Part Two: Circumcision and the Land

Dear Friends,


In the previous letter, we began to discuss Torah teachings which reveal that we gain the right to live in the Promised Land through the fulfillment of “Bris Milah” – the Covenant of Circumcision. Why, however, should our right to live in the Land depend on our fulfillment of the Covenant of Circumcision?  The beginning of an answer can be found in Hashem’s introduction to the Covenant of Circumcision, when Hashem said to Avraham:


“I am the All Sufficient One; walk before me and become whole. I will set My covenant between Me and you, and I will increase you most exceedingly.” (Genesis 17:1,2)


Hashem introduces the Covenant of Circumcision with the words, “Walk before Me and become whole.” In what way does the removal of the foreskin lead to wholeness?


Avraham was being asked to return to the original "wholeness" of the first human being. Before we can elaborate on this idea, we need to be aware that one aspect of this wholeness was the original unity between the “male” and the “female” within the first human being. According to our tradition, the “adam” – human being – was originally created as an androgynous being with two sides – one male and one female. The Midrash Rabbah finds an allusion to this androgynous being in the following verse:


"So God created the adam in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." (Genesis 1:27)


The first half of the verse implies that the Creator formed a single human being, while the concluding half of the verse implies that the Creator formed two human beings – one male and one female. The verse is therefore revealing to us that the adam was first 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)


Our tradition also teaches that the male side of the adam was created without a foreskin. Circumcision is therefore a return to that original state of wholeness. 

 Regarding this original state of wholeness, our sages state:


Adam came into the world circumcised, as it is said, “And God created the adam in His image” (Avos D'Rabbi Nosan 2:5).


The sages learn that the male component of the adam was circumcised, because the verse tells us that the adam was created in the Divine image! What is the connection between being circumcised and being in the Divine image? An answer can be found in the following deep teachings:


To be created in the Divine image means that the human being has the capacity to emulate the Divine Giver. The human being is to be an altruist; thus, the Chafetz Chaim, a leading sage of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, offers the following interpretation of "in His image":


“The commentators take the statement to refer to His attributes. He gave the human soul the capacity to emulate the attributes of Hashem, the Blessed One – to do good and act with loving-kindness with others, as Scripture states: ‘Hashem is good to all, and His compassion is on all His works’ (Psalm 145:9).” (“Loving Kindness” by the Chafetz Chaim, Chapter 2)


The Torah reveals that when the adam was created, all the human drives were dedicated to an altruistic goal, as it is written: “And Hashem God placed the adam in the Garden of Eden to serve it and to protect it” (Genesis 2:15). But when the adam began to view the Garden as being created for human gratification, the adam became a “taker” instead of a “giver”; thus, the adam ate from the forbidden tree. As a result, the physical drives of the adam became devoted to selfish desires. When the adam descended to this lower spiritual level, the physiognomy of the male underwent a change, and the male sexual organ developed a foreskin.


In what way does the foreskin represent a lower spiritual level? The Hebrew word for foreskin is “orla” – a biblical term that usually refers to a restriction or blockage which is preventing us from using an object for the purpose it was created for. The following can serve as examples:


1. We are forbidden to eat the fruit of a tree during the first three years of a tree's life, and during this period, the forbidden fruit is called “orla” (Leviticus 19:23). The fruit was created to be eaten, but during the first three years there is a restriction – “orla” – which prevents us from eating the fruit.


2. When the ear is blocked and cannot be used for listening, the Prophet calls it an ear of “orla” (Jeremiah 6:10).


3. When the heart is blocked and cannot feel what it was created to feel, it is called a heart of “orla” – an uncircumcised heart (Ezekiel 44:9).


When the male sexual organ became dominated by selfish drives and was no longer devoted to the loving and giving purpose it was created for, it developed an orla. This development serves as a sign that there is a spiritual blockage which is preventing this organ from fulfilling its true purpose within the creation. Through the Covenant of Circumcision, we remove this orla, so that the male organ can once again become fully dedicated to loving and giving. Through the removal of this restriction, the male can strive to become physically and spiritually whole like the first male – when all human drives were expressing the Divine image.


As we discussed in previous letters of this series, returning to the original altruistic purpose of the adam is the goal of our living in the Land of Zion; moreover, we discussed how attaining this higher goal will enable the Land of Zion to become like the Garden of Eden. The above teachings reveal that the Covenant of Circumcision is a reminder of this higher goal; thus, Hashem indicated to Avraham that he and his descendants would inherit the Land of Zion through fulfilling this sacred covenant.


The Land of Zion is especially suitable for returning to the original physical and spiritual wholeness of the adam, for the adam was created in Zion, at the site of the future Temple in Jerusalem. This tradition is cited by Maimonides in his code of Torah law, Mishneh Torah, where he states that the human being was created at the site of the altar of the Temple on Mount Moriah (Beis Habechirah 2:2). The tradition that the human being was created at the site of the Temple is cited earlier in Midrash Genesis Rabbah (14:8), and in Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, at the beginning of Chapter 12.
Avraham began the process of returning to the original wholeness of the human being, and the Midrash cites the following related teaching in the name of Rabbi Levi:
Avraham was spiritually greater than the first human being; thus, Avraham should have been created first. The Holy One was aware, however, that the first human being could sin, and He therefore decided to bring Avraham into the world at a later stage of history, so that Avraham would do a tikun – fixing – of the damage that the first human being caused. (Genesis Rabbah 14:6). 
The Covenant of Circumcision was one aspect of this tikun. Hashem therefore introduced the Covenant of Circumcision to Avraham by saying:

“Walk before Me and become whole!’ (Genesis 17:1)
The above teachings lead to the following question:  The Torah does not require any form of circumcision for the female. Does this mean that the male is more in need of a “tikun” with regard to the sexual drive than the female? With the help of Hashem, this question will be discussed in the next letter.
 Be Well, and Shalom,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen 

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