham’s heart. The Attribute of JUDGMENT, ELKM, speaks about the Covenant’s Laws.
Thus YHVH starts by telling Abraham that She expects him to be “wholly”, tamim. It means (1) ‘compliant,’ surrendering his life for Her (2) ‘completed,’ as if the circumcision ‘finishes’ Adam creation (3) ‘innocent’, free of sin (Midrash)
From all these optional meanings of tamim, the notion of ‘complaint’ is paramount. Abraham was a martyr for Noah’s faith. He gave his life for teaching not ‘Judaism,’ but rather the Seven Commandments. Abraham also introduced a new concept of the CREATOR as a Builder-artist, who OWNS the Heavens and the Earth by virtue of making it (Genesis 14: 19). He also was the first to name the CREATOR as My Master, My Owner, AaDoNai (Genesis 15: 2.) He said: My CREATOR owns me and I am His slave; implying: no one else’s salve. As a token for his faith and dedication, the Heavenly Court entered the Circumcision Covenant with him. What is Circumcision if not “the emblem of our master in our flesh”? (Soforno)
ELKM then orders Abraham the Law: Circumcise your males at the age of eight day past partum. It makes sense: Since Circumcision was given to Abraham as one more Commandment over Noah’s Seven, Abraham would abide by Eight Commandments (Maimonides.) Hence the importance of the eighth day.
At that stage of history, let’s point out, the Circumcision Commandment was potentially applicable to ALL THE CHILDREN OF NOAH (see Mishne Lemelech on the RaMBaM.) After all, the verse says that Abraham household had to be circumcised, even though they were not his family.
Indeed, this notion played out in the story of Joseph in Egypt. When the people of Egypt came to him for bread, they complaint to Pharaoh, who told them:
“And when all the land of Egypt was famished
the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. And Pharaoh said to all Egypt:
Go to Joseph, what he says to you, do…” (Genesis 41:55).
A commandment given to (Adam and) Noah, then repeated by Moses to Israel (after Sinai) is applicable to both: Israel and the Children of Noah.
On which Rashi comments: “whatever Joseph tell you to do, do even circumcise yourselves.”
Thus Joseph tried to make the Egyptians followers of Noah’s Seven Laws, including CIRCUMCISION.
Thus Circumcision was given to Abraham, a Noahide, then repeated again in our Parshah by Moses to Israel.
That sounds nice, but it raises a question quoted in the Talmud. We have a rule that says:
IDOLLATRY, given first to Adam and Noah, then repeated by Moses to Israel (in the Ten Commandments) is applicable to both Israel and Noahides.
ADULTERY, given first to Adam and Noah, and then repeated by Moses to Israel, is applicable to both Israel and Noahides.
BLOODSHED, given first to Adam and Noah, then repeated by Moses to Israel, is applicable to both.
THEFT, given first to Adam and Noah, then repeated by Moses to Israel, is applicable to both.
JUSTICE, given first to Adam and Noah, and then repeated by Moses to Israel, is applicable to both.
BLASPHEMY, given first to Adam and Noah, then repeated by Moses to Israel, Is applicable to both.
Hence, by the same rule, the Circumcision Commandment which was first given to Abraham, a martyr for Noah’s Seven Commandments, and then repeated by Moses to Israel (in our parsha) should apply to both, Noahiides and Israel!
This indeed WOULD have been the Law (Halachah) had not the Oral Torah taught us to read the verse in our parshah as follows:
Rabbi Eliezer says: “On the eighth day he should be circumcised” -- EVEN ON THE SABBATH!
A Commandment given to Noahides and NOT repeated by Moses to Israel, applies now to Israel only.
Thus Moses did not merely REPEAT here the Circumcision to Israel. He ADDED here a new rule, a new aspect that neither Adam nor Noah nor Abraham knew: that when the eighth day of the newborn son falls on the Sabbath, the obligation to circumcise him pushes away the Sabbath. One therefore may violate the Sabbath Laws to perform the Circumcision on the eighth day. One may cut, boil and bandage the wound and do everything needed for the Circumcision, even if the eighth day coincides with the Sabbath.
In other words: Moses elevates here Circumcision above the holiness of the Sabbath.
This is quite unique. Only another ‘positive’ Commandment is known to push away the Sabbath: the Passover Offering. It is performed (by individuals) even on the Sabbath.
Yes, there is a common denominator between these two positive Commandments (you should do something)and that is: the Passover is the birthday of the Jewish People, while the Circumcision is connected to the birth of the individual.
Hence Moses did NOT repeat the Circumcision to Israel. In that case, the same rule of thumb says:
This sounds first counter logic. But the idea behind it is that Moses in his modesty did NOT wish to add anything to the Children of Noah, above whatever Noah had said.
Yes, the entire world listens to Moses. But he, the modest of all people, tells Noah’s Children to abide ONLY by their forefather Noah’s Seven Commandments.
And since Noah did not speak about CIRCUMCISION, Moses made it applicable to Israel only.
Similarly, the Sciatic Nerve prohibition was given to Jacob, also a Noahide. Moses did NOT repeat it to Israel after Sinai. By this he made it applicable to Israel only. Again, Moses did not want to ADD Ifor the Nations any Commandment above Noah’s Seven.
This does not mean that Noahides are forbidden to perform Circumcision on the newborn males. They can do this from the “duty of our hearts” but WITHOUT A BLESSING. They should not say: Bless you HaShen for Commanding on us the Circumcision. If they say that, it would be a lie.
The holiness of Life
The Oral Torah does not stop here. Rabbi Eliezer in the Talmud continues: if the Torah Commands us to violate the Sabbath and do Circumcision for the sake of ‘saving a little organ,’ how much more so for saving life? Hence, he says, saving Life pushes away the Sabbath.
This indeed is followed by any Jewish physician and Jewish hospital. Nothing should be stopped, even on the Sabbath, in order to save life. For “ The sanctity of life is greater than the sanctity of the Sabbath.”
Years ago I was sent, as an eye surgeon, by the State of Israel to an African country. Before I left Israel, I met Rabbi Goren, the then Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv. He instructed me in details how I should not refrain myself to save life, even to save eyes, on the Sabbath.
Another sage of the Talmud, Rabbi Yonatan who lived at the end of the Second Temple time, is quoted saying: It is written “You shall observe the Sabbath for it is holy to you…” (Exodus 31: 14) teaching us that THE SABBATH IS GIVEN IN OUR HANDS, NOT US IN HER HANDS.” Hence, saving life pushes awa y the Sabbath. This has been a cornerstone in the Jewish faith.
How amazed I was, years ago, to read in the New Testament the following story: It happened on a Sabbath that Jesus attended a Synagogue near the Sea of the Galilee. A young girl in the audience fainted, and people in the crowd tried to help and revive her. The Rabbi of the Synagogue than scolded them harshly, saying they should not have violated the Sabbath. Jesus then stood up and told the rabbi the following words: “THE SABBATYH IS IN YOUR HANDS, AND NOT YOU IN HER HANDS!”
This incident, according to the New Testament, was a decisive moment in history, when the nascent Christianity stood up against the Old Testament. In other words: The religion of Love arrived to replace the heartless Jewish religion of the Law.
Reading this I scratched my head. For the life in me I could not understand why did Jesus is depicted as shouting against the rabbi words that the rabbis were teaching?
The newborn and his mother
Now let’s move on to the “impurity” of the newborn’s mother. Let’s note that the common English translation of her status is “unclean,” which is wrong. The Hebrew term, ‘tameh,” can’t be precisely translated. It is better understood as ‘impure’, something that one would stay away from. Here the newborn’s mother is impure TO HER HUSBAND. She does not contaminate anything, but her husband. By this, the Torah protects her after birth. Had the Torah told the husband “do not touch your aching wife,” some husbands would not listen. But by declaring her IMPURE, the Torah assures that husband would keep himself away.
In the same token, the Torah forbids the mother to come to the Temple. The Torah recognizes the fact that the mother’s libido and attention is totally directed towards her newborn. Why then should she come to the Temple? Let her better stay home for a while with ther newborn in her bosom, and only then appear before HaSheM.
Let’s go back to our previous question: why does the Torah begin with the words “if you seed a woman, and she give birth…” instead of simply saying “when a woman gives birth?”
The answer is profound. In order for the Circumcision to push away the Sabbath, the pregnancy must be COMPLETE and natural. Thus:
(1) The child should exit the womb via the same route the mother was seeded.
(2) Excluded is the child of artificial insemination
(3) Excluded is the child of cesarean section
In these cases, the children need to be circumcised for sure, but not on the Sabbath.
The Torah wishes the pregnancy to be wholly and complete, to qualify for violating the Sabbath.
It reminds us G-d’s words to Abraham before giving him the Circumcision: “Walk before me and be tamim, complete.” It is as if the Circumcision finishes a whole process that was complete: Seeding, impregnation, delivery, child viability, and circumcision.
What exactly does the Torah wish the newborn’s mother to think about after her childbirth?
Rashi brings the following clue. Rabbi Shamlai in the Talmud observes: The Torah begin her list of “impurity,” in our chapters, by considering the Fish, Birds, Beasts and only then Man, for She follows the order of CREATION in Genesis.
Hence the Torah reminds the mother of the Six Days of Creation. It took G-d Billion of years to bring CREATION to have in it Light, Matter, and Water. It took another Billion of years to see the Panet Earth covered by water from above, and then another Billion years to see it covered by Vegetation, then see Fish, Birds, Crocodiles, Cattel, Beasts, Snakes and only then Man. And all these many years have been condensed into nine months of pregnancy in her belly. What a miracle it is!
Moreover, Rabbi Shamlai continues:
The verse in Psalm says in the name of Adam: “Back and forth you have FORMED me” (Psalms 139). Man was created before all others and after all others. If he merits, they tell him you were the first. If he misbehaves, they tell him even a mosquito was born before you…”
END OF CLASS
This Midrash refers to what we’ve learned in our classes about Adam and Eden. The verse says (Genesis \chapter 2) that the Garden of Eden was FORMED on a Day where there was not yet any shrub or tree on earth, Not even rain, and certainly no Adam on it. it was FOREMD on the THIRD Day BEFORE ELKM seeded life on Earth. it was therefore a virtual garden in which virtual Adam and ‘the woman’ lived. Had they won their trial in Eden, they would have lied in Eden forever, till the Eternal Sabbath, without ever entering Earth. Since they failed their trial, they were driven out to live on real Earth, where they would KNOW EVIL first hand, meaning they would face the Angel of Death.
Thus the decision to Make Adam on real Earth was done on the THIRD Day.
Adam and Eve would appear on real Earth only later, on the Sixth Day, by the process of Evolution.
Adam therefore has two birthdays: A virtual one on the THIRD Day when he was formed in Eden, and a real one on our Sixth Day.
This is why she was named Eve, the Mother of all life. Because of her deed in eden, all creatures on earth developed so that the real Adam and Eve would appear.
This is what the Psalm says that Adam was made BEFORE all others and AFTER all others.
And the Torah wishes the newborn mother to recall all that while she holds the newborn child in her bosom.
Moreover: The newborn mother recalls Eve who named her firstborn son Cain, for she said “I have bought a man with YHVH.” She mentioned YHVH alone, without ELKM, the first time ever. Our mother Eve could fell after the delivery of her son, what our Heavenly Mother feels for us: endless and unconditional love and compassion.
The father, is not seen in the story. Adam coul d never feel what the mother feels.
Now we understand why the Torah begins our story: “If you seed a woman…” ignoring the father. He is just the biological source. The focus is on the mother and her child, no one else.
End of Shemini Torah class for Noahides