God spoke to Moshe, saying: “Speak to the Children of Israel, saying:
‘If a woman gives birth to man-child, then she shall be unclean seven days;
as in the days of the impurity of her sickness shall she be unclean. On the
eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.” (Vayikra
There are different ways to look at the process of redemption. Most of us
imagine some kind of uprising of the oppressed that actually works, like
what happened in Tunisia and Egypt recently. Sometimes sheer numbers might
be enough to change the political situation, sometimes it might take a call
to arms. But, rarely does it just happen by remaining still physically,
while moving spiritually.
Or so we may think. Redemption from Egypt had been very passive. We didn’t
amass against the Egyptian people, nor did we attack them militarily, both
options having been impossible at the time. Rather, for the first months, we
continued to go to work as before, and then eventually, we no longer had to
report for duty and stayed home while awaiting the fateful day that the
Egyptian people would not only throw their doors open to their Jewish
slaves, but actually command them to get out!
“Well, that is only because Moshe Rabbeinu was fighting their battle for
them!” one may argue. “They may have done nothing,” a person might say, “but
Moshe Rabbeinu performed great miracles, plague-after-plague, decimating
Egypt and breaking the will of its stubborn leader. Had he not done that,
then they would have remained embittered slaves as before!”
Well, yes and no. There is no question that the plagues led to the
possibility of the redemption of the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery.
But, as the Midrash explains, that was not enough, for had that been the
entire basis of the Jewish redemption from Egypt then 12,000,000 Jews would
not have died in the Plague of Darkness and lost the chance to go out.
A simple gematria makes the point that geulah—redemption—is a state of
being. Hence, the gematria of adam—man—and geulah are the same: 45. This is
not mere numerical coincidence. This is a simple and yet elegant expression
of how one achieves true freedom in life, be it from external enemies or an
internal one. Apparently, the 12,000,000 Jews who died in the ninth plague
just couldn’t make the numbers add up.
This is because there are two levels of being an adam: what we are born and
what we are meant to become. The first is a matter of fact; the second is a
matter of development and commitment, and it is summed up by a verse that
appears right in the midst of the redemption from Egypt itself, and which is
the basis of this fourth and final special Maftir at this time of year:
God spoke to Moshe and Aharon in the land of Egypt, saying, “This month
shall be to you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the
year to you.” (Shemos 12:1-2)
This is the mitzvah to sanctify the new moon being entrusted to the Jewish
people after being solely in God’s possession for 2,448 years. And, it is
mentioned here, as part of the redemption process because it holds the key
to being an adam, and therefore, achieving geulah as a result. Thus, even
though the mitzvah could not yet be physically performed until the Jewish
people conquered and settled the land of Canaan, it could be spiritually
performed by making a conscious effort to live up to its all-important
message of hischadshus—renewal.
Renewal is something that is easy to do when the old, according to everyone,
is clearly outdated. When everyone agrees that the status quo of something
is no longer good enough, then people become energized to resuscitate it.
The problem comes when there are people who are happy with the situation as
it presently stands, and resist change.
That happens to be most people when it comes to spiritual growth. Whatever
spiritual level people are on, they usually like to settle down. Unlike with
respect to materialism, which people love to increase and constantly renew,
when it comes to spiritual growth, which provides little physical comfort in
this world, if any at all, people stay where they are. You have to either be
a good soldier, or really believe in the World-to-Come to be committed to
The process of transformation, represented by the mitzvah of Bris Milah in
this week’s parshah, and by Kiddush HaChodesh—the sanctification of the new
moon in this week’s Maftir—is like a child growing up.
Children like to have fun and be cozy. At a certain age they are introduced
to mitzvos, and in the beginning, they take to the ones they are taught to
perform to fit in and make others happy. Since they idolize grown-ups,
especially their parents, they enjoy doing that which brings them positive
feedback, and which makes them feel like Abba Jr., or Imma Jr.
Then they get a little older, and the mitzvos become a little more
challenging. As their world gets bigger, and their sources of pleasure and
feedback expand, doing mitzvos to impress others doesn’t work as well as it
did previously. They start getting a little lazier and sloppier, and might
even look for ways to avoid having to do them at all. As an internal
tug-of-war begins to develop in the child, it also tends to develop between
the child and his parents.
That’s when the adults start trying to plant intellectual seeds, to appeal
to the child’s sense of reason. They try to get the child to buy into more
abstract ideas, such as reward in the World-to-Come. The whole process of
growing up is the process of learning how to do things now for reward later
on. That is why our modern world, which emphasizes instant gratification and
often delivers it on some level, is keeping people from growing up.
It’s a tough sell for children, the real ones and the adult ones. Sometimes
peer pressure keeps a child religious until he is old enough to reason the
truth about the World-to-Come and buys into it for himself. Sometimes
incubation helps a child to believe, until it is safe to know otherwise,
that there is no alternative belief system but the Torah one with which he
is most familiar.
Often times, this is not the case, especially in today’s modern world which
is so invasive and tempting. Worst of all, it is so accessible, and short of
being marooned on a desert island with no outside contact (not even cell
phone), it is impossible to be free of it. As a result, many children, small
and large, who have grown up religious are either seriously compromising
their Torah values or abandoning them altogether. Today, it is so easy to
remain a child the rest of your life.
(How many adults would have taken out a toy in public to while away time 10
years ago? Today people do such things on their smart phones, etc. And, even
though they are more sophisticated and clever than kiddy games of the past,
they are still games. “Harold, put that thing away!” said the frustrated
wife to her game-playing husband while standing in line at the airport,
wondering if she had more children to take care of than she gave birth to.)
Then there are those people who, while standing in line, go over a Torah
concept in their head. As they get lost in their thoughts, they start to
feel a sense of inner joy as new paths of understanding life in this world
open for them, making them feel closer to God. As their appreciation of the
idea increases, so does their appreciation of life and they become inspired
to improve their relationship with God. The greater the insight, the greater
this is true.
Even in the Torah world, the idea is often lost or taken for granted. Anyone
who learns Torah knows the excitement of ‘coming up with a chiddush,’ a new
Torah approach to an old Torah idea that makes Torah’s outlook on life a
little clearer. Publishing chiddushei Torah is one of the most exciting
things a person can do from a Torah perspective, as if each insight is
responsible for bringing God into the world and people’s lives that much more.
Which is true, by the way. Any novel Torah idea increases the presence of
God within the mind’s of men, and therefore, rectifies the world
accordingly. And, even more so if it inspires people to improve their
spiritual behavior and becoming living and breathing representatives of the
insight. This is what learning Torah is supposed to be about, and this is
what living by Torah is supposed to mean. It is the very definition of
Obviously, when such hischadshus occurs on a personal level only, the
excitement and the rectification is also going to be limited. But, when it
occurs on a communal scale, and then on a national scale, then the entire
world changes as a result. It causes ongoing spiritual growth, which allows
a person to better fulfill his potential and become more of an ‘adam,’ the
gematria of which, as has been pointed out before, is that of ‘geulah,’ or
That is the real point: spiritual hischadshus is redemption. This is why it
feels so liberating when it happens. Material hischadshus also provides a
burst of a feeling of liberation, because of the spiritual hischadshus in
it. For, all physical pleasures, no matter how holy or how illicit, are only
pleasurable because of the spiritual pleasure they embody, and therefore,
the holier a physical experience is, the most spiritual pleasure it will
provide, and vice-versa.
Bris Milah is the symbol of this idea. Nothing in life symbolizes more the
potential for holy pleasure in this world, and the opposite, unholy
pleasure. Nothing represents the potential to channel Godly energy in a
meaningful direction, and therefore selflessness, or the potential to
unbridle animal passions, and complete selfishness. And, therefore, nothing
represents the option of psychological freedom, or of psychological and
emotional imprisonment, more than the Bris Milah.
When a person is committed to spiritual hischadshus, he has no need to abuse
physical pleasures, but instead uses them to increase spiritual hischadshus.
Rather than shun spiritual renewal, he embraces it, is thrilled by it, and
rises above the everyday mundane reality that most people live within, and
cope with by increasing their material hischadshus, to the marketer’s
delight. He is free of the trap of the yetzer hara and the trappings of the
physical world, and therefore can come-and-go as he pleases, just as Moshe
Rabbeinu did before Pharaoh in his time.
That is the goal of every human being. To achieve this is to become a true
adam, to experience real geulah, and to be able to enjoy life on levels that
the average person only dreams about.