Each week we discuss one familiar halakhic practice and try to show its beauty and meaning. The columns are based on Rabbi Meir's Meaning in Mitzvot on Kitzur Shulchan Arukh.
In our parsha, HaShem tells Avram that the covenant between Him and the nation He will raise from Avram will be expressed in the circumcision of the males (Bereshit 17:10-11). The skin which is removed is known as the ORLA, and an uncircumcised individual is call an AREL. Let us examine the symbolism of this way of distinguishing the Jewish nation from the rest of mankind.
We may consider this a central message of MILA. While traditionally almost all non-Jewish men are uncircumcised, calling a non-Jew an AREL as a term of reproach is applied particularly towards individuals who are cruel and insensitive such as the wicked Goliath (Shmuel I 17:36).
The mishna in Nedarim states that "the circumcised" refers to Jews, even if they happen not to have had a circumcision. The MILA is not just a distinguishing act, it is considered to be a distinguishing quality. And what is the distinguishing quality of Jews as a nation? "This nation is distinguished by three characteristics: they are merciful, bashful, and perform acts of kindness" (Yevamot 79a) - that is, by emotional sensitivity and openness. These two distinguishing characteristics, the one physical and the other emotional, are closely related if we view the covering of the male organ as a symbol of a covering of the heart.
The choice of the male organ for this "superfluous" body part also fits in with this explanation. This organ is the instrument of union of man and wife, a union which ideally represents the fullest emotional and spiritual closeness two humans can acheive. Yet we are well aware that this very act can sometimes embody the exact opposite, the highest degree of exploitation of one person by another. It is precisely in the means of union between man and woman that the message of openness and sensitivity is most essential.
NAMING THE CHILD
This custom has a precedent in the first BRIT MILA, for it is during the establish- ment of this covenant that HaShem changes Avram's name to Avraham.
Rabbi Meir has completed writing a
monumental companion to Kitzur Shulchan Aruch which beautifully presents the
meanings in our mitzvot and halacha. It will hopefully be published in the
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