Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Inspiration of Bris

The commandment of "bris milah," to bear the mark of the covenant between God and the Jewish people, first appears in Genesis chapter 17.

In essence, Abraham seals a covenant with God, an agreement that has survived until this day. Abraham and his descendants agree that God will maintain and sustain the Jews as His "chosen people" (an oft misunderstood term) if the Jews bear the mark of the covenant, circumcising their sons on the eighth day as per God’s commandment.

The “bris,” as it is known, has its own ups and downs. Everyone is joyful over welcoming a new baby. But the milah (circumcision) causes pain during which a baby cries. Some people say to the baby, “This should be the only pain you ever know.” Others say, “It’s not easy being a Jew.”

The truth is, however, that while the baby’s health is certainly our number one concern, the bris itself is more about an affirmation for everyone in the room, than it is for the baby. By all rights, every person should stand up and protest, “How can you do this to a newborn?”

Of course we don’t do this. Because we know in our hearts that the circumcision is but a small sacrifice to make to get God to live up to His end of the deal. That a nation which has experienced downs, such as the Jewish people have experienced, can continue to experience ups – this is the hand of God as revealed as it can ever be. It is what our lives are all about, it is what our experience on this earth is all about.

We use Avraham’s model of a struggle-filled life (see Genesis chapters 12 through 16 to understand his struggles) to arrive at the unstriking conclusion that the covenant with God is what keeps us going.

In the words of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, in his “Tribute to the Rebbetzin of Talne,” we live “to feel the presence of the Almighty and the gentle pressure of His hand resting upon my frail shoulders.” It is a struggle worth living when the Comforter is so great.

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