“And after the entire nation competed their circumcision, they remained in their place in the camp until they were healed.” The mass circumcision occurred on the eleventh of Nisan allowing some time to pass before offering the Pascal sacrifice on the fourteenth. Although they remained in a considerably weak state, the initial critical period was behind them.
“And Hashem said to Yehoshua, ‘Today I removed from you the Egyptian shame’ and Yehoshua named the place Gilgal until today.” The open understanding of this verse is that the Jewish people were declaring their arrival. From the moment they left Egypt, many doubted if the Jewish people would ever reach the Promised Land. Numerous close calls in the desert gave rise to this concern; would they truly merit to enter Eretz Yisroel? Now this shameful doubt was gone. However, the timing of this declaration follows immediately after their mass circumcision, suggesting its relationship to circumcision. Rashi therefore explains this shame in a unique Midrashic manner. He explains that a red star lurked over the Jewish people throughout their travels in the desert. Pharaoh referred to this at the outset and taunted the Jewish people that bloodshed awaited them. Moshe in fact focused on this star when intervening for his people, claiming that their destruction would substantiate this Egyptian taunt. Now, after their entry and circumcision, it became evident that this red star predicted blood of circumcision, not of destruction. After all these years of shame, the truth was discovered and the place of discovery was eternally identified as the “point of revelation.”
This perplexing interpretation deserves reflection in order to appreciate its lesson. First, why was this mass circumcision identified as a bloody experience? Second, what purpose was there to reflect it through this red star? Third, why was it necessary for the Jewish people to observe this heavenly sign the moment they left Egypt?
In explanation of this, we refer back to Hashem’s initial instruction about this circumcision. Therein Hashem stated, “And return and circumcise the Jewish people once again.” Our Sages focus on the apparent redundancy of ‘return’ and ‘once again’. They explain that this was the second experience of mass circumcision. But it also encompassed the entire Jewish nation, young and old. Although many were circumcised, this command introduced a dimension of circumcision to all. Our Sages explain that in addition to cutting off the foreskin, it became obligatory to peel back the remaining skin thereby permanently revealing the covenant. This necessary dimension was not included in the original mandate of circumcision but was introduced at this point. This is what Hashem meant when ordering circumcision once again, namely, that everyone include this second dimension in their covenant.
The choice for the completion of this time honored mandate is intriguing and puzzling. Didn’t Moshe Rabbeinu receive the entire Torah at Mount Sinai, oral and written alike? Could a new mitzvah, or even an aspect thereof, be added after Hashem’s all encompassing lesson to Moshe at Mount Sinai? In response to this the commentaries explain that Hashem informed Moshe then that this dimension would be introduced upon their arrival to the Promised Land. But we are now truly bewildered about why this mandatory dimension of circumcision was omitted until entry to Eretz Yisroel? Could the land of Israel effect the actual form of a mitzvah unrelated to the land itself?
We must conclude that their entry to the land opened a new dimension in their relationship with Hashem. This dimension was appropriately reflected in their circumcision – covenant of relationship – which also assumed a new dimension. Throughout their travels, Hashem related to them on a glorious revealed level. They were treated to open miracles every step of the way. However, once they entered Eretz Yisroel, these open revelations ended and life was conducted on an ordinary level. Yet even in this mode Hashem retained His involvement and perfect contact with each and every one of His people. This reflected a deeper commitment on Hashem’s part, one that transcended all natural boundaries and applied to everyone on a personal level. Behind and inside every individual’s experience was Divine Providence guiding and bringing him to perfection. This additional dimension was reflected through the permanent revelation of the circumcision cut. This new dimension expressed a deeper bond than everbetween Hashem and ourselves, one of total commitment which transcended all barriers.
We are now beginning to appreciate this experience at Gilgal. The Egyptian taunt was that Hashem’s commitment to His people was, from the outset, imperfect. True, He brought them out of Egypt and showered them with His many blessings. But the red star revealed their potential destruction; a nightmare which constantly hung over their heads. According to Egyptian perception, Hashem’s master plan included the possibility of total destruction when the Jewish people would step out of line.
At this juncture it became public knowledge that the Egyptian’s couldn’t have been further from the truth. The red star represented an increased level of commitment. The red of the star – blood of our covenant – reflected our total self bound up with Hashem. In response to our increased commitment, Hashem pledged His increased commitment which awaited us upon entry to the land. The Jews were shown from the outset that Hashem’s commitment to His people would be one of even greater levels than they would initially see.
In essence the star didn’t reflect Hashem’s lack of commitment. Quite the contrary, it reflected His most perfect commitment to His people. With this thought we can gain insight into the actual name of the site, Gilgal. Metzudos sees in this word something beyond mere revelation. Gilgal actually means to revolve or roll off. This extended dimension of Hashem’s commitment forced the Egyptian interpretation to roll away. Instead of its shameful connotation, everyone now realized that this red star reflected the most honorable status of the Jewish people, one of perfect unity with Hashem.
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