The Torah is teaching us – between the lines – how we must be sensitive towards a pigeon! How much more so must we display sensitivity to our fellow human beings!
This week we have a double Torah portion: The portion of Tazria (Leviticus 12:1-13:59) and the portion of Metzora (Leviticus 14:1-15:33) are read in synagogues this Shabbat.
In the opening passages of Tazria we learn about the purification procedure and offerings that a woman would perform after having given birth. This procedure took place forty days after giving birth to a boy and eighty days following the birth of the girl.
Following these time periods the Torah requires a woman to offer one of the two following sacrifices. Option a: A sheep and a dove. Option b: a pigeon. The Torah actually prefers that the woman choose option ‘a’, and we’ll soon see why.
The commentators note that it is very odd for the Torah to describe an offering that consists of either a dove or a pigeon in this way. This is because everywhere else in the Torah where there is the option of offering a bird as a sacrifice, the pigeon is always proposed first – only then is the option of a dove mentioned. Our Torah portion is the only place where a dove is cited before the pigeon. Why is this? Why the change in the order?
In one of his Torah portion essays, Rabbi Yissachar Frand cites Rabbi Simcha Zissel Broide as suggesting that the Torah is teaching us a lesson in sensitivity. The Torah prefers that a woman choose option ‘a’ because pigeons (at least the species of pigeon that the Torah is referring to) don’t “re-marry”. For a pigeon, a mate is a mate for life. If its partner is taken or killed, it will not “re-marry”. On the other hand, a dove displays no such loyalty. Once the partner of is taken or killed, it seeks out a new mate.
Taking the ‘Sacrifice Package’
This is why the Torah prefers that a woman choose the “sacrifice package” that includes the dove and not the pigeon. The Torah prefers that we sacrifice the dove and not the pigeon so as not to destroy the life of the surviving pigeon, forcing its mate to sit in mourning for the rest of its life.
Imagine! The Torah is teaching us – between the lines – how we must be sensitive towards a pigeon! How much more so then, do we have to display sensitivity to our fellow human beings! This “reading between the lines” is something we must keep in mind whenever we study the word of God. As Rabbi Frand points out, the Torah does not say anywhere that we have to be ‘sensitive’ to another person! This can also be taken a step further: Where does the Torah say that one has to brush one’s hair and teeth before going to school or work each day? Where does the Torah say “You shall not cut off the other guy in traffic!”? Where does the Torah say….. And the list goes on and on.
The truth is: There is a lot that the Torah doesn’t explicitly say! It’s our job to learn it out and derive it “between the lines!” We must remember that the Torah does say “…and you shall do that which is correct and good in the Eyes of God” (Deuteronomy 6:18). As the great Ramban, Nachmanides, writes: Even those things that are not explicit…try to deduce from the Torah that which is correct and good for God likes that which is correct and good…it is impossible for the Torah to record every good character trait.”
So the next time you’re not sure how to conduct yourself in your relations with your fellow man, or the next time you’re just not sure what to do in an ethically sensitive situation: remember the lesson of the pigeon. Think of the pigeon in the week’s Torah portion and think of the verse “…and you shall do that which is correct and good in the Eyes of God” and you will certainly make the right decision!
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