GOOD MORNING! In this week's Torah portion, Avraham is recovering from Bris Mila. Later, Isaac is born and has a Bris Mila. So, I thought to share a few insights on ... Bris Mila!
The Almighty commanded Abraham, "... My covenant you shall keep -- you and your descendants after you for all generations. This is my covenant which you shall keep between Me and you and your descendants after you -- circumcise all males. And you shall circumcise the flesh of the foreskin and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. And at eight days old every male shall be circumcised throughout all of your generations ... My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant" (Genesis 17:9-13).
The words "Bris Mila" mean "The Covenant of Circumcision." The Covenant is bi-directional: the Jewish people undertake to fulfill God's laws and God watches over us. The circumcision is the sign of the Almighty's Covenant with Avraham to make his descendants a great nation and to give them the Land of Israel.
Removal of the foreskin is a religious act, not a medical act. It must be performed by a competent and God-fearing mohel (a professionally trained and certified expert). It makes sense that if one is bringing his son into the Covenant with the Almighty, that he would enlist the most competent person to perform the circumcision. The certified mohel is not only an expert's expert in the physical aspects, but he fully understands the spiritual implications and requirements necessary for fulfilling the mitzvah properly. If one uses a doctor, he should use one who is also a certified mohel.
The commandment is upon the father to bring his son into the Covenant of Abraham. If the father didn't do it, it falls upon the son to fulfill the mitzvah when he become a Bar Mitzvah, 13 years old.
In Hebrew, the word use for foreskin is orlah. Orlah means "a barrier." The foreskin is a barrier to holiness. On a mystical level, it is a block to spiritual growth and understanding. On a physical level, the removal of the orlah is a reminder to control passions for the higher calling of guaranteeing one's continuity -- rather than to be drawn by impassioned lusts which can degrade and cause the downfall of a person. The goal is to be like God -- by using the physical for higher goals. One cannot orgy by night and be a tzadik (righteous person) by day.
The Sefer HaChinuch, a guide to the 613 commandments, elucidates a lesson from Bris Mila. Just like the Almighty gave us the ability to perfect the physical side, our bodies, through the removing of the foreskin, likewise we have the ability to perfect our spiritual side, our personality, our behavior.
Why has this mitzvah survived in strength while so many other mitzvot have fallen to the wayside by otherwise minimally observant Jews? Perhaps the answer is found in the 2,000 year old words of Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, "Every mitzvah that they (the Jewish people) accepted upon themselves with joy ... they still perform with joy." (Talmud, Shabbos 130a). Deep in our collective psyche we know that the Jewish people is eternal, that we have a mission to be a "Light Unto the Nations" and to perfect the world, that the Almighty loves us and watches over us -- and that it is our great joy and privilege to be a part of that Covenant!
Torah Portion of the Week
Vayera, Genesis 18:1 - 22:24
Avraham, on the third day after his brit mila, sits outside his tent looking for guests to extend his hospitality. While talking with the Almighty, he sees three visitors (actually angels of the Almighty). Avraham interrupts his conversation with the Almighty to invite them to a meal. One angel informs him that in a year's time, Sarah, his wife, will give birth to a son, Yitzhak (Isaac).
God tells Avraham that He is going to destroy Sodom because of its absolute evil (the city is the source of the word sodomy). Avraham argues with God to spare Sodom if there can be found ten righteous people in Sodom. Avraham loses for the lack of a quorum. Lot escapes the destruction with his two daughters.
Other incidents: Avimelech, King of the Philistines, wants to marry Sarah (Avraham's wife), the birth of Yitzhak, the eviction of Hagar (Avraham's concubine) and Ishmael. Avimelech and Avraham make a treaty at Beersheva. Avraham is commanded to take up his son, Isaac, as an offering "on one of the mountains" (Akeidat Yitzhak). Lastly, the announcement of the birth of Rivka (Rebecca), the future wife of Yitzhak.
Do you want to know the reward for listening to the command of the Almighty? This is what the Almighty told Avraham: "... I shall surely bless you and greatly increase your descendants like the stars of the heavens and like the sand on the seashore; and your offspring shall inherit the gate of its enemy. And all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your offspring, because you have listened to My voice."
* * *
from Twerski on Chumash by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.
The Torah states regarding Avraham seeing that he had visitors:
"He lifted his eyes and saw: And behold! Three men were standing over him ... He took ... the calf which he had prepared and placed (the food) before them; he stood over them beneath the tree and they ate" (Gen. 18:2-8).
Rabbi Yehoshua of Belz said that a human being has the ability to surpass angels in spirituality. While angels are indeed emissaries of God, they do not have any mitzvos. A mitzvah is not only a Divine commandment, but the word "mitzvah" also means "bond." Performance of a mitzvah binds man to God. This is something which even angels cannot achieve.
Initially, when the angels visited Avraham, their spiritual status was greater than his, hence they "were standing over him," i.e., superior to him. After Avraham had served them and fulfilled the mitzvah of hachanasas orchim (offering hospitality to guests), "he stood over them." By virtue of the mitzvah Avraham had surpassed them in spirituality.
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Rabbi Kalman Packouz
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