A DEEPER LOOK AT BRIT MILAH
By Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt
IMilah (circumcision) is one of the most unique mitzvahs in Judaism. It is a mitzvah that has endured throughout the world, in almost all Jewish families, from the most to the least observant. The milah procedure is performed when the baby is eight days old by a “Mohel,” a professional trained in both the medical and spiritual aspects of the mitzvah. In a procedure that often takes less than 20 seconds, the foreskin is removed and the child enters the “Covenant of Abraham.”
Let us explore the deeper meanings of this “covenant,” how it relates to Abraham, and why, for all generations, it has been a mitzvah so revered by Jews of all backgrounds.
The Midrash (Avot D’rav Nasan 2:5) states that Adam, the first man, was created already circumcised. It further tells us that after he committed the first sin by eating from the Tree of Knowledge, he grew a foreskin.
The commentaries explain the deeper meaning of this Midrash. When Adam was created, he fully experienced God. There was nothing that separated his essential self from his Creator. The organ of reproduction captures the concept of the “essential self.”
Once he sinned and brought an element of rebellion into his being, he obscured his “essential self” with a barrier that covered and inhibited his natural “being drawn” to that which all human beings truly desire: a connection with the Infinite, a relationship with God.
Incidentally, the Hebrew word for foreskin is “orlah.” The word “orlah” is consistently used to depict a barrier that has negative qualities. For example, the fruits of saplings planted in Israel can only be eaten beginning in their fourth season. The forbidden fruit of the first three years is called “orlah.”
From the time of the first Sin, there was no human being who once again experienced a full relationship with God until Abraham. He was the first person to independently come to recognition of monotheism or the concept of One God. Philosophically, he concluded that the incredibly complex world had to have one designer, architect, and guide.
It is for that reason that while the rest of the Torah would be given at Sinai centuries later, Abraham, as an individual, was given the mitzvah of Milah. As he was the first human being since Adam to fully appreciate God, he had an inherent connection to that mitzvah.
In last week’s Torah portion (Genesis 17:7-8) God tells Abraham that in the merit of Milah the Jews will have ownership of the Land of Israel. The deeper meaning is this: since the Land of Israel is the most spiritual land on earth, it is fitting for the progeny of the person who first “removed his foreskin” and achieved total connection with God to be given the land that provides the optimum environment for that relationship to thrive.
Milah represents the ultimate goal of the Jew: to achieve a level where nothing separates him from God. It is a mitzvah cherished by so many because it helps us remember that our goal is to gain entrance into “the covenant of Abraham,” a way of life that is entirely inspired and connect to God and His Torah.
Today, there are hundreds of specially trained “Mohelim” throughout the United States. Rabbi Michael Rovinsky (a.k.a. “The Flying Mohel”) is one of them. He has performed Bris Milah in places like Eureka, Montana; Warrenville, South Carolina; and Brownsville, Texas. He shared the following story.
A few years ago he was asked to perform a Bris Milah on a recent immigrant from Russia to Dallas.
As the patient was an adult, the procedure had to be performed in a surgery clinic. Rabbi Rovinsky set up his instruments near the operating table and was about to begin the procedure, when the young man stopped him.
In heavily accented English he asked him a most poignant question:
“Once your instruments are set up, can I do the actual circumcision myself?” he asked. “I want to be like our Patriarch Abraham.
May we merit to achieve the closeness to God experienced by this young man in our very own city just a few years ago.
A member of the Dallas Area Torah Association, Rabbi Rosenblatt is the author of two books.