As a mohel, I’m often asked to speak to students about the mitzvah of circumcision. I usually walk into the classroom with my circumcision kit, tell some inspiring stories about circumcision,The boys tend to be interested in the gory details exhibit the tools of my trade, and answer a few questions. The boys tend to be interested in the gory details, while the girls wonder about the rationale behind the mitzvah.

But on one occasion, this presentation took a very unexpected, philosophical turn. I was explaining to the kids that we perform a circumcision on the eighth day of a boy’s life, even if that day happens to be Shabbat, or even Yom Kippur, which we learn from this week’s Parshah. Although we’re not allowed to perform any other elective surgery on a holy day,1 circumcision is the exception.

Why does circumcision supercede Shabbat, the day that G‑d rested from creating the world? Because circumcision is so fundamental to our faith that the Talmud teaches that had it not been for circumcision, G‑d wouldn’t have created the world in the first place.2 Therefore, when Shabbat and the eighth day collide, Shabbat “steps aside” and allows the circumcision to proceed.

Although I had explained this beautiful idea numerous times, on this occasion, one of the kids in the class challenged me. He was puzzled by my assertion that G‑d had created the world with the intention that a Jewish nation would eventually arise and agree to circumcise their sons. Although he accepted the premise that G‑d created the world, and he was willing to accept the concept of a Chosen Nation, he had always assumed that the Jewish nation had spontaneously arisen and had then been selected for special responsibilities. As other children chimed in, I could see that they, too, were confused.

At this point, I realized I had to back up a few steps and explain the purpose of creation. “A builder wouldI realized I had to back up a few steps never just start laying bricks without preparing a blueprint of how he expects the eventual house to look,” I explained. “And neither does a football coach send his team out to the field without knowing the stakes for which they play. G‑d made a world and populated it with animal, vegetable and mineral life in the expectation that a nation would eventually form and play a central role in justifying His effort.

“You are so important,” I concluded, “that the universe and all that’s in it was constructed with you in mind. Your every word and action has the potential to justify G‑d’s decision to create the world.”

And thus, those kids highlighted a message that I had never specifically derived from Parshat Tazria—that our mitzvahs are the fundamental purpose for creation.