Bris Milah - Circimcision
By: Rabbi Yehudah Prero
The circumcision of an eight-day-old boy is an event celebrated with a formal
ceremony followed by a festive meal. The commandment of circumcision is one of
the first mentioned in the Torah, and the failure to perform this commandment
carries with it a punishment that is rather severe. Before discussing the
actual Bris Milah procedure, ceremony, or associated customs, it is of great
use to understand what this is all about.
There are two general reasons given for this commandment. The Sefer HaChinuch
(Mitzva 2) writes that the perfection of the human form as achieved by
removing the foreskin, as it is an accretion. He continues to explain the
reason behind this commandment. He writes that G-d wanted to establish a
permanent sign on the body of the Jew that would differentiate him from the
people of other nations. This follows from the fact that the Jew differs
spiritually from the members of other nations. Just as there is a spiritual
difference, so too should there be a physical difference. Why was this
difference mandated to be as circumcision? G-d wanted that this sign should be
in the reproductive organ of man as this organ is the source of human
existence. The purpose of a Jew's existence in this world differs from that of
the rest of humanity, and therefore the physical manifestation of this
difference was located in the causal source of physical existence. In
addition, as mentioned, the foreskin is "extra"; man achieves physical
perfection when he removes it. Since that is the case, why did G-d not create
man without a foreskin? G-d is telling us that just as we cannot achieve
physical perfection without our own effort, so too we cannot achieve spiritual
perfection without our exertion of effort.
The sum and substance of this reason is that G-d gave the Jew a special sign,
a covenant between him and G-d. This sign shows the close relationship that
exists with G-d, and the spiritual responsibilities carried with it. The
Rambam (Maimonides) however has a very different approach. He says that by
nature man has a very strong desire to pursue his passions. We must curb our
drive for sensual gratification in order to properly serve G-d. Circumcision
weakens this drive, and strengthens one's control over his evil inclination.
This is in line with the thought that the foreskin is an imperfection that
needs to be corrected. The foreskin symbolizes the unbridled lust that is
detrimental to our souls. With its removal, we are entering a more perfect
state, an existence where our evil inclination has less control over our
The two approaches mentioned here to describe the reason for the Mitzvah of
Bris Milah are encapsulated in a verse from Psalms (34:15): "Turn from evil
and do good." The approach of the Rambam is that Milah serves to help one
"turn from evil," while the other approach is that Milah reminds us to "do
good." The Gemora describes this Mitzvah in ways that are consistent with both
these approaches. Many commentators explain that the reason for Bris Milah is
composed of both approaches. Before one participates in a Bris Milah, it is
definitely worthwhile to reflect on the occasion, and be reminded of what we
are to accomplish in our lifetime.
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