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If a woman's blood flows for many days outside her period of separation… [when] her flow ceases, she must count seven days… and afterwards she may be purified. On the eighth day she shall bring two turtle doves or two young doves… The priest shall make one into a sin offering and one into a burnt offering. The priest shall (thus) effect atonement for her before G-d, because of her flow that causes impurity (15:25,28-30).
The last part of the Parasha deals with different types of human discharges which cause ritual impurity, some of which require offerings as part of the personal purification process. It finishes with the laws of nidah - the woman's menstrual discharge. When she is in her regular period, she is forbidden to have sexual intercourse with her husband (18:19). When it occurs outside of her monthly cycle, there is an additional period when she may not have marital relations, and afterwards (in Temple times) she was required to bring an offering, as above. [Today, the practice of nidah combines stringencies of discharge during her period and discharge outside her period - without the offerings (Nidah 66a).]
But what is the sin involved in a woman suffering a discharge outside her normal cycle? It is not a matter over which she is likely to have any control. Why should she have to bring a sin offering when her discharge is involuntary?
As a suggestion, the next Parasha - Acharei Mot - also deals with effecting atonement, in that case with Yom Kippur:
For this day will atone for you and purify you. You shall be purified from all your sins before G-d (16:30)
From this verse, R. Elazar ben Azariah expounds that repentance and the Yom Kippur service can effect atonement only for the sins 'before G-d' - meaning sins against G-d which have not harmed other people. But if one did sin against another person, G-d will not forgive him until he has appeased the person whom he has wronged (Yoma 85b).
In this case, when a woman has a discharge outside her period, she is placing physical and emotional stress on her husband on one hand ('wronging him'), even though it is entirely beyond her control. It is not something from which she can repent or ask forgiveness, because she has not actually done anything that has wronged him. But he suffered nevertheless, from having to abstain in addition to the normal part of the month. It is that suffering endured by the husband that the sin offering atonement...
This gives us a valuable insight into the need to relate appropriately to suffering caused by our own situation to other people, even when it is entirely beyond our control. For example, letting someone down in the last minute because of sickness.
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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