On a fundamental level, we circumcise a Jewish baby boy at
eight days because that is what G‑d instructs us to do: “And on the eighth day, the flesh
of his foreskin shall be circumcised.”
Although the verse
itself does not reveal why we are instructed to circumcise specifically on the
eighth day, many possible explanations are offered:
Power of Shabbat Queen
Having the circumcision
at eight days guarantees that the baby will experience at least one Shabbat
before the circumcision.
The Midrash explains
that this is analogous to a king who decreed that any who wish to visit him
must first pay their respects to the queen. Shabbat is commonly referred to by
the sages and mystics as “the Shabbat queen,” and before entering the covenant
with G‑d, the baby needs to first greet the Shabbat queen by experiencing the
holiness of at least one Shabbat. This is also the reason why any offerings
brought in the Temple needed to be at least eight days old.
Guaranteeing at least
one Shabbat also brings healing to the soul, which has just entered this
physical, material world.
Others explain that just
as the blood of the offering brings atonement, so too does circumcision.
Therefore, just as an animal brought for an offering needs to be at least eight
days old, at the time of the
circumcision, the baby needs to be at least eight days old.
Health of the Baby
Maimonides explains that
we wait eight days so that the child will be strong enough for the
Parents Can Share in the Joy
The Talmud explains that
since a woman is considered ritually impure for at least seven days after
giving birth to a boy, during which time the couple cannot be physically
intimate with each other, we wait eight days in order that the parents not be
“mired in sadness” during the joyous occasion.
The Talmud tells us that
while the baby is in the mother's womb, he is taught the entire Torah. As he
enters into the world, an angel causes him to forget all that he learned.
Based on this, some
explain that we wait eight days for the circumcision since in the first seven
days the soul is mourning its loss.
Natural vs. Supernatural
The brit milah (circumcision) is a sign of the eternal covenant and
bond between the Jewish people and G‑d, our Creator. Our covenant
is suprarational; it does not dissipate in moments when we don’t comprehend why
we do what we do. Therefore, the brit
milah is a matter of faith; it signifies a bond that is higher than
intellect. It is for this reason that we don’t wait to circumcise a child until
he is old enough to make his own decisions, but instead circumcise him when his
relationship with G‑d transcends intellect.
And it is for this
reason, the mystics explain, that the baby is specifically circumcised on the
Since G‑d created the
world in seven days, there are many matters of Torah and mitzvahs which reflect
the number seven. There are seven weeks of the Counting of the Omer, seven
years of the Shemittah (Sabbatical year) cycle, and seven shemittot of Yovel (the Jubilee).
Thus, the natural world is represented by the number seven.
Eight, on the other
hand, represents the suprarational and the infinite, that which is beyond the
natural order of this world. Therefore, the child is circumcised specifically
at eight days, for the child is entering a religion founded upon faith, whose
survival is miraculous, and whose potential in the world is infinite.
Ultimately, we don’t
know the true reason why the brit milah
is done specifically at eight days. In not telling us the reason, the Torah is
showing us that just like the brit milah
itself, the eighth day is suprarational.