This week’s alumni Dvar Torah is by Rabbi Rafi Eis
Hearing my wife Atara recite Birkat HaGomel after giving birth to our children is among the most spiritual experiences of my life. The break in her voice communicates the intensity of labor and childbirth. Hearing her muster all her energy to give thanks to God for the gift of a new child, and for surviving the ordeal, evokes the recognition that all the blessings of life come from God.
The opening paragraph of Parshat Tazria requires the new mother to bring a young lamb as an Olah offering and a pigeon or dove as a Sin offering. Why these offerings, rather than a Thanksgiving? Exploring that question will give us a window onto the profound nature of creating life and its relationship to the Divine.
Niddah (31b) famously asks why the new mother needs to bring a Sin offering. Rabbi Simeon Bar Yochai answers that women in the throes of labor pains swear off marital intimacy to avoid future pregnancy. The Sin offering atones for uttering that oath, which she will violate. But the Talmud rejects this answer in two ways. First, the oath can be undone through asking a sage, preempting the need to violate the oath. Second, this circumstance and offering do not comport with the regular rules of Sin offerings for oath violations. Nonetheless, the Talmud does not provide an alternative explanation for the Sin offering.
I suggest that instead of viewing the Sin and Olah offerings as discrete sacrifices, we should view them as a package. This fits the structure of The Book of Leviticus, whose first seven chapters detail the circumstances and procedures for individuals to bring discrete sacrifices. The sanctification of the Tabernacle and the priests, which follows, entails a package of sacrifices. The new mother is introduced here because she is an individual who brings a package of sacrifices.
This package of an Olah and Sin offering  is found in several other Biblical contexts. 
- Leviticus 9:2-3- sanctification of the Tabernacle and the priests, brought by Aharon.
- Numbers 8:12- the appointment of the Levites
- Leviticus 16: 3, 5- the Yom Kippur sacrificial order. Both Aharon and the people of Israel bring this package of sacrifices.
- Leviticus 5:7- a pauper can replace a cattle Sin offering for accidentally violating an oath by bringing two birds; one as an Olah and one as a Sin sacrifice.
- Leviticus 15:15- the purification of the Zav
- Leviticus 15:30- the purification of the Zavah
- Numbers 6:11- if a nazir becomes impure and violates his nazirite status.
The common denominator of these cases is that in some way the human being enters God’s domain. In the sanctification of the Tabernacle and priests, people and objects become sanctified, while the Levites in occurrence two are rebirthed with a new status. Example three has a human being entering holy space. The pauper in the fourth case cannot just replace the obligated cattle Sin sacrifice with a bird Sin sacrifice. Rather, the pauper needs to acknowledge the change in the divinely ordained sacrificial rite.
Furthermore, God’s realm is not just in the holy, but also in matters of life and death. The Zav and Zavah, previously excluded halakhically and perhaps biologically from fertility, offer sacrifices at being able to be fruitful again. So too, the new mother of our parsha enters into G-d’s domain by creates life, just as God does in Genesis.
The human ability to enter realms beyond this material world can cause confusion as to the proper boundary between the human and divine. The uncommanded actions of Nadav and Avihu illustrate this confusion. Performing a temple service must be done according to divine prescription. We can only enter God’s domain as part of our partnership with Him.
The postpartum woman feels a complete whirlwind of emotions. Her body is bursting with adrenaline, and she looks in amazement at the tiny being whom she just birthed. At the same time her body aches, and many also suffer from postpartum depression. The range of emotions can run the gamut. Halacha steps into the breach to set the right balance. To combat the pain and emotional lows, the Bible insists that the woman recognize that she successfully crossed into God’s realm and created life, but did so as God’s partner. The new mother must therefore offer Olah and Sin offerings. The new mother has not sinned in any way. Rather this combination declares the partnership between God and humanity in creation in general and in generating this particular new life. The completely consumed Olah represents God and our complete dedication to God, while the Sin offering represents the fragile and imperfect state of humanity. Brought together, the package symbolizes the partnership.
This message of human partnership with God is reflected in a few other laws in this section. First, the new mother automatically has dedicated days of impurity and purity. Regardless of any symptomatic bodily secretions, the woman must have a few days of impurity followed by more days of purity. This is unique in the laws of purity and impurity. Second, the command to circumcise male children and bring them into Abraham’s covenant is listed here. Third, the new mother is the Bible’s first individual to be prohibited from entering the temple (Leviticus 12:4) and this is even while she is pure. We learn that these this exclusion applies to other impurities in Numbers 5:2-3 as a general prohibition on some people from entering the temple and its surrounding domains, but only with the new mother is this law stated in the context of the actual impurity and purity. This woman, who just created life like God, is excluded from God’s domain. She then re-enters the temple once she brings her Olah and Sin offering package, which is her declaration of her human partnership with God.
Humans are granted the great privilege and opportunity to live in the “image of God.” This potential enables us to pursue the creative, sublime and holy. To take full advantage requires that on the one hand we acknowledge even the divinity of frequent occurrences. On the other hand, we get this opportunity because of our partnership with God. With this balance, we can truly achieve, as the Bible’s new mother does, the proper covenantal relationship with God.
 This list does not distinguish between the ordering of the sacrifices. See Zevachim 90a and the comments of Rav Hirsch 12:6 s.v. o’ben for further discussion.
 This list excludes cases like the purified Metzora who brings an Olah, Sin, and Asham offerings; the Nazir who successfully completes his term, who offers Olah, Sin, and Shelamim sacrifices; and Israel’s Miluim sacrifice . The Sin sacrifice listed as part of the mussaf offerings in Numbers 28-29 is presented separately from the rest of the package.
Rabbi Rafi Eis directs a semicha program at Yeshivat Har Etzion and is the Executive Director of the Herzl Institute in Jerusalem. He learned in the SBM of ’01 and served as a Shoel U’Meishiv in ‘06.