Lech Lechah 2
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).
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.