If a woman conceives
R. Simlai said (Leviticus Rabbah 14:1): Even as man was created after the creation of cattle, beasts and birds, so the laws concerning man come after those concerning cattle, beasts and birds.
To explain this midrash, our master repeated the explanation given by the gaon R. Shlomo Kvetsch on the verse (Genesis 1:11): “תדשא הארץ דשא עשב מזריע זרע עץ פּרי עשה פּרִי למינו” (Let the earth put forth grass, herb yielding seed, and fruit-tree-bearing fruit after its kind). Rashi comments that the taste of the tree was intended to be exactly the same as that of the fruit. However, the earth did not do as it was supposed to do, bringing forth instead “עץ עשה פּרי” (a tree yielding fruit) meaning that the tree itself was not a fruit. Thus, when Adam was cursed on account of his sin, the earth was also punished and cursed for its sin as it is written (Genesis 3:17): “ארורה האדמה בעבורך” (cursed is the ground for your sake).
R. Kvetsch explained that, to weaken the power of the earth from which man was taken, the Eternal created the earth and everything created from the earth before He created man, thereby transferring some of earth’s power to the vegetation and animals before man was created. The full power of the earth was not supposed to have been implanted in man so that it would not be too difficult for man to control his physical nature and master his evil inclination. Had the earth obeyed the command of God to bring forth a fruit tree whose taste was like the taste of its fruit, the earthly matter would have been further diluted, and, had that been the case, Adam might not have sinned. So, when the Eternal punished Adam for his sin, He also punished the earth for its sin, inasmuch as Adam’s sin occurred owing to the failure of the earth.
Our master used this idea to explain the words of the Scripture (Genesis 3:8): “ויתחבא האדם ואשתו מפני יהוה אלהים בתוך עץ הגן” (and the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden). This meant that Adam wanted to cast off the guilt from himself by saying that if only the tree had tasted like the fruit, he would not have sinned.
Now just as the Eternal formed man in wisdom and understanding to fashion him from pure and untainted material to reduce and weaken his carnal desire, so also must man act wondrously in begetting children in his own image and form to perpetuate his species. To do so, he must guard his soul against impure food that may not be eaten, so that his own constitution will remain pristine and pure. If he does so, holy and splendid offspring will issue from him, but if he makes himself impure in these matters, his constitution will become tainted, and he will beget a wild man (פרא אדם), ruddy (אדמוני), and ready to shed blood.
This is what R. Simlai meant in the comment that just as the creation of man followed that of cattle, beasts and birds, so the laws concerning man come after those concerning cattle, beasts and birds, for man, too, is a creator and a fashioner of forms, and man, too, is obligated to prepare and refine himself so that a lovely shoot, a delightful seedling, will issue from his being. And how can a man purify himself so that he and his offspring will not be inclined to do evil, if not through the food that he ingests, which constantly nourishes and restores his flesh and blood that melt away?
Our master also used this idea to explain the Midrash (Leviticus Rabbah 14:1) which says here: the verse “אשה כי תזריע” (if a woman conceives) corresponds to the verse (Psalms 139:5): “אחור וקדם צרתני” (You have formed me behind and before). If man acts meritoriously, they say to him: “You preceded all the works of creation” but, if not, they say to him: “A gnat preceded you, a snail preceded you.”
The Midrash tells us that if a man acts meritoriously, we say to him that he is more elevated than any of the creatures created before him, because, having been created last, he was formed from matter that was better and more pleasing than the matter from which the other creatures were formed. But if he is not meritorious, and acts with stubbornness and recalcitrance, we say to him: “Even the gnat preceded you, and it was created by God before you desecrated the power of the earth from which you were formed. Yet all this did no good for you, because you followed your evil inclination.”
Our master explained in this way the text of the blessing which we say upon performing a circumcision: “אשר קידש ידיד מבטן וחוק בשארו שם וצאצאיו חתם באות ברית קודש” (who sanctified the beloved from birth, impressing Your statute in his flesh and marking his descendants with the sign of the holy covenant). For, according to the above, the first condition for a person’s offspring to be holy is that he consume only permitted food. Additionally, one must obey the laws of family purity recorded in seder Tetzaveh. And finally, on the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised in order, as the Rambam wrote, to weaken carnal desire. This is what is meant by the words of the blessing “אשר קידש ידיד מבטן” refers to the food that one ingests into his stomach, thereby sanctifying the child with the commandments relating to the stomach, as it is written (Proverbs 13:25): “צדיק אכל לשבע נפשו ובטן רשעים תחסר” (The righteous one has enough to satisfy his appetite, but the belly of the wicked suffers want). And then “חוק בשארו שם” is a reference to the laws of family purity (חוק נדות), God having fixed a monthly cycle for women. And “ושאר” (flesh) is also a reference to the woman as the Sages understood the verse (Leviticus 21:2) “כִי אם לשארו כי הקרב אליו” (except for his nearest of kin) as a reference to his wife. And finally, after observing all these laws, one is commanded “וצאצאיו חתם באות ברית קודש” (to mark his descendants with the sign of the holy covenant), because it is also necessary to circumcise the foreskin to weaken the carnal desire.