The Importance of Bonding
By Rabbi Alana Wasserman
After my daughter was born (a little over four years ago), I remained in the hospital with her for five days. While most people may not relish the thought of spending any time in a hospital, I loved every minute of it. This was my private bonding time with my new baby girl. In a way, I felt as though this time was a divine gift. As it turns out, not only was this a divine gift, but something mothers are commanded to do.
The first few lines of this week’s Torah portion, Tazria-Metzorah (Leviticus 12:1 – 15:33) state that when a woman bears a child, she shall be tam’ah “impure” and “in a state of blood purification” for a certain number of days depending on the child’s gender (Lev. 12:2 – 5). While it may seem as though the woman is viewed in a negative light here (the word “impure” does not exactly connote a positive meaning), some commentators think otherwise. Maybe this period of time wasn’t to protect the rest of the community from the woman’s “impurity,” but instead to protect the mother and baby (more specifically, yet not limited to girls) from harm and give them a chance to bond. “Thus, this troubling passage can be understood not as discrimination against women but as a way to promote God’s loving community – and to guarantee that women and men, both created in the divine image, are nurtured and protected,” (p. 650, The Torah: A Women’s Commentary).
As we learn from Rabbi Helaine Ettinger in The Women’s Torah Commentary, (ed. By Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, p. 206), when a woman is “impure” due to blood flow following childbirth, she is given seven to fourteen days (depending on the sex of the baby) to focus solely on her baby and herself. When she is “in a state of blood purification,” her responsibilities broaden to the rest of her family, giving her the chance to continue to bond with the baby while slowly easing her way back into daily life. Still, however, she is forbidden from entering the sanctuary (a communal space), and touching holy objects (which were used for community events) until her period of purification is complete.
I often think back to my days in the hospital, and wish I could have that same kind of one-on-one time with my daughter today. I think our Torah portion reminds us that during our busy day-to-day lives, we need to carve out our own bonding time with our loved ones at any age. When we do, the reward is tremendous.
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Rabbi Alana Wasserman is a member of The Temple of Israel in Greenville, SC