April 8, 2024
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Why Is the Mitzvah of Milah in Parshat Tazria?

Dear Rabbi Lawrence,

I was preparing the leining for this week’s parsha and thought of you! It seems to randomly include the mitzvah of milah and I am wondering if you have an insight into its placement here as opposed to back in Bereishit. Looking forward to your response!

B’shalom,
Elie


Dear Elie,

The presence of milah in Parshat Tazria is indeed mysterious. While it is not entirely unrelated, as the aliyah discusses the various degrees of ritual impurity a woman may undergo post childbirth, the relationship between tumah, tahara and milah is not initially apparent. There are, however, a number of fascinating traditionally proposed reasons for its inclusion here, some of which I will share with you in short.

The first deals with practicalities surrounding intimacy and ritual impurity. As you referenced, the third pasuk says, “And on the eighth day you will circumcise the flesh of his foreskin.” Contextually, this comes right after the Torah declares that a woman who gives birth to a son becomes a niddah for seven days [and presumably can go to the mikvah on the night of the eighth day]. Assuming a vaginal birth, a husband and wife cannot touch directly after the birth of their child. A braita brought in the name of Rashbi explains that the bris is performed on the eighth day because bris milah is associated with happiness. If the bris were to occur anytime before the eighth day, the parents would presumably feel pain and sadness at not being able to lovingly embrace upon this special occasion. Out of sensitivity to the desire for human connection and touch at times of joy, Hashem commanded that the bris be on the eighth day so the wife would have already been able to go to the mikvah the night before the bris.

The second proposal engages an entirely different question: As opposed to “why is this included here, in the context of ritual impurity?” the question is “why is this mentioned at all?” Since the mitzvah of milah was already given to Avraham Avinu in its entirety, why is it restated here? Rabbi Eliezer in the Gemara opines that this pasuk is the source for the idea that milah is doche Shabbos, that one can violate parts of Shabbos to perform a bris. Since the mitzvah of bris milah was explicated prior to matan Torah, the giving of the Torah, one might have understandably assumed that the newer commandment of Shabbos would trump the obligation to perform the bris on the eighth day. But from the fact that the Torah explicitly restates “on the eighth day” we are to interpret this to mean “even if the eighth day falls on Shabbos.”

Interestingly, this is not the only halacha that we learn from this pasuk! We learn two other essential and relevant laws from the pasuk’s mention of the word “day,” or “yom.” The first law is that bris milah may only be performed during the daytime hours and not at night. A bris done at night is not considered kosher and some say it would require a hatafas dam bris, a ritual drop of blood drawn from the site of the circumcision in order to fulfill the positive mitzvah. The second law is the notion that the whole day is kosher to have a bris. While some communities have a custom to have a bris in the morning, one may certainly perform a bris any time from sunrise to sunset. Practically, if every family wanted to have a morning bris, there would not be enough mohalim to accommodate!

Thank you for the question!

Besoros Tovos and Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Lawrence


Rabbi Eliezer Lawrence is a doubly certified, highly rated mohel serving the NY, NJ and CT region and beyond. If you or someone you know is expecting or want to learn more about his practice, visit www.FamilyMohel.com. He can also be reached at [email protected] or at (212) 518-7334. Questions for the column can be submitted to [email protected].

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