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 recommended that the Arizal's teachings regarding impurity and defilement should be reviewed here.

Know that this [i.e. a woman's defilement for seven days after giving birth to a son] was caused by the injection of the [snake's] poison into Eve.

Although the text of the Bible only says that the snake spoke to Eve, it is explained in the Oral Tradition that the snake actually had intercourse with her (Rashi, Shabbat 146a).The snake personified "evil", i.e. selfishness and self-centered ego, the antithesis of G‑d-consciousness.

Of course, every individual has a unique divine soul, which is meant to express itself as his/her distinctive "divine personality" with its own unique contribution to the world's understanding of G‑d's presence in the world. This may express itself in many ways, from innovative understandings of the Torah, to artistic creativity, to acts of kindness, to inspiring others to lead holy lives, and so on. This is the person's unique, divine "ego". Thus, ego per se is not necessarily a bad thing.

The problem is that this divine ego is too often hidden by the alter-ego of the animal soul. This alter ego begins as the consciousness-of-self that a person must have in order to ensure that he will look out for his own physical needs, but quickly assumes complete control of the person's thoughts, making him selfish and self-oriented. In other words, if a child is not given proper spiritual education [a.k.a. Torah], which trains him to give precedence to his divine soul, his animal soul will take over by default. This is so because the animal ego is given initial control of the mind - for an infant first needs to learn how to take care of itself.

This inflated consciousness of self (i.e. inflated beyond the basic consciousness-of-self required for us to function physically) is defined as "evil", inasmuch as it usurps the role intended for the divine soul.

Inflated consciousness of self…seeks to divert the individual's attention from divine matters…

It seeks to divert the individual's attention from divine matters - sometimes with material indulgence, sometimes with substitute forms of spirituality - in order to aggrandize his concern with and focus on himself. This subterfuge can express itself in very refined ways also, such as abstract intellectual or artistic pursuits. In most people, their conscious mind is a blend of mostly animal ego and some deep desires of the divine soul seeking to surface. The more one spiritualizes his life and - through learning Torah and performing mitzvot - gives his divine self means for expression, the more his creativity will express true divinity and be able to identify and focus on the divine element in other people's creative output.

The animal/subjective/selfish perspective on life was introduced to humanity by the snake, its primordial personification. By sexually injecting its psychological poison into Eve, the snake robbed Adam and Eve of their ability to selflessly see reality.

This [also] explains why Adam was created from the dirt of the place of his atonement and why [this dirt] was not taken from the Garden of Eden. For G‑d knew that he would sin, and, had he been created from the dirt of the Garden, there could never be any atonement for him. G‑d therefore [created Adam outside the garden] and brought him into it [afterwards].

According to tradition (Bereishit Rabba 14:8), Adam was created on what would later be known as the Temple Mount, or Mount Moriah, specifically from the spot where the outer altar of Temple would later stand.

Had the primordial sin not occurred, mankind would not have been divided into Jew and gentile….

This fact signifies that man was created with the potential for repentance, i.e. the ability to restore his consciousness to its intended divine orientation such that his true, individual, divine ego can be revealed.

G‑d took Adam out [of the garden] when the sin [he and Eve committed brought out] the injection of the [snake's] poison. This was the intermingling of the seventy gentile nations with Israel in Eve's womb.

Had the primordial sin not occurred, mankind would not have been divided into Jew and gentile; Adam and his progeny would all have had the status now held only by the Jewish people. Once pure divine consciousness - the original consciousness of Adam and Eve - had become diluted with self-consciousness, it became necessary to separate between the two. This, indeed, has been the task of mankind ever since its primordial fall, and this process will eventually end in the restoration of reality to its original spiritual state.

This is why Eve menstruated at that moment, giving birth to Cain, who shed blood, and Abel, whose blood was shed. This is the origin of woman's menstrual blood, as it is written, "When a woman gives seed and gives birth to a boy, she shall be impure seven days; [as in the days of her menstrual period shall she be impure]." (Lev. 12:2)

The fact that the Torah compares impurity contracted by birth with impurity contracted by menstruation indicates that the two are thematically connected. Menstruation causes the woman to focus on herself physically and emotionally. (This is why marital relations are forbidden during menstruation; the woman is too focused on herself to focus on her husband and/or their common soul.)

Menstruation is spiritually the result of the introduction of self-awareness into humanity…

The fact that this is so indicates that menstruation is spiritually the result of the introduction of self-awareness into humanity, which we have seen originated in the snake's injection of his physical/metaphysical "seed" into Eve. The laws of family purity are the divinely directed way the menstrual experience can be transformed into what is meant to be: an educative process out of self-orientation.

Bleeding at birth also began with the primordial sin; had Adam and Eve not sinned, childbirth would occur without bleeding (and this will be the case in the future).

[This is also] the reason she becomes impure for seven days when she gives birth to a boy, for when she contributes her redness first, the offspring is male.

We are taught that "when the wife gives her seed first, she will give birth to a male; when the husband gives his seed first, she will give birth to a female."(Berachot 60a) The fact that the woman gave birth to a boy means that when the child was conceived her femininity took the leading role; her desire to express divinity in the world produced a male, since males are obligated to fulfill more active mitzvot than are women.

With this we will also understand why, of the four "foreskins" of man only that of his procreative organ is circumcised. The reason is because [these four "foreskins"] allude to the four [years that] a tree's fruit is considered "foreskin". The foreskin of the procreative organ is where Adam sinned, so it recalls the injection of the [snake's] poison and sexual sin ['keri'], known as "evil"; [this organ is thus] compounded of good and evil.

The Torah uses the expression "uncircumcised" of four human organs: the male procreative organ, the ears, the heart, and the mouth. (See Bereishit Rabba 46:5.) These organs are referred to as "uncircumcised" or as possessing a "foreskin" when the individual does not use them to be sensitive to others or to G‑d.

When a tree is planted, we are forbidden to eat the fruit it produces during its first three years. This prohibition is called "orla", which is the word for "foreskin". Rashi explains that this is so because we are to treat the fruit as if it were blocked off from us by some type of foreskin. The fruit the tree produces during the fourth year is to be taken to Jerusalem and eaten that year within the precincts of the holy city (Lev. 19:23-24)

The sanctification process consists not of eliminating the animal awareness but refining it….

In Kabbala, it is explained that the tree's fruit during its first three years belongs to the three realms of absolute evil (kelipot) that cannot be elevated by human consumption; this is why eating it is prohibited. The fruit of the fourth year comes from the realm of the "translucent shell" (kelipat noga), which includes all things that are neither intrinsically good nor intrinsically evil but rather assume the status of good or evil depending on how they are used. Whatever comes from this realm is neither forbidden by the Torah (for then it would be "evil") nor expressly legislated (for then it would be a mitzvah), but simply permitted.

The heart, ears, and mouth, must be guarded scrupulously from any contact with evil; any "foreskin" on these organs (i.e. experience of insensitivity, selfhood and unrectified ego) is bad and must be rejected. With the sexual organ, however, the picture is not so black and white.

A certain amount of self-awareness and self-orientation is necessary if marital relations are to occur. True, we are bidden to sanctify our sexuality as much as we can, but - in contrast to the other three organs - the sanctification process consists not of eliminating the animal awareness but refining it such that it serves as a window to our divine soul. This is the paradox of marital relations: each partner is to focus on giving pleasure to the other, but in order for each partner to do this successfully, the other partner must oblige by experiencing his/her own pleasure.

Regarding the congealing of semen when it is mixed with the choice parts of the blood of the woman's redness and the leftovers of this process, which becomes the embryo's nourishment - all this is alluded to in the verse: "Behold, I was formed in transgression, and my mother conceived me in sin". (Psalms 51:7) "Transgression" refers to the whiteness from the father, and "sin" refers to the redness of the mother. Similarly, the verse "Have You not poured me out like milk, and congealed me like cheese?" (Job 10:10) refers to the same.

"My mother conceived me in sin" does not mean that marital relations are sinful (G‑d forbid), but simply that a certain element of self-awareness is necessary for them to be carried out as G‑d desires.

We shall now return to the subject of the injection of the [snake's] poison, and how the intermixing of good and evil is the mixing of the 70 nations [with Israel in Eve's womb]. Samael is the [celestial] king of the 70 [celestial] princes, while Michael presides over the 70 [sages of the] Great Assembly [corresponding to] the 70 souls of Jacob (see Gen. 46:8-27).

The angelic personification of self-orientation is the "demon" (i.e. negative angel) Samael. Michael is the angelic personification of chesed.

The 70 members of Jacob's household express the 70 facets of divinely-oriented emotion…

The reason there are seventy nations, seventy corresponding descendents of Jacob, and seventy members of the Great Assembly is because these are personifications of the seven emotional attributes from chesed to malchut, each consisting of ten sub-sefirot. The seventy nations express the seventy facets of self-oriented emotion (the emotions of the animal soul), while the seventy members of Jacob's household express the seventy facets of divinely-oriented emotion (the emotions of the divine soul).

From this you will understand why a boy must be circumcised after seven days and one night [have passed from his birth]. This is the mystical meaning of the verse: "The days of our years in them are seventy years, or with strength, eighty years" (Psalms 90:10) and in what merit [the heavenly court] annuls a decree of seventy years [of suffering].

The seven days before the circumcision correspond to the seventy years in this verse, the eighth day to the eighty years, as will be explained presently. The seventy years of suffering are to rectify the blemished seven emotions. (Shabbat 63a, 119b.)

And know that for every year there is different [celestial] prince, and that no [celestial prince] has permission to pass into the area of another's jurisdiction. This is why we do not take tithes from one year's produce for the previous year, but rather take tithes each year from its own produce. This is also why we must repent every year for [the sins of] that year, for the repentance of one year does not help for another year.

Time, in Judaism, is not a monolithic entity. Every moment in time has its own unique nature and "personality", a result of the changing hues of divine energy constantly recreating the world. As part of this, every year has its own personality, and therefore mitzvot designated to be performed in a specific year must be done so. Above, this is depicted as the "prince" or angelic personality of a specific year not being able to trespass into another year's "space".

This is why [the heavenly court] annuls a decree of seventy years [of suffering], for the individual falls under the power [of the forces of evil] for only seventy years. G‑d therefore has mercy on him and annuls this power. But when a person becomes eighty years old, [the forces of evil] no longer have power over him, this being the mystical meaning of "or with strength, eighty years", meaning that he has overpowered them for ten years.

Evidently, seventy is the maximum number of years of suffering that can be decreed. This is so because seventy is the full expression of the seven emotional attributes. By sinning, a person blemishes these attributes, and, since there are only seven, seventy is the maximum period of rectification he needs, a year per sub-sefira. When a person turns eighty, he has "outlived" his emotions by ten years, meaning that he has rectified them through the ten sefirot of his divine soul.

The number seven is therefore thematically associated with the emotions, the realm of the person's personality that can under the influence of evil. Of course, there is evil intellect also, but the major battle between the animal and divine souls is fought over the individual's emotions - what he will love, fear, empathize with, etc. In contrast, the number eight signifies triumphing in this struggle.

Therefore Scripture decrees that "on the eighth day he shall be circumcised", for he has then escaped the power of the sevens and entered the realm of eight.

Circumcision on the eighth day means that the newborn Jew has transcended the power of seven, of nature, of the animal within him, and entered the realm of the transcendent, the supernatural power of holiness.

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim, parashat Tazria; 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.