Circumcision and the Promised Land: Part One



During this series on the “soul” of Zion, we discussed the following Divine message which was conveyed to our people by Moshe and the other Prophets of Israel: Our ability to live in the Promised Land depends on our fulfillment of the Covenant of Torah.


There is also a Divine message which reveals that our people’s ability to live in the Promised Land depends on our fulfillment of a particular mitzvah within the Torah. This mitzvah is known as “Bris Milah” – the Covenant of Circumcision. In this letter, we shall begin to discuss the deep connection between the Covenant of Circumcision and the Promised Land.


Dear Friends,


Regarding the benefits of the Land, the Torah states:


“You will eat and you will be satisfied; and you will bless Hashem, your God, for the good Land that He gave you.” (Deuteronomy 8:10)


We express our thanks for the Land in the second blessing of “Birchas Ha-Mazon” – the traditional Grace After Meals. The following are the opening words of this blessing:


“We thank You, Hashem, our God, because You have given to our ancestors as a heritage a desirable, good, and spacious land; and because You, Hashem our God, have brought us forth from the land of Egypt and redeemed us from the house of bondage; and because of the covenant which You sealed in our flesh.”


“For the covenant which you sealed in our flesh” – This is a reference to the Covenant of Circumcision; in fact, the Talmud teaches in the name of Nachum the Elder that the blessing of thanksgiving for the land must include a mention of the Covenant of Circumcision (Brochos 48b). The classical commentator, Rashi, in his explanation of this teaching from the Talmud, offers the following reason why we mention the Covenant of Circumcision in the blessing of thanksgiving for the Land:


The Covenant of Circumcision was first given to Avraham, our father, and in the chapter which discusses this covenant with Avraham, Hashem says to him:


“And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the Land of your sojourns – the entire land of Canaan – as an everlasting possession” (Genesis 17:8).


In the next passage, Avraham is told what he must do in order to gain the Land:


“And as for you, you shall keep My covenant – you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant which you shall keep between Me and you and your offspring after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. At the age of eight days, every male among you shall be circumcised, throughout your generations…” (Genesis 17:19-12).


As Rashi helps us to understand, Avraham and his descendants were given the Land in the merit of the Covenant of Circumcision. The Midrash Rabbah therefore cites a teaching of Rabbi Yudan which explains the above Divine promise in the following manner:


“If your children accept upon themselves circumcision, they will enter the Land, and if not, they will not enter the Land.” (Genesis Rabbah 46:9)


The “children” of Avraham that entered the Land through the Covenant of Circumcision are the twelve tribes of our people that descend from the twelve sons of our father, Yaakov, who was also given the name, “Yisrael” – Israel. Yaakov was a son of Yitzchak and a grandson of Avraham. Regarding the Promised Land, Hashem said to Yaakov/Yisrael:


“The Land that I gave to Avraham and to Yitzchak, I will give to you; and to your descendants after you, I will give the Land.”  (Genesis 35:12)


Why, however, should the giving of the Land depend on our fulfillment of the Covenant of Circumcision?  There is an answer that I would like to share with you, but before we can discuss this answer, we need to be aware of the following brief teachings:


1. The first human being was created in the Promised Land, at the site of the future Temple in Jerusalem.  (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, Chapter 12; Mishneh Torah, Beis Habechirah 2:2)
2. The first human being was originally created as a single androgynous being with two sides, and the Creator later separated the two sides so that they could be separate beings – male and female. (Genesis Rabbah 8:1)
3. The first male was created as a circumcised being; however, the foreskin later appeared after the first selfish sin. (Avos D’Rabbi Noson 2:5; Talmud, Sanhedrin 38b) 
4. Avraham is to do a tikun – fixing – of the damage caused through the selfish sin. (Genesis Rabbah 14:6)


 With the help of Hashem, we will begin to discuss a profound answer to our question in the next letter, and the answer will be based on the above teachings.


Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen

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