The Jewish people have the knack of keeping their balance despite being confronted by extremes. They have great ideals, but are also realists and pragmatists. They are sensitive to spirituality, with a long list of prophets and visionaries – but also know how to keep their feet on the ground. They are steeped in study of the sacred Torah, but also know how to make a living and create a warm and welcoming home environment.

This ability to balance spirituality and the practical level of life goes back to Abraham and the opening theme of the Torah portion.1 Abraham has just been circumcised, and is sitting at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. At this point, G‑d is revealed to him.

Now, the idea of G‑d being revealed to anyone is a very striking concept. Obviously this means some kind of intense state of consciousness. Abraham had experienced this previously, as we see in last week's Torah portion.2 There it tells us that "Abram prostrated himself face down, and G‑d spoke to him." By contrast, in our Torah portion, when G‑d is revealed to Abraham he calmly sits at the entrance of his tent.

A hint to the intensity of the Divine revelation to Abraham is expressed in the idea that this was happening "in the heat of the day." The intensity of the sun relates to the intensity of the spiritual revelation that was taking place.

Nonetheless, Abraham went on calmly sitting at the entrance. There is no indication that he was blown out of his mind. He seems to have been able to balance the exalted and intensely spiritual revelation of the Divine with being a hospitable person, sitting at the entrance of his tent and looking for guests. The Sages tell us this is because he had been circumcised. The brit, meaning the covenant with G‑d expressed by brit milah, enabled Abraham to keep his balance when G‑d was revealed to him.3

Why should circumcision have this effect? One explanation is because it establishes a pact between G‑d and the most physical part of the person. This gives the person the ability to reach for the highest level of the sacred while at the same time keeping his feet on the ground.

According to the Sages, for a male the covenant of circumcision requires a physical operation. By contrast, a Jewish female is considered to be born circumcised. She is born with the ability to balance holiness with the reality of daily life.

Another aspect of the brit, the covenant which balances holiness and daily reality, is that it has the power to affect not only one's physical body but also the world in general. The prime example of this is the sacred Land of Israel. The Sages tell us that by merit of the covenant of circumcision, the Jewish people were given possession of the Holy Land.4 They were able to transform the Land of Canaan into the sacred Land of Israel, the land where the Divine is most intensely revealed.

This is the purpose of the Jewish people in the world: to join holiness and daily reality, including physical flesh and physical earth, with balance, tenderness and joy.5