What makes the hands unclean?
(Complete Jewish Bible translation)
Adonai said to Moshe, “Tell the people of Isra’el: ‘If a woman conceives and gives birth to a boy, she will be unclean for seven days with the same uncleanness as in niddah, when she is having her menstrual period. On the eighth day, the baby’s foreskin is to be circumcised. She is to wait an additional thirty-three days to be purified from her blood; she is not to touch any holy thing or come into the sanctuary until the time of her purification is over. But if she gives birth to a girl, she will be unclean for two weeks, as in her niddah; and she is to wait another sixty-six days to be purified from her blood.
For quite awhile I didn’t really ‘get’ the clean/unclean stuff in the Hebrew Scriptures. It seems a little crude and barbaric, and I figured it was basically just some arbitrary rules God made up for the sake of really liking rules.
The big piece for me was my understanding of the meaning behind something being unclean: I always assumed being unclean was a negative, or borderline sinful, thing. That isn’t how the Jews understood it, and that isn’t how they understand it now either.
The truth is that uncleanness can be a gift, it can be from coming in such close contact with something holy, that one is thus made unclean, or more aware of their uncleanness. Think of Isaiah in chapter 6:5 saying:
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”
An example: when determining which books would be included in the canon of scripture, the people asked themselves, does this book make the hands unclean? In other words, does the Spirit of God speak so evidently through this text, that I am made aware of my uncleanness by its words?
With that understanding, when I read Leviticus 12, I now realize, a woman’s uncleanness after childbirth is a gift. It is a time of separation, to dwell so richly in the presence of God himself! It is a blessing above all blessings, to produce new life, and thus it makes sense that the period of uncleanness is twice as long for the birth of a daughter. Because not only has the woman produced new life; she has produced life that will in turn produce its own new life!
I used to wonder: why is she forbidden to enter the sanctuary (temple) for so long?
Now I realize: she need not enter the sanctuary, because the presence of God is already with her.
Brothers and sisters, my prayer for myself and for you all is simple: that we may seek and dwell so richly in the words of our Lord, that we are made unclean by his presence.