The brit (circumcision), like much of our history as a people, is painful, but we celebrate it nonetheless.

The first of the 613 mitzvot given to a Jew was the mitzvah of a brit. Though Abraham voluntarily observed all the (other) mitzvot of the Torah, the first mitzvah that he was actually commanded to observe was that of circumcision.

Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that circumcision embodies some of the fundamentals of Jewish life and practice. In fact, the Talmud asserts that it is equal to all the other mitzvot of the Torah, combined

You're a Changed Person

The brit is the only mitzvah whose effect can actually be seenWhile every mitzvah is a transforming experience, the brit is the only one that leaves a lasting and permanent impression on the person. While we believe in the eternal transformative effect of every mitzvah fulfilled – in truth, every mitzvah becomes a part of our deeper consciousness and remains an indistinguishable part of who we are – but this is the only one whose effect can actually be seen.

It's Good for You

A recent U.N. report attributed to circumcision numerous health benefits. Many doctors actually suggest circumcision for those, and other, reasons.

Is that why we do it?

Definitely not. We do it because it is a mitzvah. Because G‑d commanded us to do so.

In truth, every mitzvah has its physical and material benefits—though that's not our reason for doing so. The brit reminds us that whether it's Shabbat or tefillin, Family Purity, charity or kosher: the benefits, real and tangible, are there—even if they don't constitute the reason why we observe them.

But the Baby Cries!

He doesn't understand; there's pain and hurt. And appreciation for all the symbolism, tradition and meaning are still many years away.

An older person would perhaps bite his lip, knowing that the divine energy overshadows the momentary pain. But right now little guy doesn't feel that way.

How often do we feel that the sacrifices required for the observance of a particular mitzvah make the ritual more of a nuisance than a spiritual experience?

Invariably, however, we later do come to appreciate the magnitude of what we've done.

And We Celebrate

Remembering my own son's brit, it's an enigmatic joy. The cries of Mazal Tov! pierce the air as the crying subsides, as if to elevate the pain into transcendent joy.

The cries of Mazal Tov! pierce the air as the crying subsidesThe Talmud says that circumcision is one of the mitzvot that our nation has always accepted with simchah (joy), even under the harshest of conditions and the threat of execution, through the ages, through the Holocaust, and until this very day.

Because the "Oy" of being Jewish, is far outweighed by the "Joy" of being G‑d's chosen nation.

Note: This article is based on an address that the Rebbe delivered in 1942 – as the Holocaust fire raged in Europe in all its ferocity – at a small brit ceremony in New York City. Starting in 1995, parts of the Rebbe's personal notes ("Reshimot") were published, and in it were also the shorthand notes he had written for that enlightening talk.