By Rabbi Yisroel Shusterman
This week’s Parsha Perspective is dedicated by Mr. Binyomin Philipson in memory of his late mother Mrs. Ellen (Elka bas Zisel) Philipson OBM
Note: The last twenty verses of this week’s Torah portion (Bereishis [Genesis]12:1-17:27) discuss the commandment of brit milah (circumcision) to our forefather Abraham. The following article is based on an address that the Rebbe delivered in 1942 – as the Holocaust fire raged in Europe in all its ferocity – at a small brit ceremony in New York City. Starting in 1995, parts of the Rebbe's personal notes ("Reshimot") were published, and in it were also the shorthand notes he had written for that enlightening talk.
A Brit, like much of our history as a people, is painful, but we celebrate it nonetheless.
The first of the 613 mitzvot given to a Jew was the mitzvah of a brit. Though Abraham voluntarily observed all the (other) mitzvot of the Torah, the first mitzvah that he was actually commanded to observe was that of circumcision.
Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that circumcision embodies some of the fundamentals of Jewish life and practice. In fact, the Talmud asserts that it is equal to all the other mitzvot of the Torah, combined
The brit is the only mitzvah whose effect can actually be seen. While every mitzvah is a transforming experience, the brit is the only one that actually leaves a lasting and permanent impression on the person. While we believe in the eternal transformative effect of every mitzvah fulfilled – in truth, every mitzvah becomes a part of our deeper consciousness and remains an indistinguishable part of who we are – but this is the only one whose effect can actually be seen.
A recent U.N. report attributed to circumcision numerous health benefits. Many doctors actually suggest circumcision for those reasons as well as for other reasons. But is that why we do it?
Definitely not. We do it because it is a mitzvah. Because G‑d commanded us to do so.
In truth, every mitzvah has its physical and material benefits - though that's not our reason for doing so. The brit reminds us that whether it's Shabbat or tefillin, Family Purity, charity or kosher: the benefits, real and tangible, are there - even if they don't constitute the reason why we observe them.
The baby cries, he doesn't understand; there's pain and hurt. And appreciation for all the symbolism, tradition and meaning are still many years away. An older person would perhaps bite his lip, knowing that the divine energy overshadows the momentary pain. But right now little guy doesn't feel that way.
How often do we feel that the sacrifices required for the observance of a particular mitzvah make the ritual more of a nuisance than a spiritual experience?
Invariably, however, we later do come to appreciate the magnitude of what we've done.
We Celebrate! The cries of Mazal Tov! pierce the air as the crying subsides The Talmud says that circumcision is one of the mitzvot that our nation has always accepted with simchah (joy), even under the harshest of conditions and the threat of execution, through the ages, through the Holocaust, and until this very day.
Because the "Oy" of being Jewish, is far outweighed by the "Joy" of being G‑d's chosen nation.
(Excerpts from Chabad.org -By Rabbi Asher Deren)