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Home » Family Life, Vayera

Vayera: All About Me

Submitted by on October 29, 2017 – 12:44 amNo Comment | 2,986 views

News was made last week, when a ninety-year-old Jew in Ukraine elected to be circumcised.[1] Of course, this was hardly the first time something like this occurred. The first time, was when our forefather Abraham did it at the age of ninety-nine.

Beyond the removal of the foreskin, what is the benefit of circumcision? The answer in short is that circumcision is our way of saying, life is not all about me. If life were all about me, I would hardly remove a flab of skin, especially in such a sensitive area, just because G-d desires it. But life is not all about me. In fact, I am just a servant; a vehicle for G-d’s will.

A Secret
Three days after Abraham was circumcised, G-d decided to punish the inhabitants of Sodom. But before carrying out His plan, G-d decided to inform Abraham. “Shall I conceal from Abraham”, asked G-d?[2]

The timing and context of G-d’s question, coming as it did immediately after the events surrounding Abraham’s circumcision, implies that it was only after Abraham’s circumcision that G-d determined not to keep secrets from him. What is it about circumcision that leads G-d to share His secrets?

King David wrote, “G-d’s secret is with those who fear Him, and his covenant [of circumcision] makes it known to them”.[3] What is G-d’s great secret that is made known through circumcision?

The Jewish mystics put it like this. Believers know that the world was created ex nihilo–something from nothing. But that is hardly a flattering description of G-d. Something from nothing implies that before creation, there was nothing, when in fact, there was G-d. Of course, we mean to imply that created matter did not evolve from a pre-existent substance, but still, the phrase can be misleading.

Indeed, this phrase reveals a deep and unsettling truth about us. When we look at the universe, we are confident that it exists. But when we look beyond our universe, we can’t be sure that anything exists. Having no idea of what is out there, we call it nothing. The ignorant labels the unknown, nothing.

A teacher once told his class that G-d does not exist. He explained that if G-d existed, we would have been able to see and touch Him. Since we can’t see or touch G-d, there is no G-d. there is only nothing. One student, got up and proclaimed that the teacher has no common sense. Why do you say that, asked the teacher? Because I can neither see nor touch it, replied the student.

This is the way we see things from below–we are something and before we were created, there was nothing. G-d has an entirely different point of view. G-d knows that He existed before creation so there was certainly something before creation. But what He created is so infinitesimal that compared to G-d it is like nothing. To G-d, we are not something from nothing. We are in fact, nothing from something.

This secret, that G-d is something and we are nothing, is known only to those who fear G-d. This truth is concealed from everyone else because it would impede our regular function. How could we function if we felt that we were nothing? However, once we are circumcised, we remove the veil and it is possible to catch a glimpse of this secret.

The Veil
Metaphorically, the foreskin represents a veil that conceals G-d’s truth. Removing the foreskin metaphorically removes the veil and reveals the truth. It is a symbolic removing of the wool from over our eyes. It opens us up to considering the possibility of what our souls perceive as fact.

Namely, that there is only one absolute existence, which is G-d. The existence of everything else is contingent on G-d’s will. Without G-d we are nothing. With G-d, we still don’t count for much. We are products of G-d’s creative power. Thus, if we were to break it down to its essential truth, we would conclude that we are parts of G-ds greater whole.

There is no me, and there is no you. There is only G-d, and His infinite ability to produce unique creations. You trace your roots back to G-d as do I. We have the same point of origin; in our intrinsic state we are one. If this is true, life cannot be all about me or all about you. It can only be about G-d.

When life is all about me, G-d might keep secrets from me. When I recognize that only G-d exists, and I am part of G-d, there is no one to keep a secret from. If G-d knows the secret, all of G-d knows it including the part that represents me.

Shall I conceal from Abraham?” G-d wasn’t only referring to His plans for Sodom, but also to His own big secret. The secret that life is all about G-d. The secret that creation is not something from nothing, but nothing from something. “Shall I (the true me, be) conceal(ed) from Abraham?”

Not only is the removal of the foreskin symbolic, the organ from which it is removed is also symbolic.

The organ upon which circumcision is performed is most instructive. On the face of it, this is an organ of unification and sublimation. There is no other experience in life that enables us to merge with another person and become part of a whole, greater than the sum of its parts. It is not only about merging with our spouse, it is also about merging with G-d. Only through this organ, are we able to partner with G-d in the act of (pro) creation.

Yet, the sublimation and sanctity of this experience is obscured by the sheer physical sensation that it brings. We operate under a veil and perceive only our personal gratification and physical sensation. Something so holy and noble is reduced to carnal pleasure by the fact that we live under the illusion that life is all about me. The truth is veiled, and we think only about ourselves.

Removing the foreskin is a symbolic way of saying that we will reveal the true purpose of this most pleasurable activity. We will reflect on the fact that the pleasure sensed by the body is a mere glimmer of the delight experienced by the soul when we merge with our spouse and with G-d. Because the body is an instrument of the soul, the body’s temperature rises when the soul’s passion is ignited. The pleasure we feel, is not about us. It is not all about me, it is about our spouse and about G-d. When we realize this, we understand that life is not about taking, but about giving.

Circumcision is the highest form of unveiling the truth that life is not all about me. With the foreskin removed, both physiologically and metaphorically, we can unveil the secret of G-d. We are nothing, and the only reason we feel as if we are something is because we are part of G-d.[4]

[1] http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/237025.

[2] Genesis 18:17.

[3] Psalms 25:14.

[4] This essay is based on Or Hatorah ad loc and Reshis Chachma, Shaar Hakedusha, ch. 16.