This week's parasha begins with three seemingly unrelated topics: the ritual impurity acquired by a woman through giving birth, the commandment to circumcise infant boys on the eighth day after birth, and the ritual impurity imparted by the condition known as tzaraat. (The latter term is usually incorrectly translated as "leprosy", but in fact refers to a unique disease that existed only when the Temple stood and bears only the slightest resemblance to what we know today as leprosy.) Since the order of topics in the Torah is significant, the juxtaposition of these three topics begs for explanation.

Both above types of impurity, as well as menstrual impurity, which is also part of the following discussion, are purely spiritual conditions, and must not be confused with medical or hygienic conditions. Although spiritual impurity may be brought about by physical conditions and has physical repercussions, it is more a psychological malaise than a physical one. The ritually impure person typically suffers from some kind of mental association with death, depression, ego, or other condition that is antithetical to the joyful optimism characteristic of healthy spirituality. In order to resume a life of active spirituality, he must be "purified" from this mentality. This will be evident in the course of the Arizal's discussion.

[The parasha opens:]
And G‑d spoke to Moses, saying: "Speak to the children of Israel, saying: 'If a woman conceives, and gives birth to a son, she shall be impure for seven days; she shall be impure as she is in the days of her menstrual period. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised."' (Lev. 12:1-3)

It is worth examining why the Torah states "saying" twice in this passage, when once would have sufficed. [We must also address] why the commandment of circumcision is mentioned in the context of menstrual impurity and the impurity incurred through tzaraat; what do they have in common?

Furthermore, the Torah continues:
When a man has in the skin of his flesh a swelling, a scab, or bright spot, and it be in the skin of his flesh the plague of tzaraat…. (Ibid. 13:2)

The words in this verse appear to be out of order; it should have said:
"When a man has in the flesh of his skin the plague of tzaraat, as a swelling, a scab, or a bright spot…."

All the above will be understood based on our sages' statement that in consequence of disobeying G‑d's command, Eve was made to undergo the blood of menstruation and the blood of virginal marital relations. (Eruvin 100b) [They inferred this double bleeding] from the double expression, "I will increase greatly [your suffering…]." (Gen. 13:6) By being circumcised…we weaken the power of impurity…

As originally created, the physiology of woman was such that she did not have a menstrual cycle, and the process of conceiving and giving birth did not involve any bleeding. Nor did she bleed when she first engaged in marital relations. These (as well as other) facets of life were introduced into reality as the result of the primordial sin. In other words, in order to rectify the faulty way of thinking or looking at life that led Adam and Eve to partake of the forbidden fruit, certain physical changes occurred in reality, among them the menstrual cycle and virginal bleeding. By experiencing and properly dealing with these phenomena, mankind should ideally undergo a spiritual maturation process that will eventually lead to the final Redemption. At that time, these conditions of fallen reality will no longer be necessary, and life (including woman's physiology) will revert to its Edenic state.

This, then, is the explanation of the opening verse:
"And G‑d spoke to Moses, saying" - that is, "concerning what I am about to say to you about menstrual and virginal bleeding. If the Jewish people ask you why they have to be defiled by menstrual bleeding, seeing that they are a holy people, then…

"Speak to the children of Israel, saying." - that is, "Tell them that it is because Eve transgressed what I told her to do, she was made to suffer the impurity of menstruation. For this reason…

"If a woman conceives, and gives birth to a son, she shall be impure for seven days; she shall be impure as she is in the days of her menstrual period."

So far, the Arizal has answered his first question, namely, why the repetition of the word "saying" in the opening verse. The first refers to G‑d addressing Moses with the commandments concerning childbirth, and the second is the answer to the Jewish people's potential question as to the reason for these commandments. They are the consequence of another "saying", G‑d's commandment to Adam and Eve.

The commandment of circumcision is mentioned in connection with the impurity of menstruation, since by being circumcised, a person will be kept from being defiled with the impurity of menstruation. This is why G‑d commanded us to circumcise baby boys when they are eight days old, for through this we weaken the power of impurity and eliminate evil lust. Once the spiritual dimension of marital relationsis allowed into the picture, it enhances the physical dimension as well…

The foreskin of the male reproductive organ effects his experience of marital relations in two ways: it increases his gross sensual pleasure and decreases his sensitivity to his wife by insulating him from her to a certain extent. By removing the foreskin, the experience of marital relations becomes for the man less of a narcissistic indulgence and more of a true spiritual coupling between him and his wife. Once the spiritual dimension of marital relations is allowed into the picture, it enhances the physical dimension as well. The sages of the Talmud therefore state that ideally, at least, it is the Jewish couple that experiences the truest enjoyment in marital relations.

During the wife's menstrual period, she is too self-aware and self-conscious to engage in marital relations with the proper spiritual orientation. The Torah thus forbids marital relations during this period. When a man has been circumcised of his gross sensual approach to marital relations, he retains more control over his sexual passion, and is thus less likely to succumb to them. His circumcision thus helps him not engage in forbidden marital relations, including relations with his wife during her period.

Furthermore, circumcision indicates that man is the servant of G‑d, stamped with His seal. As such, he will certainly not transgress his Master's command.

The Torah refers to circumcision as the "sign" of the covenant between G‑d and the Jewish people. The Jewish man is thus "branded" as G‑d's servant, and this awareness serves to remind him that he is responsible to a higher authority.

Therefore the commandment of circumcision was placed between the commandments concerning menstrual impurity and the impurity induced by tzaraat, for circumcision protects him from both. He will not engage in sexual relations with a menstruating woman, and will also remain humble and of lowly spirit, like a servant stamped with the seal of his master, thus shunning haughtiness.

As the Arizal will explain presently, haughtiness is the root of the impurity of tzaraat. He has now answered the question as to why the commandment of circumcision is placed between the commandments of menstrual impurity and tzaraat.

There are three types of haughtiness: One type of person is haughty in his heart and appears to be humble to everyone else. About this type of person, the Torah says, "When a man has in the skin of his flesh a swelling". That is, his haughtiness ["swelling"] is concealed deep within the skin of his flesh and is not apparent to everyone. It is a private sort of egocentricity. Haughtiness is such a severe blemish on a person's personality that even G‑d Himself hates it…

A second type of haughtiness is that in which a person feels superior to those like him, but not to those who exceed him in wisdom or stature. This type of haughtiness is called "a scab". [The Hebrew word for "scab", "sapachat", means a connected addition,] as in the verse, "Assign me [in Hebrew, "sapcheini"], please, to one of the priestly duties" (Samuel I 2:36), in the sense of "joining" and "connection". [It thus refers to someone who feels superior only to those of his own caliber.]

The third type of haughtiness is more serious [and therefore requires a lengthier process of purification]. This is the "bright spot", meaning that the person feels and acts superior even to those who exceed him in wisdom, stature, or wealth. He acts impudently to all. This type of haughtiness is therefore alluded to by the strong, bright spot.

G‑d detests all three of these, and all three are made to suffer the impurity of tzaraat, even the first, which is the most innocuous of the three in that he is only haughty inwardly. This is why the Torah repeats the phrase "in the skin of his flesh", to intimate that he is considered plagued with this impurity even if it is hidden from public sight, and that he will be duly punished. Even more so, of course, is this the case with the other two types of haughtiness, which are more heinous.

The Arizal has now answered his third question, regarding the order of the words in the verse about tzaraat. He now briefly discusses the problem of haughtiness in general.

As mentioned, haughtiness is such a severe blemish on a person's personality that even G‑d Himself hates it. Thus, it is written, "G‑d reigns, He is robed in haughtiness." (Psalms 93:1) That is, haughtiness is spoken of here as a mere article of clothing that G‑d dons in ruling the world in order to instill fear in His creatures and then immediately takes off. Thus our sages state, "Whenever you find mention [in the Bible] of G‑d's greatness, you find immediate mention of His humility." (Megilla 31a)

With the above explanation, we may now understand the verses quoted properly.

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."

Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc.