HASHEM spoke to Moshe saying, “Speak to the Children of Israel
saying, “When a woman conceives and gives birth to a male…On the eighth
day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised…” (Vayikra 12:1)
It’s hard to fathom! A brand new baby boy is born into a Jewish family and
on the eighth day they are submitting the little fellow to a surgical
procedure and then celebrating with a sumptuous meal. I’m waking early
tomorrow just to participate in such an occasion. If I didn’t know better,
I’d think it was barbaric and cruel, but we know that the Jewish people
are characterized by the Talmud as possessing the trait of mercy. Why then
have loving parents from the time of Avraham, for 3600 years, gleefully
introduced their infants to this operation?
Twenty-two years ago my wife gave birth to our oldest son on the Parshas
Tazria where we are commanded about circumcision. I was wondering then
about the benefit of this action. Avraham was the pillar of kindliness in
the world. Although he may have been tested to do something that went
against his natural tendency, there must also be some ultimate kindness
involved or The Almighty would never prescribe it for all generations.
What could be the reason? At my son’s Bris ago I offered two approaches.
The Yeshiva was learning a Tractate of the Talmud known as Baba Metzia. At
the risk of oversimplifying it has to do with “lost and found”. It
analyzes thoroughly when possessions are considered to have exchanged
ownership. There is a notion that if someone lost an object and someone
else finds it, the finder can only take it for his own if it can be
determined that the original owner has given up on it. For example, if a
coin is found in the street, we can assume that the loser of that coin,
when he discovers the hole in his pocket and that his generic coin is gone
he’ll lose hope of ever recovering it. The coin is then considered
available to the new owner. However, if one finds something with an
identifiable mark or package or placement, then the owner is presumed to
have not given up on it.
The same concept may be applied to the circumcision. HASHEM had commanded
us to put an identifiable mark on every Jewish male. This informs us that
even if a Jewish child goes lost from his heritage and is lost in the
culture of the street, the owner never gives up. G-d does not lose hope.
There is always a chance the child will find his way back home. This is a
great gift for a Jewish child to have this stamp upon his flesh as a sign
that he is always a Jew.
Another idea! Tractate Shabbos tells us of an unusual incident regarding
King David. He found himself at the bath house and became shockingly aware
that he has no Mitvos around him. No Mezuza on the bath house door, no
Tefillin, no Tzitzis! He became anxious until he remembered that he has
this permanent Mitzvah of circumcision and that somehow consoled him.
What bothered David? He understood that as with Jacob’s dream of the
ladder, angels were ascending and descending. None were parked. One is
either going up or going down spiritually. There is no such thing as
standing still. The Mishne in Pirke Avos tells us, “Mitzvos bring about
Mitzvos and violations cause more violations.” In an environment without
Mitzvos, David presumed he was sinking.
How does one break the momentum of a downward spiral? Where does the
first Mitzvah come from that will lead him in the direction of even more
Mitzvos? To find a light in a black out we need a light. To make money you
need money. To get a job, you need to have had a job? How do we maneuver
ourselves again and again in the direction of Mitzvos? King David came to
appreciate at that moment the benefit of that permanent Mitzvah that has
been installed on our flesh. With that, every Jewish male has been an
invested with a Mitzvah in order to help him start when his heart awakens
to a career of Mitzvos.