Monday, March 31, 2014

Purification After Giving Birth

Leviticus 12:1-8

Most traditions start as a very practical thing.  Unfortunately, with time the original purpose is forgotten and the tradition becomes just a ritual that the culture preserves.  To preserve the culture some of these rituals are often assigned religious significance.

In the western United states, the prevailing wind is from the west, and especially in the spring, strong winds are a nearly daily occurrence.   North or south winds tend to also be fairly common, but a wind from the east is relatively rare.  Native people quickly realized that a by facing the door of the home to the east, they rarely had to deal with the wind blowing things around the room or blowing out the fire when someone opened the door.

Facing the door to the East became the preferred practice, and after a while it became just a tradition in the various tribes.  Today, many Navajos live in trailer houses, but they still turn the front door to the east, because it is traditional.  It never occurs to most of them that by turning the trailer ninety degrees they could save at least a third on both their heating and cooling bills because of the different exposures to sun and wind.  Simply turning their door to the east because of their tradition is costing them a lot of money.   If they understood the reason for the tradition, they could easily position their trailer to gain the benefits of the east facing door while also eliminating the extra cost from aligning the trailer in a north south orientation.

As we have already seen with the laws regarding clean and unclean animals, there was a very practical purpose in these laws.  By taking the time to understand the purpose, rather than just accepting them as tradition, we can gain the maximum benefit from them without making them an undue burden.  We start with the laws relating to a woman’s  recovery after childbirth.

“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean.  And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. 

And she shall then continue in the blood of her purifying three and thirty days; she shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying be fulfilled.” (Leviticus 12:1-4) 

Normally, a woman’s womb and internal organs are protected by her skin.  When she gives birth, some of these organs are opened to permit passage of the baby,  in the process the protective closures are stretched and some time is required to resume their natural shape and provide normal protection.  During that period, the woman is especially susceptible to infections.

To minimize the spread of infection, the law required the new mother to avoid public exposure for seven days to allow her body to return to it’s normal state.  On the eighth day she could attend the circumcision of her son, although she was not completely healed.  For an additional thirty three days, she was to avoid activities which might unnecessarily expose her to infection, or spread an infection she might have contracted.

“But if she bear a maid child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her separation: and she shall continue in the blood of her purifying threescore and six days.” (Leviticus 12:5)

An older chiropractor had kept records of his patients for many years.  He found that in most cases he could predict the sex of a baby by the different reaction of the mothers body to the hormones the baby produced, although sometimes the reaction was not obvious enough to be sure.  I suspect that the longer healing time allowed following the birth of a girl was the result of similar hormonal reaction between the mother and baby.

“And when the days of her purifying are fulfilled, for a son, or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon, or a turtledove, for a sin offering, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, unto the priest: Who shall offer it before the LORD, and make an atonement for her; and she shall be cleansed from the issue of her blood.  This is the law for her that hath born a male or a female.” (Leviticus 12:6-7) 

After her time of isolation was completed.  The woman was to bring a lamb for a sin offering and a pigeon or dove for a burnt offering, thanking the Lord for her baby and making for any sin she might have committed during the period.  At this point she should be healed and there would be no danger of discharge or infection.

“And if she be not able to bring a lamb, then she shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons; the one for the burnt offering, and the other for a sin offering: and the priest shall make an atonement for her, and she shall be clean.” (Leviticus 12:8)

While most families would be so excited over the birth they would not hesitate to give a lamb, it might prove a hardship for some.  In such a case all they had to do was catch pigeons or turtledoves and sacrifice them instead.

I suspect such a simple ceremony could provide major benefit in resolving the post partum depression that is common today.

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