As he was about to enter, he said to his wife Sarai, “See now, I have now known that you are a woman of beautiful appearance.”
Avraham’s bris milah was more than one man’s performance of a single commandment of his Creator. It was, on a smaller scale, an enactment of what he accomplished for the entire world.
Adam’s sin had the effect of covering over the manifest existence of Hashem. The world, in effect, became covered by an orlah. It remained that way for the ten generations before Noach. After the Flood, a bit of progress was made, comparable to periah, i.e., the orlah was rolled back somewhat in the ten generations between Noach and Avraham.
Before the first sin, body and soul coexisted holistically and synergistically. The body was drawn after the urges of the soul. Not only did the body cooperate by not resisting, it felt the sweetness and pleasure that the soul did in its work and experiences.
As long as that orlah existed, however, the two parts of Man lived apart and in unremitting struggle with each other. What the body wanted, the neshamah spurned; what the neshamah longed for, the body had no interest in. The chasm that opened up between them was damaging in two ways: First, the body no longer felt the pleasantness that the soul did. Second, even when the body could be coaxed into going along with the wishes of the neshamah, the soul was reluctant. It became uncomfortable and demeaning for the neshamah – now so essentially foreign to what the body was – to have to be dependant upon the body’s choice of whether or not to cooperate.
This orlah-induced polarity meant that Man remained ill at ease with himself. Spiritually, the most he could aspire to was success in suppressing the urges of his yetzer hora, often expressing the desires of his body. Avraham changed the script. He was instructed to circumcise himself with the words, “Walk before Me and be perfect.” His milah, according to the gemara, put him in full control of the last five body parts that evaded such control. In other words, his excision of his own orlah allowed the removal of the global one. In Avraham, the fractious contention between body and soul ended. At least in him, the neshamah was placed back in its original role as senior, managing partner. The brilliance of the neshamah was fully revealed, as the orlah was stripped away.
The difference between Eretz Yisrael and all other locations stands in the same relationship. All areas besides Israel are comparable to the orlah. No one outside the borders of Israel can rise to a level superior to that of fighting and suppressing the yetzer hora. No one there can be fully happy, as even his mitzvos and maasim tovim are cheapened by the dependence upon the body.
In Eretz Yisrael, however, the orlah is removed, and the polarity within Man ceases. (When the gemara says that one who lives outside of the Land is like one who has no G-d, it means that the Essence of G-d is covered up there. Because Man does not act as a single, integrated being, but is out of synch with himself, he is not capable there of relating to the Oneness of Hashem. In effect, he is like one who “has no G-d,” since he cannot appreciate His nature as the single One of the universe.) This is why Avraham’s leaving the country of his birth, and relocating in Israel can be described as, “Go for yourself – for your good and your pleasure.” In the Land, Avraham will rid himself of the inner struggle between body and soul. Only there, living as an integrated whole, will Avraham know the pleasure of body and soul experiencing life together and in concert.
The emphasis is upon “only there.” When Avraham is forced to leave the Land and venture into the debased society of Egypt, he feels the difference. “See now, I have now known that you are a woman of beautiful appearance.” Chazal emphasize that this was new to Avraham. His wife’s beauty had simply not impacted him the same way, because he lived on a different plane while in Eretz Yisrael. It was not her physical attractiveness that he related to while there. When he went down to Egypt, his spiritual level descended as well.
This change did not impact Soro. In a manner that was reflected again in the course of history, she remained at the apex of her spiritual climb even in Mitzrayim. Similarly, it was in the merit of righteous women that our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt.
What happened to Avraham the father happens at the end of time to his children. Jews will balk at the flavor of avodah of galus – of the constant battle against the yetzer hora, pulling a person in a different direction than the desires of the soul. Jews will demand the holistic approach of Eretz Yisrael, where all of Man – body and soul – jointly and uniformly experience the joy of serving Hashem.
A truism of temporal life, however, is that the kelipos – the shells and husks – always precede the development of the fruit and grains. Those shells initially envelop all that is valuable within before they fall away. At the beginning of this awakening, those shells prevent the Light of Hashem from reaching where it should. Both body and soul will first be enveloped and swallowed up by coarse substance; the Light will be occluded. Both will be diminished.
In time, however, the shells will fall away. We will be restored to full integration of body and soul. Both will share in experiencing the overwhelming sweetness of serving Hashem.
- Based on Mei Marom Maamar 16 ↑
- Bereishis 12:11 ↑
- Bereishis 17:1 ↑
- Nedarim 32B ↑
- Kesubos 110B ↑
- Bereishis 12:1 ↑
- Rosh Hashanah 16B ↑
- Sotah 11B ↑