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Bereishit(Genesis 1:1-6:8)

Bereishit 5759

GOOD MORNING!  With tremendous gratitude to the Almighty and deep appreciation for my wife, Shoshana, it is my pleasure to share with you the fabulous news of the birth of our son on Friday morning, October 9th! This makes 6 boys and three girls. It is my hope that he and all of my children grow to love God, fear God and to fulfill His commandments.

People are often surprised (or shocked) when they see or hear of big families. If you ask someone "What is your greatest pleasure?" Most often, if the person is a parent, he'll say "My kids!" Then you ask, "If your kids are your greatest pleasure, would you like a large family?" The answer is often, "Oh, no ... that's too difficult, too costly." Anything in life that is worthwhile has a price to be paid in pain, effort, time and/or money. If it's worthwhile, you pay the price ... and there is nothing more worthwhile than children. You are a partner in God's creation and hopefully your children will be partners in Tikun Olam, making the world a better place.

As I prepare for my son's bris, I thought it might be an opportune time to share some thoughts on Bris Mila.


Q & A:  WHAT IS BRIS MILA AND WHAT IS ITS SIGNIFICANCE?

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 man. 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

The Sefer HaChinuch 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
Bereishit

The Five Books of Moses begins with the Six Days of Creation, the Shabbat, the story of the Garden of Eden -- the first transgression, consequences and expulsion; Cain & Abel, the ten generations to Noah, the Almighty sees the wickedness of man in that generation and decrees to "blot out man" (ie. the flood).

One of the most profound verses in the whole Torah is "And God created man in His own image." Since God does not have a physical being, this means that we are endowed with free-will, morality, reason and the ability to emulate God Who bestows kindness. Also, if we really appreciate that we are created in the image of God, we realize that we have intrinsic worth. Therefore, there is no need to be depressed wondering if you have intrinsic worth! (see the Dvar Torah for greater understanding of this idea.)

 

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states, "And God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him" (Genesis1:27) Rabbi Akiva said, "The verse, 'Love your fellow man as yourself' (Leviticus 19:18) is a great principle of the Torah." Ben Azai responded, "The verse, 'When God created man He created him in His image' (Genesis 5:1) is an even greater principle."

Love of one's fellow man which is not motivated and nourished by the realization that man was created in God image, is doomed to failure. Without this realization, why should a person feel obligated to love his fellow man? Man in the universe is so minuscule, he can be considered of minor importance. What, after all, is man, but one of several billion inhabitants on a planet which is only a speck of matter in a vastness of space that extends for billions of light-years. The individual is lost in an immensity beyond imagination. And man himself is merely a mass of bones, nerves, muscles, and blood that happens to function in an orderly fashion. Is he worthy of more consideration than an animal or insect?

When we realize that man alone is fashioned in the image of the Creator of heaven and earth, he is suddenly transformed from an inconsequential and insignificant being into one that is without parallel. Although seemingly infinitesimal, he is the pinnacle of creation.

This is what Ben Azai meant when he said that man's being created in the image of God is an even greater principle than "love your fellow man." Man was created in God image and must be respected accordingly.

Published: January 26, 2000

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