* In Parshat Shmini - the 'eighth day' is chosen for the
dedication of the Mishkan;
* In Parshat Tazria - the 'eighth day' is chosen for the "brit
Milah" of a male child;
* In Parshat Metzora - the 'eighth day' is chosen for the day
on which the cleansed Metzora, Zav, and Zavah bring their
* In Parshat Emor - the final holiday is "SHMINI atzeret"?
In last week's shiur, we discussed how the seven days of
Succot (and the seven weeks of Shavuot as well) relate to their
celebration of the harvest at key times during the agricultural
year. [Specifically 'seven' to emphasize that the creation of all
nature - the cause of the agricultural cycle - was (and continues
to be) a willful act of God.]
This week, we return to Sefer Breishit in search of the
biblical significance of the number 'eight'.
From the above examples in Sefer Vayikra, eight appears to
be significant simply because it follows seven:
* "Yom Ha'shmini" follows the SEVEN days of the "miluim";
* The korbanot on the eighth day of the Metzora and Zav follow
their minimum SEVEN day "tahara" period;
* "Shmini Atzeret" follows the SEVEN days of Succot.
Brit Milah, however, appears to be an exception. Although the
mother happens to be "tamey" (unclean) for the first seven days
after her son's birth (12:2), there does not appear to be any
logical connection between these seven days and the commandment
to perform "milah' on the eighth day. In fact, the original
commandment to Avraham Avinu circumcise his offspring on the
'eighth day' (see Breishit 17:7-14) is not connected in any
manner to the laws of "tumah" or "tahara". In that parsha, there
doesn't seem to be any obvious reason why specifically the eighth
day is chosen.
However, a study of the parsha of "brit milah" in the wider
context of Sefer Breishit suggests a very interesting
relationship between "milah" on the 'eighth day' and the 'seven
days' of Creation. To uncover that relationship, we must first
conduct a quick review of the first seventeen chapters of Sefer
IN WHAT 'NAME' DOES GOD SPEAK TO MAN?
Recall from our study of Sefer Breishit (see this week's
shiur Parsha shiur) that God's creation of the universe is
presented in Chumash from two perspectives:
1) "b'shem ELOKIM" (1:1 -2:4) - which focused on God's
creation of NATURE, i.e. a structured universe, in SEVEN
days [what we call 'perek aleph']; and
2) "b'shem HAVAYA" (2:5-4:26) - which focused on God's
special relationship with Man, i.e. the creation of Gan
Eden, and man's banishment from that environment after he
sinned [what we call 'perek bet'].
Without going into the complex details of this 'double
presentation', we will just posit that God's relationship with
man develops along the lines of each of these two perspectives.
In other words, we will find that at times God may talk to man
b'shem Elokim, while other times He may speak to him b'shem
Havaya - each Name reflecting a different perspective of that
For example, in perek aleph, God - b'shem Elokim - blesses
man that he be fruitful & multiply, master the earth and rule
over all other living creatures (see 1:26-28). In contrast to
this perspective of man as ruler, in perek bet - b'shem Havaya -
man is created in order to become God's servant, whose job is to
tend and watch over His Garden (see 2:15-17).
This double perspective continues in the Torah's account of
the Flood. Because of he sinful behavior of "dor ha'Mabul" (the
generation of the Flood), God decides to destroy His creation,
saving only Noach and his family. The explanation for this
punishment is presented according to both of these perspectives:
1) b'shem Elokim - see 6:9-6:22.
2) b'shem Havaya - see 6:5-8 & 7:1-5.
Likewise, in the aftermath of the MABUL, God redefines His
relationship with man, again from both perspectives:
1) b'shem Elokim - see 9:1-17
2) b'shem Havaya - see 8:18-21
After the flood, the children of Noach disperse into seventy
nations (10:1-32). From that time onward, up until the story of
"brit Milah" (i.e. chapters 11->16), the Torah describes any
intervention by God exclusively from the perspective of "shem
Havaya". For example, God's punishment of the builders of the
Tower of Babel is described b'shem Havaya (see 11:1-10).
Similarly, God's choice of Avraham Avinu to become the forefather
of His special nation is also described b'shem Havaya (see 12:1-
16:16). In fact, God - b'shem Havaya - makes several promises to
Avraham concerning the future of his offspring and the Promised
Land (see chapter 13). This promise is formalized, again b'shem
Havaya, at Brit Bein Ha'Btarim (see 15:1-20) - a covenant which
not only foresees the conquest of the Land of Israel by Avraham's
offspring, but also foresees the forging of this nation through
bondage in a foreign Land.
Thus we find that from chapter 11 until chapter 16 in Sefer
Breishit, God speaks to man exclusively b'shem Havaya. In chapter
17, when God commands Avraham to perform Brit Milah, this pattern
suddenly changes! In this narrative, God first introduces Himself
as "kel sha-dai" and then, for the FIRST time, He speaks to
Avraham Avinu b'shem ELOKIM:
"When Avram was ninety-nine years, God [HAVAYA] appeared to
Avram and said to him: "ANI KEL SHA-DAI", walk before Me and
be blameless. And I will establish My COVENANT between Me
and you... Avram fell on his face, and God [ELOKIM] spoke to
him saying... This is my COVENANT with you..." (17:1-4)
Note how in this covenant, given b'shem Elokim, God:
a) changes Avram's name to Avraham;
b) blesses him that he will multiply ["pru u'rvu"];
c) promises that he will become a great nation;
d) promises him and his future generations Eretz Canaan;
e) promises to be his God ["l'hiyot l'cha l'ELOKIM"];
f) commands him to circumcise his male children, etc.
To better appreciate the significance of this special
covenant of "brit milah", we must compare it to the two earlier
instances in Chumash where God spoke to man b'shem Elokim:
(I) After the creation of man on the sixth day (1:27-30);
(II) After the Flood (9:1-17).
I) On the sixth day, when man is created b'tzelem ELOKIM, God
(b'shem ELOKIM) blesses him that he should:
a) be fruitful and multiply ["pru u'rvu"];
b) be master and ruler of the living kingdom;
c) eat from the plants and fruit of the trees.
II) Some ten generations later, after the Flood, God (b'shem
ELOKIM) blesses Noach and his children in a very similar
fashion (9:1-7), including:
a) to be fruitful and multiply ["pru u'rvu"];
b) to be master of the living kingdom;
c) permission to eat living creatures [not only plants];
This divine blessing is followed by a special covenant, also
given b'shem Elokim. This covenant, better known as "brit
ha'keshet" (the rainbow covenant), reflects the establishment of
a special relationship between God and mankind, i.e. God's
promise that He will never again bring about the total
destruction of His creation (see 9:11-15).
[See Ramban on 6:18, especially his final explanation
of the word "brit", based on the word "briya"!]
As we explained above, the next time that God speaks to man
b'shem Elokim is only some ten generations later - at Brit Milah!
Once again we find that God speaks to man in order to establish
a special covenant. Note the striking textual similarities
between this covenant - "brit Milah" and the earlier covenant -
a) to be fruitful and multiply 9:1 / 17:2,6;
b) "va'ani hi'nei... briti itach(em)..." 9:9 / 17:4;
c) "v'hakimoti et briti..." 9:11 / 17:7;
d) "ha'aterz" // "eretz canaan" 9:13,16,17 / 17:8
e) "ot brit": "ha'milah // ha'keshet" 9:13,17/ 17:12;
However, in addition to these similarities, in "brit Milah"
we find an important promise - "l'hiyot lachem l'Elokim" [to be
a God to you"] - which reflects a much closer relationship. In
fact, this key phrase is repeated twice, for it emphasizes and
defines the purpose of Brit Milah (read 17:7-8 carefully!).
ONE STEP 'ABOVE' NATURE
This background can help us understand the commandment that
"brit milah" be performed specifically on the eighth day.
Note the progression of God's relationship with man from the
perspective of 'shem Elokim':
1) The Creation of NATURE in SEVEN days (1:1-2:4);
2) The covenant with Noach after the Flood (9:1-17);
3) The "Brit Milah" covenant with Avraham Avinu to be
performed on the EIGHTH day (17:1-14).
One could suggest that circumcision on the EIGHTH day relates
to this elevation of man's spiritual level, ONE step above the
level of his original creation in SEVEN days.
Let's explain this statement, based on these three stages of
this progression b'shem Elokim:
(1) During the first seven days, God brought the universe to a
stage of development where it appears to 'take care of
itself'. Be it vegetation, animal, or man, all species of
life secure their existence by their ability to reproduce;
they become fruitful and multiply [e.g. "zo'ray'ah zerah",
"zachar u'nekeyvah", "pru u'rvu", etc.]. Man's mastery of
this creation, his desire to conquer and his ability to
harness it, are all part of this phenomenon which we call
NATURE. The first chapter of Breishit teaches us that, what
we call nature, is not simply an act of chance, rather a
willful act of God. [By resting on Shabbat, once every seven
days, we remind ourselves of this point.]
(2) After the "mabul", God (b'shem Elokim) 'starts over' by re-
establishing His relationship with mankind in a covenant
with Noach, known as "brit ha'keshet". This covenant
reflects a relationship very similar to that in God's
original creation in seven days, with some 'minor' changes:
Man remains master of His universe (9:2), with a 'small
change' in his diet (9:3-5), and a commandment that it is
forbidden to murder a fellow human (9:6-7). However, the
basic laws of nature remain the same (see 9:8).
(3) Up until Brit Milah, man's relationship with God b'shem
Elokim remained distant. Although Man was the pinnacle of
God's creation with certain minimal expectations of moral
behavior, he was basically just part of nature. Man was
given power; he acted LIKE God [b'tzelem Elokim], but was
not CLOSE to Him. At Brit Milah, Avraham is raised to a
higher level. He and his offspring are chosen to represent
God as His special nation, and towards that purpose, they
are awarded a special relationship -"li'hiyot lachem
l'Elokim". As an "ot", a sign, of this relationship, they
are commanded to circumcise their children on the 'eighth
Thus, the EIGHTH day represents yet one more level of
progression in the creation process, which first took place in
[What the Maharal calls "m'al ha'teva - above nature!]
Just as there is a progression within the first seven days
of creation b'shem Elokim, from "domem" [inanimate / "shmayim
v'aretz"], to "tzomayach" (vegetation), to "chai" [animal
kingdom], to "adam" [man], so too on the 'eighth day'. The
offspring of Avraham has been chosen to take God's creation and
elevate it to a higher level.
This interpretation could reflect a statement made by Reish
Lakish, explaining the meaning of God's name "kel sha-dai" which
is first introduced at Brit Milah( 17:1-2):
What's the meaning of "ani kel-sha'dai"? God said: I am the
One who said to the world "dai" - [enough, or stop]."
(Yalkut Shimoni siman 81, Chagiga 12a)
[See also the pirush of the "Torah Tmima" on this pasuk.]
This explanation may help us understand the complex opening
of the Brit Milah narrative: God, b'shem Havaya - the Name of God
which Avraham is familiar with up until this point - informs
Avraham that He is "kel sha-dai", the God who had 'stopped' His
process of creation after seven days (17:1-2). Now, b'shem
Elokim, the Name of God that orchestrated the creation in seven
days, intervenes yet one more time. He establishes a covenant
with Avraham, to command him with the mitzvah of "brit milah",
to raise him ONE level higher, i.e. closer to God..
Thus, God's commandment that we perform Brit Milah on the
eighth day is not incidental. Rather, it reflects the very nature
of our special relationship with God.
BACK TO VAYIKRA
Milah on the eighth day was only one example of this '7/8'
relationship in Sefer Vayikra. Based on our shiur, we can now
explain the other examples:
SEVEN DAYS "MILUIM" / "YOM HA'SHMINI":
As explained in last week's shiur, the seven days necessary
to dedicate the Mishkan reflects the parallel between our
construction of the Mishkan to serve God, to God's creation of
nature in seven days, to serve Him. [See Tehillim 104 - "borchi
nafshi..."!] On the 'eighth day', the "shchinah" descends upon
the Mishkan, allowing it to become the focal point for the
development of the special relationship between God and Bnei
SEVEN DAYS "TAHARA" / EIGHTH DAY "KORBANOT" [Metzora, Zav, Zava]:
Different types of "tumah" are caused by some abnormal
behavior of the body. Seven days of "tahara" are required to
return the "tamei" person back to the 'camp' - to his normal
existence, his natural habitat. Then on the eighth day, he must
bring a special korban to allow his entry into the Mishkan. [Note
the parallel between this process, and its korbanot, to that of
the kohanim during the seven day miluim and Yom ha'Shmini.]
SEVEN DAYS OF SUCCOT / SHMINI ATZERET:
As agriculture and nature go hand in hand, all of the
agricultural holidays follow cycles of seven (see Vayikra chapter
23). In the spring [chag ha'aviv], as the grain harvest begins,
we bring "korban ha'omer" and celebrate chag ha'matzot for SEVEN
days. Then we count SEVEN WEEKS until the completion of the wheat
harvest, bring "korban shtei ha'lechem", and celebrate chag
ha'SHAVUOT. On succot, "chag ha'asif", at the at the end of the
agricultural year ["b'tzeit ha'shana /see Shmot 23:16], we thank
God for our fruit harvest by celebrating for seven days and
bringing the "arba minim" to the Mikdash. At the very end of this
cycle of agricultural holidays, we add SHMINI ATZERET, a special
gathering with no special agricultural mitzvah. It is simply a
time to stop and reflect on the holiday season and year that has
passed. On this 'eighth day', we focus on the special
relationship between God and Bnei Yisrael.
This special relationship between God and Bnei Yisrael which
begins with Brit Milah, reaches its fullest expression with Matan
Torah at Brit Har Sinai.
Based on this interpretation, it is understandable why Chazal
chose this holiday to celebrate as SIMCHAT TORAH, and to conclude
on this day the yearly 'cycle' of reading the Torah.