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The path of perfection

One Jewish woman was asked: why Jewish babies are circumcised? “Well, first of all, it’s beautiful ...” – a wise woman began her answer. This is, of course, an anecdote, but, as it is often the case, it contains a certain sense.

Brit milah in Hebrew literally means “circumcision [in sign of] union”, that is the union of the people of Israel with the Creator. And circumcision – is a sign of this union (covenant), embodied in the flesh of a Jew. The Torah says about this commandment (Bereshit 17:10): “This is my covenant with you that you are to keep: You will be the father of many nationsBehold, my covenant, which you should keep - the union between me and you, – the union between me and your descendants: let every man be cut off”. How important circumcision is, can be understood from the fact that the word brit (in connection with this ceremony) is mentioned in the Torah fo thirteen times. Our wise men teach that uncircumcised Jews have no right for the Holy Land, as the Almighty promised Abraham to give the Land of Israel into possession only if he and his descendants would keep the commandment of circumcision: “... I will give you and your descendants all the land of Canaan... as an everlasting possession ... you must keep my covenant ... every male among you shall be circumcised” (Bereshit 17:8 - 17:10). Consequently, when the Jews do not recognize circumcision – the sign of Abraham’ union with the Highest – it prolongs the term of our exile – both spiritually and physically.

The question arises: if the Lord wanted Sons of his people to be cut off, why did not He create them as such? Perhaps the answer is contained in the Midrash (Tanhuma, Tazria chapter 5).

The Romans, who owned Eretz Israel in ancient times, from time to time banned observance of Jewish laws, particularly circumcision (as well as many other invaders). Anyway, they showed intense interest to this very commandment. Thus, the Roman governor of Judea asked the great Jewish scholar rabbi Akiva a “provocative” question:

– Whose activities are more perfect: of a man or of God?

– Of a man, – quite unexpectedly for the seignior replied rabbi Akiva.

– So, do you want to say that a person can create something like the sky, the earth, the stars?! - cried the startled Roman.

– I mean things that are within the frame of human possibilities.

– Why do you Jews do circumcision? After doing so you admit that the creations of the Creator are imperfect and require “improvement”.

– I was waiting for this question, that is why I said to you, that person’s actions are above the activities of the Lord. What do you think, is more perfect: wheat grain or bread?

– Bread, of course.

– You yourself admitted that manmade creation is more perfect than the creation of God. Of course, he could create a baby circumcised already, but He gave a man the opportunity to improve, keeping His commandments.

The Lord wants a man to witness the fact of belonging to the Jewish people himself. He is given an opportunity for self-education and self-improvement. The key to the understanding of the fact that the people of Israel will live forever is in effort of each individual Jew to maintain his Jewish identity.

There is nothing that would have saved the Jewish people from the assimilation more than brit milah. Jews never ceased to fulfill this commandment and when it is threatened for certain death: during the persecutions of the Emperor Hadrian, in medieval Spain, in Hitler's Germany ... In the Soviet Union there was no formal law prohibiting circumcision, but everyone knows, mildly speaking, what troubles a family, which decided not to deviate from the legacy of their fathers, could have.

Now circumcision is common in many civilized countries. It is believed that this operation is good for health: they say that the Jews will not wish bad for their children. Indeed, numerous studies have shown that circumcision protects against some very serious diseases. However, explaining circumcision from the point of view of only care about hygiene would be a complete lack of understanding of the commandment’s essence. This commandment has a different, spiritual goal. Not only physically a man is created imperfect and he has the power in his hands to correct the deficiencies, but also in spiritual sense, we are burdened with a large number of shortcomings that must be eradicated and thereby we can improve ourselves. This is how the Torah teaches us the main goal of our lives: achievement of spiritual integrity.

Rabbi Gorodetsky


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