The name of the twenty-seventh reading from the Torah is Tazria (תַזְרִיעַ), which means “she conceived.” The name is derived from the words of Leviticus 12:2, where the LORD says to Moses, “When a woman [conceives] and bears a male child.” Leviticus 12 discusses the laws of purification after childbirth.
Speak to the sons of Israel, saying: “When a woman gives birth …” (Leviticus 12:2)
The birth of a child is a holy and wonderful thing. Every time a baby is born, the birthing brings to light a small incarnation. Every baby is an immortal soul housed in garments of flesh. A baby comes into the world in the image of God. Life springs forth from life.
In some cases, the miracle is more obvious than in others. A Christian acquaintance of my wife was having a baby when complications occurred. The baby was in the wrong position in the birth canal, and the doctors grew concerned. They listened carefully to the heart monitor as the birth progressed, but sadly, the fluttering heartbeat tapered off and stopped. An hour later, the baby girl was stillborn. The doctor set the lifeless body aside, and mother and father were crushed. In the midst of her tears, the mother saw the baby’s leg move. She pointed it out to the staff, but the doctors explained that these were simply reflexive muscle movements. A few moments later, the baby gasped, coughed, and gasped again. Suddenly the hospital staff went into an emergency frenzy as they began resuscitation of the little girl. The child is fine today.
Not every story has a happy ending like that. There are few things more sober and heartrending than a pregnancy that ends prematurely or a baby born into this world only to pass on to the next world. We can’t explain why things like that happen, but it is possible that some souls are so pure and burn so hot that they quickly return to the flame that first gave them life.
The laws of the Torah ensured that, in the days of the Tabernacle, the amazing miracle of birth would not be treated as something mundane. God cordoned off childbirth with holy laws that gave the new mother a special status. The sacrifices after childbirth remind us that the act of giving birth is itself a miraculous encounter with the Divine. It is not to be regarded as just ordinary life. Instead, the Torah grants the event sanctity and significance by requiring sacrifices. The new baby is a gift from God, and the mother naturally wants to reciprocate with a gift. She brings a burnt offering and a sin offering as her gifts to God, who blessed her with a child.