“When the days of her purification are over, whether for a son or for a daughter, she is to bring a lamb in its first year for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or dove for a sin offering to the entrance of the tent of meeting, to the cohen.” -Leviticus 12:6
We are in the midst of discussing the unclean state a mother enters into once she gives birth to a child.
Recall that when she gives birth to boy, she will be unclean for 40 days and when she gives birth to a girl, she will be unclean for 80 days.
Also recall that each period of impurity is divided into 2 stages: 7 days and 33 days for the 40-day period and 14 days and 66 days for the 80-day period.
Let’s get into our text study.
In verse 3, we encounter the oh-so-important law commanding that on the 8th day a male child must be circumcised.
Remember circumcision was the sign of the covenant the Lord gave to Abraham.
Notice that the 8th day is the 1st day of the 2nd stage of lesser impurity.
So we can see that circumcision is connected to the mother’s ritual purity in some way.
There is some fascinating symbolism connected to circumcision that we’ll be getting into later.
Now once a mother passes through the 1st stage of ritual impurity and enters the 2nd stage of lesser ritual impurity, she can resume sexual relations with her husband (yay!!!).
However, because she is still in a state of ritual impurity, the Scriptures tell us she is still forbidden from entering the holy grounds or touching any holy or consecrated thing.
What is the exact definition of a “holy” or “consecrated” thing?
Although the definition did tend to vary from one Rabbi to another, the general consensus was that a “holy thing” was anything that was offered for sacrifice in the Temple.
During her period of uncleanness, she could have nothing to do with any sacrificial animal or food, or participate in any of the sacrificial procedures.
One interesting question is what happened if the mother in question happened to be a priest’s wife?
How did she eat under such circumstances because the primary food source for priests and their families were portions of the animal and grain sacrificial offerings offered by the common Israelites.
What happened in this case?
Did she just go on a really looooooooong fast?
Well, of course the answer is no.
She was not deprived of her daily sustenance, nor did she have to eat less during her period of uncleanness.
She simply had to eat food that was NOT previously part of a sacrifice.
The priests did have money that they received from certain reparation offerings (ASHAM in Hebrew) that required the giving of cash along with an animal.
When necessary, the priests used this cash to buy regular food and other staple items.
So after the 40 or 80 day period of impurity passed, the mother was required to bring the following two sacrifices to the temple:
The OLAH or the “Burnt Offering”
…the HATTA-AT or the “Purification Offering”.
However, keep in mind that the MINCHAH or Grain Offering was pretty much always offered up together with the OLAH or Burnt Offering.
The OLAH and the MINCHAH were always offered together, kind of like a coke with ice or pancakes with maple syrup.
So in reality, the mother offered up a total of three sacrifices: the OLAH (Burnt Offering), the HATTA-AT (Purification Offering), and the MINCHAH (Grain Offering).
Now do you recall our study on the HATTA-AT and why I thought that calling it a “Sin Offering” was misleading?
For a quick review, you can read my article on this by clicking here.
I think Leviticus Chapter 12 is a perfect example of why “Sin Offering” is a bad translation.
Because when you say “Sin Offering”, it gives us the wrong impression of this sacrifice’s purpose.
It imparts the wrong idea that some sin has been committed and now it must be atoned for.
However, as this chapter in Leviticus makes abundantly clear, UNCLEANNESS or ritual impurity doesn’t necessarily involve sin, does it?
Getting pregnant, being pregnant, and giving birth aren’t sins.
Rather, as I mentioned in my last post, it was the natural discharge of blood accompanying the birth of the baby that makes the mother unclean.
And the purpose of the HATTA-AT is to purify the mother or restore her back to a state of CLEANNESS.
Hence, it is much better to call the HATTA-AT the “Purification Offering” instead of a “Sin Offering”.
In fact, the HATTA-AT was usually performed as the final sacrifice in a series of rituals that took an impure person and restored him back to a state of ritual purity.
It is only in some cases that a defined sin was the cause for one becoming ritually impure.
To further buttress this point, I leave you with the eloquence of the great Robert Altar speaking on this very topic:
“The present case is a strategic instance of why it is misleading to render the Hebrew ata’t, as almost all English versions do, as “sin offering.” Surely the childbearing woman has done nothing that can be called a sin. The state of ritual impurity, however, imposed on her by biological circumstances makes her a potential source of violation of the sancta, which would be an offense to the cult and to its divine object, and so she is enjoined to present an offense offering that will mark the completion of her period of purification.”-Alter, Robert (2008-10-17). The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary (Kindle Locations 12048-12052). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.