OU Torah Insights Project
April 8, 2000
Rabbi Chaim Goldberger
The Torah teaches that childbirth renders a woman impurefor seven days if she gave birth to a boy, and for fourteen days if she gave birth to a girl.
This law seems strange. Ordinarily, the Torah associates impurity with loss of life. Touching, carrying, or isolating oneself with a dead body imparts impurity. Menstrual blood and male ejaculate, both of which signify the loss of potential life, impart impurity.
Childbirth, on the other hand, is the antithesis of death. Why should one become impure after bringing new life into the world?
Moreover, after this period of impurity, the mother enters a state of elevated purity, during which she remains pure even if she discharges blood. This status lasts for 33 days if she had a boy and 66 days if she had a girl.
The question persists: if childbirth does, for some reason, bring about impurity, why then is it followed by a state of purity so strong that even menstrual blood cannot interfere? Furthermore, why are there different durations for boys and girls?
To understand these laws, we must first understand why death renders us impure. Death is a state most distant from the Almighty, who is "chai vekayam"eternally alive. Consequently, at times when we experience death we are most removed from G-d. That causes a state of impurity.
But just as G-d cannot die, G-d never was "born" either. His existence always was and always will be. Thus, just as death is a state utterly disassociated with G-d, so too, birth is a phenomenon utterly disassociated with G-d. This explains why the experience of childbirth, just like the experience of death, causes impurity.
Yet, there is another side to childbirth. Bringing a new life into the world is the human way to share in the very Divine experience of creating life. Thus, while, on the one hand, childbirth must cause a brief period of impurity, representing the gap between the eternity of G-d and the finite realities of human life, on the other hand, that impurity must give way to a greater period of a purity, so strong that even death can not dislodge it.
With this concept in mind, we can understand the difference between the birth of a boy and the birth of a girl. When a woman delivers a boy, she experiences this joint distance from and closeness to G-d, and the prescribed observance is seven days of impurity followed by 33 days of purity.
But when she bears a girl, not only has she experienced these events herself, but she has brought into the world someone else capable of experiencing these events in the future. This is a double experience, thus her prescription is doubled: fourteen days followed by 66.
Rabbi Chaim Goldberger
Rabbi Goldberger is rav of Kenesseth Israel Congregation in Minneapolis, Minnesota.