Lech Lechah 2

D'var Torah by Rabbi Jay Spero



Contact Rabbi Spero at 862-9546 or


“G-d said to Avraham, “And as for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant which you shall keep between Me and you, and your descendants after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised” (Gen. Ch. 17 V.8-10).

This is a most fascinating mitzvah (commandment). At the point when G-d delivered this commandment, Avraham had proven himself a worthy person and a servant of G-d. He had discovered there is a G-d who runs the world. This led him to the conclusion there must be a moral imperative. This conclusion imbued life with meaning — introducing people to monotheism, teaching them that life has purpose, and that much good can be accomplished on this earth.

Things were going so well for Avraham. Why did G-d find it necessary to command him to circumcise himself? And if G-d did not want man to have a foreskin, shouldn’t He have created him that way?

The word for circumcision in Hebrew is bris. This is also translated as covenant. G-d created man so that man would endeavor to improve the world. Starting off a man’s life with a circumcision manifests that mission in a clear way: human beings are given the raw materials with which to either improve or destroy the world. It is up to us to make that decision: to destroy the world by setting up barriers between man and G-d, or to remove the barriers, thus improving the world. When a man’s foreskin is removed, the physical act symbolizes the spiritual reality: the desire to remove barriers between us and G-d. In a nutshell, that is man’s mission.

The location of the bris is also meaningful. The part of the body which seemingly is only used for physical purpose actually has the potential to be the most spiritual — to be the location of the covenant between man and G-d. Through sanctification, physical and spiritual pleasures are synchronized.

If a bris is so crucial to our identity, where do women fit in this mitzvah? When Avraham circumcised himself G-d added the letter “hey” to his name. The letter hey is the letter with which this world (as opposed to the world to come) was created. At this point, G-d also changed the name of Avraham’s wife’s from Sarai to Sarah: from, “my princess” to “a princess for the entire world”. The fact that Sarah also underwent a name change at this momentous occasion shows that she also played a role in the bris. Her role, however, was more subtle than Avraham’s: Avraham physically changed his body, Sarah did not. This speaks to the male and female roles.

The male’s role involves external power. Thus Avraham’s name change was the addition of the letter used to create the physical world. The female stands for internal power. The Maharal explains that the male’s role is to create, and the female’s role is to mold that creation. Thus when Avraham became circumcised, Sarah — who was past child bearing age — was rejuvenated and was miraculously able to become pregnant from him (signifying an internal change), to mold that which Avraham created. So we see both of them received positive effects from the circumcision. And thus, Sarah changed from Avraham’s princess to the princess of the world.

Jewish history has taught us that one of the most crucial identifications of a Jewish male is that he is circumcised. And this has been a commandment which has been observed by nearly all Jews, regardless of affiliation. This is a mitzvah which has protected us and enabled us to survive these thousands of years.

Rabbi Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo.

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