Parshas Lech Lecha
Bris Milah: Mark of Distinction
Sponsered by Judy Citer, Sherry Simantov and Ruth Gross in honor of
yahrzeit of their beloved father, Yehudah Aryeh Ben Yehoshua a"h.
The Mitzvah: The positive commandment of bris milah, the circumcision
covenant is performed on a male infant on the eighth day after birth. The
procedure sees the removal of the foreskin and peeling back of the membrane
on the male organ for what becomes the indelible mark of a Jew.
At the age of ninety-nine, G-d commanded Avraham to establish an
everlasting covenant between Him and the patriarch's offspring
circumcising himself and thereafter every Jewish child on the eighth day
(Genesis 17:1-14). Only in the aftermath of his operation, did Avraham and
Sarah give birth to their son and ultimate heir: Yitzchak.
How does this mitzvah contain the concept of bris, the everlasting covenant
forged between the Creator and His chosen nation? And why should this
commandment - more than any other - attest to the everlasting relationship
of Avraham's descendants and G-d?
The first Jew willing to live and die for his belief in G-d, Avraham was
selected to become progenitor of a segment of mankind - the chosen nation -
whose existence would be exclusively dedicated to executing the will of the
Master of the Universe and become a light onto the nations.
In a universe where darkness obscures the divine light, Avraham's goal of
spreading monotheism was to close the gap. As forefather of the Jewish
people, he set out to breakdown the barriers distancing man from his
Creator. This mission was immortalized through the indelible mark placed
upon the Jew's body. The foreskin covering the male organ represents the
spiritual impediment and concealment within the world.
Bris milah combats the "blockage"; only through its removal, is man able to
draw ever closer to G-d. This mitzvah is thus compared to offering a
korban, sacrifice to G-d - the word korban from the root korov, "to draw
close". Taking this comparison further, Rabbeinu Bachya observes how the
atonement from the blood on the altar corresponds to the blood draw from
the wound at a bris. And just as an animal offering could only be brought
once it was eight days old, similarly the child is circumcised on the
Milah is the ultimate "bris", the covenant between man and G-d - where each
party is totally given over to the other. Their tenacity to observe G-d's
commandments became part of their national psyche. Their mutual love means
that they will overcome any obstacle or obstruction. Conversely, a failure
to circumcise - namely, a failure to identify with the national mission -
results in the opposite of closeness: the punishment of kareis, excision
where the person's soul is cut away from his Source.
The "spiritual" distinction between Jew and gentile, explains the Sefer
HaChinuch, finds expression in the unique sign of bris milah impressed upon
the "physical" body of a Jew. This explains why this mitzvah is testimony
to the Jewish nation's special affinity to G-d starting with the first of
the patriarchs: Avraham who subsequently fathered Yitzchak.
Placed on the organ of reproduction and sealed after the child's birth,
bris milah stands as a Jewish nation's legacy to be passed down onto
successive generations. Importantly it is the definition of the whole
thrust of life. It goes to the heart of a Jew's existence in this world -
fully committed and devoted to their Creator and His Torah both in body
The "mark of distinction" for a Jew is the mitzvah of circumcision and the
covenant that it represents.
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Osher Chaim Levene and Torah.org.