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Home » Birth, Tazria

Tazria: The Power of Circumcision

Submitted by on January 12, 2006 – 3:41 amOne Comment | 1,295 views

Three Gifts

The power of circumcision is such that we are promised three rewards for it – manifestation of the divine presence, eternal ownership of the land of Israel and  preservation of the patrilineal line of Davidic Descent.(1)

As a mark of the covenant between G-d and the Jewish people, it can easily be argued that circumcision is a manifestation of the divine presence, but what in the nature of circumcision leads to ownership of the land of Israel and the preservation of David’s line?

To understand why performance of circumcision leads to these specific gifts, it is first necessary to gain a better understanding of circumcision itself.

Divine Manifestation

“And on the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.” (2) The requirement of circumcision at the tender age of eight days raises an important question.

Why is the eternal covenant of divine manifestation granted to an infant, who is completely oblivious to its distinction? Furthermore, how can we know if the infant will ever learn to appreciate this distinction? Shouldn’t we wait till he has demonstrated at least a modicum of commitment before we bestow such a gift upon him?

Experiential and Intrinsic

We, the Jewish people are connected to G-d on two separate levels, the experiential and the intrinsic. (3)

The experiential bond is determined simply by our devotion to G-d. The greater our passion is for G-d, the more will we want to seek him out. The greater our yearning is for G-d, the more committed we will be to his commandments.

On this level, we fulfill his instructions because we love him and pine for closeness. Every commandment is a channel for connection and every transgression is the severance of a channel. This intensity of this bond depends completely upon us. We can build it and we can sever it.

The intrinsic bond works in the reverse. G-d has bound himself to us our essence thereby forging an intrinsic connection with us. This bond is inescapable. Whether cognizant of it or oblivious to it, we and G-d are forever one.

This bond is not adjustable. Our sins don’t diminish it and our Mitzvahs don’t enhance it. It is a bond with the infinite and the infinite cannot be adjusted. The pious and the wicked, the honest and the corrupt, the scholar and the simpleton are identically and intrinsically bound to G-d.

The experiential bond is our connection with G-d. The intrinsic bond is G-d’s connection with us. While we might terminate our relationship with G-d, G-d would never terminate his relationship with us.

It is this intrinsic bond that is reflected in the circumcision’s covenant of divine manifestation. (4) power of circumcision - innerstreamThe covenant is deliberately administered during infancy because the infant is completely oblivious to the magnitude of its impact. The infant’s cognizance of its manifestation is completely immaterial to this bond. It is not enhanced by his allegiance nor can it be diminished by his perfidy.(5)

The Land of Israel

Though the experiential and intrinsic bonds are independent of each other, they nevertheless affect each other. When our intrinsic bond is pronounced, our experiential bond is strengthened. The intrinsic bond represents G-d’s connection with us. As we said, the experiential bond represents our connection with G-d. When G-d sees that we pronounce his connection with us, he is willing to strengthen and support our connection with him.

We pronounce his connection with us through circumcision. G-d strengthens our connection with him through the Land of Israel. This is perhaps why the Land of Israel was promised to the Jewish people in reward for keeping the Mitzvah of circumcision.

The prophet Isaiah wrote, “As a young man espouses a maiden, so shall your children settle in you; and like the bridegroom’s rejoicing over his bride, so shall your G-d rejoice over you.” (6) This verse informs us that when we settle the land of Israel, G-d rejoices over us, which in turn inspires us to relate to him as a bride would to her groom – the experiential bond

The bond between a bride and groom is experiential. They have no intrinsic love for each other for they aren’t joined at their essence. Their love fluctuates. As their marriage grows, so does their love. As their love grows, so does their attraction to each other.

Their relationship is analogous to the experiential bond between G-d and the Jewish people. Simply put, when we settle in our land G-d rejoices over us as a bridegroom over his bride. This in turn strengthens our bride-like connection to G-d, our experiential bond.

The experiential bond tends to fluctuate depending on our environment. The environment in the Land of Israel enhances this bond in ways that are simply not possible in the diaspora.

A Jew in Israel is spiritually more open to inspiration. The Torah can only be fully appreciated and understood in the Land of Israel. (7) Many of the Torah’s commandments are only applicable in the Land of Israel. (8) With the exception of Moses, every one of our Prophets lived, at least for awhile, in the Holy Land. This land opens many lines of connection that are simply not available in the diaspora. These lines of connection are the life force of our experiential bond. (9)

It is fitting that we merit to settle in the Land of Israel in reward for the Mitzvah of circumcision. In Circumcision we give expression to G-d’s intrinsic bond with us. Through the Land of Israel, G-d gives expression to our experiential bond with him. (10)

The Davidic Line of Descent

Jewish tradition teaches that the Messiah, in Hebrew Moshiach, must be a direct patrilineal descendant of King David. (11) For the Jewish messianic hope to stay alive it is vital that this patrilineal line be preserved.

Thus the preservation of this line is offered as the final reward for the Mitzvah of circumcision. The first reward, divine manifestation, promises an intrinsic bond with G-d. The second reward, ownership over the land of Israel, promises an experiential bond with G-d. The third reward, patrilineal line of descent, promises to merge the two bonds together.

Our prophets describe the Messianic era as a time when the human eye will gaze upon G-d’s very essence. (12) Now, human vision is a metaphor for our experiential bond with G-d because just like this bond its range is finite. It is possible to gaze upon a moderate amount of light, and with effort we might increase the range of that light, but it is impossible to gaze directly upon an intense source of light such as the sun. Yet the messianic prophecy promises that the human eye will gaze directly upon G-d’s very essence. How is this possible? Through the merit of circumcision.

Circumcision enhances our intrinsic bond as well as our experiential bond with G-d. The former strengthens our connection to G-d’s essence, the latter strengthens our capacity to metaphorically gaze upon the limited expressions of G-dliness. When our bond with G-d succeeds on both levels we become highly deserving of the third and greatest reward, the preservation of the Davidic line – the Messianic prophecy, which promises to merge the two bonds together.

Indeed, when the Moshiach comes we will merit an experiential bond with G-d’s very essence.

Footnotes

  1. R. Bachya commentary to Genesis 17, 24 (R. Bachya ben Asher, 1255-1340 Saragossa, Spain,)
  2. Our Parsha Leviticus 12, 3
  3. For a full treatment of this subject see Likutei Sichos v. 25 p. 87. (R. Menachem M Schneerson Rebbe of Lubavitch 1902-1994) See also Machsheves Hachassidus v. 1 p. 93, by R. Yoel Kahn, Published by Sifriyat Eshel 1961
  4. The Torah speaks of two forms of circumcision, the physical and the spiritual. In addition to the conventional form of circumcision, the Torah instructs us to circumcise the foreskin of our hearts. (Deuteronomy 10, 16) To restrain our passion for worldly delights and direct our focus exclusively upon G-d. Devotees of such circumcision have perfected their experiential bond with G-d. Yet the Midrash teaches that G-d’s instruction to Abraham to attain a state of wholesomeness was made possible only through the conventional physical circumcision, not the spiritual circumcision of the heart. See Bereishis Rabba 46, 5
  5. This may explain the Midrashic teaching that the Mitzvah of circumcision atones for all sins and protects one from passage to Gehinnom. See Bereishis Rabbah 21, 9. 47, 7., 48, 7. Shemos Rabba 19, 4. See also Pirkei R. Eliezer ch.29. This may also explain why our sages equate the sanctity and devotion of a Jew during circumcision with that of an animal during the time of its offering. See Bereishis Rabbah 25, 4 Bab. Talmud Sanhedrin 89b.
  6. Isaiah 63, 5
  7. Yalkut Shimoni Geneis 22 “There is no Torah like the Torah of Israel and there is no wisdom like the wisdom of Israel.” See also.. R. Zeira, a Talmudic sage fasted for one hundred days before he moved from Babylon to Israel so that he would merit to forget the lower level of Torah study available in the diaspora and attain the higher level of Torah study available in Israel. Bab.Talmud Baba Metzia 85a
  8. Commandments related to agricultural matters such as Shemitah, Terumah and Maasros.
  9. For more information on the symbiotic relationship between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, see Rectifying the State of Israel by R. Yitzchack Ginsburgh, published by Gal Einai Institute 2002.
  10. Settlement of all parts of the Land of Israel will even affect the nations, to the extent that they will even assist us. They will also “feel” (since their mazal will see) that the existence of Esau is only for the purpose of helping Jacob. This will be a preparation for the in-gathering of all Sons and Daughters of Israel — shleimus haAm — to the whole the Land of Israel, in the coming of (and through) Moshiach, after which “G-d will extend your boundaries” — and the Land of Israel will be expanded, with the addition of the lands of the Keini, Knizi, and Kadmoni. (Quoted from an address by R. Menachem M Schneerson Rebbe of Lubavitch 1902-1994 on Motzoei Shabbos Chaye Sara, 5738)
  11. Maimonidies’ Magnum Opus Yad Hachazakah, Hilchos Melachim 11,4(Maimonidies, R. Moshe ben Maimon (Egypt) 1135-1204)
  12. Isaiah 30,20
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One Comment »

  • Anonymous says:

    Rabbi Lazer, Once again an insightful and thought provoking article from you. I am interested in understanding more about the Intrinsic Bond that connects us to G-d. Does this apply only to those born to a Jewish Mother or can it include others who are drawn towards this path of truth ? I ask this because the Universal and Timeless nature of this bond is so all encompassing that I am curious to know if it has any physical limitations in its manifestation here on Earth ? If this is so then as a consequence its very Universality will be limited, but then. that too could be part of the channelling essence that is bestowed during the Bris. I'm not trying to split hairs here, just to clarify something that is nagging at me. Thank You for this article.

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