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July 15, 2011 / 13 Tammuz, 5771
Shabbat Chapter Two Mishnah Six
Selected Commentary
Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Shabbat 2, 6
For three sins women die in childbirth: because they are not observant of [the laws of] niddah, hallah, and the kindling of the [Shabbat] lights.

Cause and effect are often difficult to understand. Regularly we put together facts in such a way as to believe a pattern exists, or worse there is a causal relationship. We live in an age of conspiracy theories born of cynicism. We wonder about motivation, intent and collusion. Throughout we gain a false sense of control. If we can figure life out we will be safer, we will be able to control the uncertainty of tomorrow.

During the age of the Mishna labor and delivery were far more dangerous than today. Advances in science and medicine have, in fact given us more control. The incredible pain of loss especially in the midst of birth is sometimes overwhelming. The anguish of this particular event is immeasurable and filled with conflict and confusion. To that end the rabbis wanted for themselves and for their people some capacity to minimize the chances for this to happen. We all want a magic incantation to prevent tragedy. The Rabbis in their wisdom felt that through observance of specific rituals one could avert a tragedy. However, there is something deeper being expressed as well.

If we analyze the specific rituals associated with safety during childbirth we understand that parenting is general is precarious. The three rituals suggested in this Mishna can be understood as representative of the three partners in raising a child. First “niddah,” laws of family purity. These are the laws that govern when and how a husband and wife interact in the most intimate settings. These laws teach us about personal space and the role we play in our spouse's life. Second, “hallah,” taking a piece of the bread off to remind us of the continued responsibility to the community of those in need of support. And third, Shabbat candles teaches of the necessity of a personal relationship, connection to God. Spouse, community and care of self are necessary to surviving parenthood. We cannot raise children on our own. We need partners and we need time for self care. We need help or we put our own lives at risk.

Relationship with family, connection to community and personal growth and care are the solution to the dangers of being a parent. They are the safeguards of a life devoted to raising children. Though we may dismiss this Mishna as theologically misguided, a closer reading offers a relevancy that ought not be disreguarded.

This week's Mishnah lesson was written by
Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Rabbi Jay M. Stein became the Senior Rabbi of Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley, PA in January, 2004. He is a member of the Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards of the Conservative Movement. Currently, he is a Board Member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia; an Executive Board Member of Vaad Board of Rabbis, Philadelphia; and a member of the Chancellor's Rabbinic Cabinet of The Jewish Theological Seminary of America. From 1990-1991, Rabbi Stein served as an Alef-Alef Fellow in Jewish Education at Tel Aviv University. In 1993, he was awarded the Lowenfeld Prize in Practical Theology from The Jewish Theological Seminary of America and, in 1995, he was named a Wexner Rabbinic Fellow. He founded a Regional Think Tank for Rabbis serving as Spiritual Leaders in the Solomon Schechter Day Schools. Rabbi Stein authored a chapter in The Resource Guide for Rabbis on Domestic Violence published by Jewish Women International, and co-published articles on domestic violence in the Rabbinical Assembly Newsletter, as well as Outlook Magazine. Presently, Rabbi Stein is a participant of the STAR Rabbis: Good to Great Program and a certified Counselor in Chemical Dependence. He has received his ordination, M.A.; Jewish Education, B.A.; Jewish Philosophy from The Jewish Theological Seminary of America; and B.A., Sociology from Columbia University.

The opinions expressed in this Unraveller are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the FJMC.

Have you blessed your children this week?
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