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The Three Gifts of Circumcision

The Three Gifts of Circumcision

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Our sages note that the mitzvah of brit milah (the covenant of circumcision) carries the promise of three rewards: 1) manifestation of the divine presence amongst the the Jewish people, 2) eternal ownership of the land of Israel, and 3) the preservation of the royal House of David.1

Being that circumcision serves as a mark of the covenant between G‑d and the Jewish people, it can easily be understood to lead to 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 necessary to first gain a better understanding of circumcision itself.

The Eight-Day-Old Jew

"And on the eighth day," the Torah instructs, "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 it? 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 are connected to G‑d on two separate levels: the experiential and the intrinsic.3

The experiential bond is determined by the degree of 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 for G‑d, the more committed we will be to His commandments.

On this level, we fulfill his instructions because we love Him and desire His closeness. We understand that every commandment is a channel for connection, and every transgression is the severance of a channel. The intensity of this bond depends completely upon us. We can build it and we can sever it.

The intrinsic bond works in the reverse: from the top down rather than the bottom up. G‑d has bound Himself to our essence, thereby forging an intrinsic connection with us. This bond is inescapable. Whether we are cognizant of it or oblivious to it, we and G‑d are forever one.

This intrinsic 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 inherently 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 never terminates his relationship with us.

It is this intrinsic bond that is reflected in the circumcision's covenant of divine manifestation. The 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.4

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. As we said, the intrinsic bond represents G‑d's connection with us, while 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 writes, "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."5 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.

This is why Isaiah employs the analogy of the love between husband and wife in this verse. The bond between a bride and groom is experiential. They have no intrinsic love for each other (such as exists intrinsically between a parent and child or between siblings, for example) 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. Thus, 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.6 Many of the Torah's commandments are only applicable in the Land of Israel. 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.7

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.8

The Davidic Line of Descent

Jewish tradition teaches that the Messiah--Moshiach in Hebrew—must be a direct patrilineal descendant of King David.9 For the Jewish messianic hope to stay alive it is vital that the Davidic line be preserved.

Thus the preservation of the House of David 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, Moshiach, 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.10 Now, human vision is a metaphor for our experiential bond with G‑d because, 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 more 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.
Rabbeinu Bachya's commentary to Genesis 17:24.
2.
Leviticus 12:3 (beginning of Parshat Tazria).
3.
For a full treatment of this subject see the Lubavitcher Rebbe's Likutei Sichos vol. 25 p. 87. See also Machshevet Hachassidut, vol. 1 p. 93, by R. Yoel Kahn (Sifriyat Eshel 1991).
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 completion was made possible only through the conventional physical circumcision, not the spiritual circumcision of the heart. (See Midrash Rabbah, Bereishit 46, 5)
6.
Yalkut Shimoni, Geneis 22: "There is no Torah like the Torah of Israel and there is no wisdom like the wisdom of Israel." The Talmud (Bava Metzia 85a) relates that 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 the Land of Israel.
7.
For more on the symbiotic relationship between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, see Rectifying the State of Israel by R. Yitzchack Ginsburgh (Gal Einai Institute 2002).
8.
Settlement of all parts of the Land of Israel will even affect the nations of the world, to the extent that they will 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 ha'am - 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 the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Motzoei Shabbos Chayei Sara, 5738)
9.
Maimonidies' Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 11:4
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow is spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Tefilah in London, Ontario, and a frequent contributor to The Judaism Website—Chabad.org. He has lectured extensively on a variety of Jewish topics, and his articles have appeared in many print and online publications. For more on Rabbi Gurkow and his writings, visit InnerStream.ca.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Jonathan UK, Poole April 26, 2017

Just circumsied my self (in hospital) on the eighth day (of Pesach). Toda Rabba! Reply

faith quintana maricopa, az/usa September 23, 2009

blessings of circumsion I didnt know that part of information, but the western world had circumsized babies since I know. cleanliness . But good job. good information. Reply

Ian Ward Alicante, Spain December 17, 2008

Way Out Christians Way out Christians should follow the Jewish example and routinely circumcise newborn boys so they grow into healthier adults. There is evidence that circumcision gives increased protection against
1) - diseases associated with genital lesions such as - Chancroid, Syphilis, Genital Herpes, Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
2) - diseases associated with - Urethritis, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea
3) - systematic STDs - Human Herpes Virus 8 (HHV 8) and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) . The latter inevitably leads onto A.I.D.S.
4) - Random inflamation, tears and rips in the inner mucosal lining of the foreskin which leave the unfortunate man totally open to opportunistic infections and disease such as Hepatitis C.
"Circumcision of the heart" is a catch all excuse invented by Greeks in order to avoid obeying Mosaic Law.Jesus was a Rabbi who upheld Judaism. At no time did he ever instruct his followers to disobey the Mosaic Law or reject circumcision. Reply

Lazer Gurkow December 16, 2008

Convenient Theories Dear Mark,
Theories that originate with man can be called convenient. Teachings that come from G-d are truths.

If this were a scientific teaching it would certainly have failed to reach the threshold of proof. But Matters of faith are not subject to logical or empirical proof and as such are definitely not science.

G-d gave us freedom of choice. We choose to believe or to not believe. You have obviously chosen not to believe, but this does not minimize our faith in the truthfulness of G-d's teachings.

This article was written with the assumption that its readers accept maxims of faith as a given or at least for arguments sake. If you do not believe in the truthfulness of Torah I can recommend a number of readings that will provide (at the very least) stimulating food for thought. Reply

Mark Dusbabek December 16, 2008

Ian Ward I would probably consent to death if by doing so it would extend the life of one of my children. I can think of other circumstances where I would put myself in harms way but not with the intention of dying, such as self defence or military service. But what on earth dores this have to do with circumcision? Reply

Dinky dyslexic Dave london, UK December 16, 2008

Way out Jews Way out Jews could follow the Christian example and decide that the circumcision of the heart will suffice, but with just a partial circumcision! Reply

Ian Ward Alicante, Spain December 16, 2008

Mark Dusbabek What are you willing to die for ? Reply

Mark Dusbabek December 15, 2008

Circumcision How convenient! But then I guess the belief that men must be circumcised in order to gaze upon God's essense is no more mind bending than the belief that women are born with the "gift". A scientist would tell you that both statements are without foundation since neither can be tested. The fact that some people may believe the statements to be true does not verify the truthfulness of the statements. Afterall, many people are convinced that they have been abducted by aliens but that belief does not make it true. Reply

Lazer Gurkow December 14, 2008

Women Dear Mark,
The kabbalah teaches that women are born with an inherent bond with G-d's essence. They do not aquire this gift through circumcision - they are born with it. Reply

Mark Dusbabek December 14, 2008

Circumcision Circumcision makes it possible to gaze directly upon Gods essence. I guess women are forever denied that rapture. Hilarious! Reply

Anonymous Alicante, Spain July 15, 2008

Manna from heaven. Thank you so much for your magical massage! You say what I have been thinking to myself for a long time now.
You have given me new strength.
Thank you. Reply

zlata zfas, israel April 1, 2008

bris your article is wonderful!!!!!!!!
I will use it in my classes - it is very inspiring and an excellent way to give over the relationship with G-d. On one hand sensible and on the other utterly original, imaginative, creative, and spontaneous beyond - totally beyond - our limited conception. Thank you Reply

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