When a new mother gives birth, her life will never be the same again. After months of aches, pains, nausea, and emotions, the new mother can finally clutch her little piece of heaven to her chest, and a new chapter in her life begins.
Yet the Torah requires waiting periods before a new mother attains purity, who must then offer a sacrifice. What is the purpose of this?
R’ Shamshon Raphael Hirsch teaches that the different kinds of impurities are about the death of moral freedom amidst life, to varying degrees.
Pregnancy and having a child is chaotic and wreaks havoc on the mother’s life, physically, mentally, and emotionally. It would be a surprise if, under the circumstances, she didn’t lose the ability to choose clearly!
The words the Torah uses – אִשָּׁה כִּי תַזְרִיעַ – describes the physiological process of seed forming. The most vital matters on which the future depends, marriage, the home, and family, can be reduced to a simple physiological process of biological happening, which can attest to the lack of moral freedom; this is the impurity that needs dispelling. The Torah calls on us to live consciously.
Moral freedom and the ability to choose are the gifts that distinguish humanity. The periods of waiting correspond to the child and to the parent, and how both must consciously and continuously strive towards greater moral consciousness, and this might help explain why the waiting period for a boy and girls are different, as the covenant of circumcision teaches this same lesson.
The process the Torah prescribes a new mother serves to rededicate her to her calling as a wife, mother, and Jew, despite the painful experience she has undergone. Submission to the forces of nature is antithetical to what it means to be a Jew. While the biological aspect is undeniable, the Torah calls the mother to the Mishkan, to exercise her moral freedom and dedicate physical life to a higher ultimate purpose.
To be a mother is not merely to give birth. To be a mother is to create human beings.