G-d told Moshe, “Tell the Children of Israel that if a woman conceives and gives birth to a male, then she will be ritually unclean for seven days . . . On the eighth day, his foreskin must be circumcised. For the next 33 days, it will be a period of time during which her blood will be considered ritually clean . . .” (Vayikra 12:1-3)
If you recall, last week’s parshah ended talking about pure and impure animals. And, as Rashi explains, since animals were created first they are spoken about first, and thus this week’s parshah only now turns to a discussion about purity and impurity with respect to human beings, starting with a woman who gives birth.
That is why the reference to Bris Milah here is out of place. It’s not like we constantly need to be reminded that there is a mitzvah to circumcise a Jewish male on the eighth day after his birth, that the Torah just happened to use this reference to birth as an excuse to remind us again. So why break up the discussion about the laws of spiritual impurity with a reference to Bris Milah?
The truth is, if we recall what the Torah first said with respect to Bris Milah, this week’s parshah becomes a reminder of a different sort, and the reason for the allusion is clear. The Torah writes:
When Avram was 99 years old, God appeared to Avram and He said to him, “I am G-d A-lmighty, walk before Me and be perfect. I will make My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you very, very greatly.” (Bereishis 17:1-2)
In Hebrew, the word “perfect” is “tamim,” which is another term for someone who is spiritually pure. G-d was commanding Avraham to rise to even greater heights of spiritual purity than he already had, for he had gone as high as one can go while still living without circumcision. G-d told him, “Remove your foreskin and you remove the barrier to spiritual perfection and then, and only then, can you walk before Me.”
So therefore, Bris Milah is all about spiritual purity and human perfection, something unique to human beings. For, animals cannot change their status from impure to pure, but a man can through Bris Milah and all that it represents, and that is why it is on the eighth day after birth, a number that refers to the supernatural realm, a realm that animals cannot enter except through man himself.
What is interesting about Bris Milah is that it works in the opposite direction than we are used to when it comes to achieving spiritual perfection. Human beings were created with lackings, and it is our role to provide that which is missing. For example, we are not born with derech eretz — good manners — but have to be taught them and then we must work on integrating them into our approach to life. We are not born good learners, but must learn to learn and then practice to learn well.
However, Bris Milah is a procedure for removing that which is extra, a piece of skin that exists, seemingly, only for the sake of removing it; it is not a process of adding that which is missing. It is a gain that comes through a loss, and one that many people, including some Jews today, are fighting against to the point of asking for Bris Milah to be made illegal until the child is old enough to choose it for himself!
This is consistent with the Talmud that states:
[While the fetus is in the womb] they teach it all of Torah . . . Once the child is born, an angel touches it on the mouth and it forgets all of Torah. (Niddah 30b)
Forgets, not loses. For what would be the point of learning all of Torah only to lose ALL association with it? Rather, it remains with the person but he is distanced from it, and the learning process is one of being reminded of what one already knows on such deep subconscious level. That is why after we learn a new concept there is a feeling of recognition, as if we already knew the idea and had only forgotten it, which we did.
Thus, learning is also a form of Bris Milah, or removing the barrier that stands between our subconscious knowledge of everything and our conscious awareness of it. And, it is specifically Torah learning that best pierces and removes the foreskin around our hearts and minds, and the deeper the level of Torah knowledge, the more profound the revelation of inner truth one experiences.
G-d, your G-d, will circumcise your heart, and the heart of your descendants, so you may love G-d, your G-d with all your heart, and with all your soul, in order that you may live. (Devarim 30:6)
Thus, the Final Redemption is also spoken about in terms of circumcision, implying this time that love of G-d is not something foreign, but rather something hidden. It is the most natural thing in the world for man to love His Creator, as the Rambam points out in Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah. And, we would do it quite naturally if life didn’t get in the way, or rather, the yetzer hara and all of its materialistic distractions. No wonder the foreskin is referred to as the “wife” of the Sitra Achra!
And, just as Milah will play a role in the Final Redemption, it played a major role in the original redemption, the one from Egypt:
It happened along the way to the Inn that G-d met him [Moshe] and wanted to kill him. Tzipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and threw it at his feet, and said, “Your a bridegroom of blood to me!” She loosened her hold of him and said, “Your are a bridegroom of blood, because of circumcisions.” (Shemos 4:24)
The angel became a serpent and swallowed him from his head to his thigh, and then spit him out again, and then swallowed him from his legs to the place [of Bris Milah]. Tzipporah thereby understood that it was happening on account of the delay in performing Bris Milah to her son. (Rashi)
It is amazing how close the Jewish people came to losing their redeemer, and all because Moshe delayed the planned bris of his son by what would have amounted to mere minutes! No question Bris Milah is central to the Jewish people and their spiritual survival, but to such an extent?
The answer to this question is in the word milah — Mem-Yud-Lamed-Heh — itself, for as the Arizal explains (Otzros Chaim, Sha’ar Ona’ah), the word is actually composed of two parts: Mem-Lamed and Yud-Heh, the first two letters spelling the word circumcise and the last two letters being the first two letters of G-d’s Four-Letter Name that we do not pronounce as it is written.
Therefore, explains the Arizal, when Milah is performed it reveals lights in the upper world, for as the incision, for the sake of the mitzvah, occurs on the baby it also occurs, spiritually, on the level of Binah, the EIGHTH of the Ten Sefiros that govern all of Creation. It is Priah, says the Arizal, that actually draws that light down, bringing with it all the blessing and redemptive qualities of associated with that level of light.
This is why it is Yishmael that we are confronting at the end of days; only he had taken on Milah as a mitzvah and way of life going back to before Yitzchak was even born. But, he never received the mitzvah of Priah, because it had not been given to Avraham Avinu, but to the Jewish people who received the Torah at Mt. Sinai and therefore it is this second part of the mitzvah that provides us with the ultimate ability to rise about the power of all nations and to be redeemed from the oppression of all of them.
However, the centrality of Bris Milah to the Final Redemption is evident in this not so evident source:
The [sefirah called] Yesod divided into two kings: Yesod and Atarah (crown). The Atarah is relevant to Malchus, since it is her crown, which is why it is called Atarah. Therefore, the Yesod and the Atarah [prior to creation] became two; however, after the tikun (i.e., Creation), the Yesod and the Atarah became one in order to join together Zehr Anpin and the Nukveh forever. This is the sod of Yemos HaMoshiach being at the end of the sixth millennium, the time when the Atarah governs and gives off light for Yemos HaMoshiach; Yesod itself governs the time of exile until Yemos HaMoshiach. Since the Atarah is rooted in an independent king and the Yesod divided into two, the sixth millennium, which corresponds to Yesod, divides into two. During the time which corresponds to the Yesod there will still be destruction and exile. However, the time that corresponds to the Atarah will be Yemos HaMoshiach. (Hakdamos v’Sha’arim, p. 172)
As we have discussed on numerous occasions, the Sefiros are spiritual transformers, so-to-speak, for the light of G-d that filter it to make physical Creation and free-will possible. And, as we have also discussed many times before, the six sefiros, Chesed, Gevurah, Tifferes, Netzach, Hod, and Yesod, are the basis of all potential reality for the six thousand years of history for which this world is designed to exist (Sanhedrin 97a), Chesed corresponding to the first millennium, Gevurah to the second millennium, and so on.
However, what we have not emphasized in the past is that each of the Sefiros correspond to a different part of the human anatomy, Keser, Chochmah, and Binah to the brains (Muchin), Chesed and Gevurah to the right and left arms respectively, Tifferes to the torso, Netzach and Hod to the right and left legs respectively, and the Malchus, to the earth upon which the entire system stands, spiritually-speaking.
As to the sefirah of Yesod and its relationship to redemption, that requires some explanation.
Therefore, my L-rd shall not rejoice over their young men, and He shall not pity their orphans and widows, for they are hypocritical and evil, and every mouth utters degeneracy. Yet despite all this, His anger has not subsided and His hand is still outstretched. (Yeshayahu 9:16)
The Talmud, while elucidating the above verse, asks:
What does it mean, “and His hand is still outstretched”?
The Talmud answers as follows:
All know why a kallah enters the Chupah, but for anyone who speaks indecently and allows a degenerate comment to leave his mouth, even if 70 years of good have been decreed for him, it will all be transformed into bad. (Kesuvos 8b)
Never mind the fact that how we speak is what distinguishes us from the animal world (Onkeles, Bereishis 1:26), and that Bris Milah literally means “Covenant of the Word.” What the Talmud is telling us is what our attitude has to be toward that which the yetzer hara is so apt to abuse, and Hollywood is so capable of glorifying. Indeed, Bris Milah represents the polar extreme of the two, acknowledging the reality while at the same time emphasizing the need to sanctify it to the highest degree possible, in essence what Shir HaShirim — Song of Songs — came to teach.
In fact, where I doven on Friday evenings, while the Rav delivers a drashah to the adults between Kabbalos Shabbos and Ma’ariv, the children learn Shir HaShirim in an adjoining room (as is the case in many congregations). The innocence with which they chant the holiest song known to the Jewish people (at least of that which has been composed by man), a song that when learned on its simplest level has been taken to be an erotic love song of a man for a woman, is a beautiful and awesome reminder of the purity with which every Jew — child AND adult — is supposed to approach what history knows to be the most abused of all man’s abilities.
It is not a matter of turning the sexual realities of a man and woman into a purely technical one, as doctors and medical practitioners may do. It is a matter of seeing them as they really are, as physical manifestations of HOLY spiritual realities that are directly affected by how we relate to and use those physical manifestations down here. That too is another reason why Bris Milah is associated with the number eight, the supernatural reality to which it alludes, and why it is mentioned in this week’s parshah dealing with spiritual purification.
Having said that, the sefirah of Yesod, which governs all that has occurred and will occur in this sixth and final millennium, corresponds to this part of the body. Thus, its potential is the potential of the sixth millennium, meaning that all that has occurred until now and will occur until the end of the sixth millennium will be a direct result of what Yesod represents, the spiritual energy and light that it contains.
Hence, it is not only poetic license that drove the Torah to refer to the Final Redemption in terms of Bris Milah, or that the actual date by which Moshiach MUST arrive — b’ittah — is a hidden reality, something that is sure to be revealed once our hearts have been circumcised.
In other words, the final ETA of Moshiach is probably something we already know, or is information that is staring us right in the face. However, being blinded by a spiritual orlah — foreskin — we can’t see with our minds what our eyes behold. Unless, of course, we ourselves perform Bris on our own minds and hearts with the knife of Torah, which has the ability to slice through all levels of spiritual interpositions.
Your people will all be righteous; they will inherit the land forever; a shoot of My planting. The smallest will increase a thousandfold, and the youngest into a mighty nation. I, the L-rd, will hasten it in its time. (Yeshayahu 60:21-22)
These very famous possukim are talking, of course, about the Final Redemption, which we now understand to take place during the sixth millennium at the precise moment that the period of Yesod ends and the period of time that corresponds to Atarah begins. When is that?
The length of the Atarah of Yesod is known to those who have tasted from the “Tree of Life” (Kabbalah), because the Atarah on it is Bris Yisroel given to Avraham Avinu that was made with 13 covenants, the numerical value of “echad” (one), which is the point on the [letter] Dalet of “Echad” [in the Shema], which is the Yud of Hovayah, the Yud of Adona’i, the Yud of Shadda’i, the Yud of Ya’akov, and the Yud of Yisroel . . . (Hakdamos v’Sha’arim, 172)
Whatever that means. Continues the Leshem:
[It is also a long period of time.] The entire period of time is referred to as “keitz d’b’ittah” (end in its time), and this is the simple reading of the verse, “I, the L-rd, will hasten it (achishenah) in its time (b’ittah)” (Yeshayahu 60:22). The verse is promising that the entire period of “b’ittah” will not pass, rather that the time of redemption will be hastened, and that “early” will also be “in its time”; thus both terms will be fulfilled . . . It will not be delayed for the entire period of b’ittah, G-d forbid, but rather it will be hastened. (Hakdamos v’Sha’arim, 211)
And, thus it is Moshiach Ben Yosef, who corresponds to the sefirah of Yesod and therefore, to our millennium, who gets things started, and who used his position in Egypt to circumcise all of the Egyptians (Rashi, Bereishis 41:55). A person about whom it says:
Pharaoh said to Yosef, “I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no man may lift his hand or his foot in all the land of Egypt.” Pharaoh called Yosef Tzafnas Pa’nayach . . . (Bereishis 41:44-45)
TZAFNAS PA’NAYACH: He explains the hidden… (Rashi)
A man through him the hidden is revealed. (Onkeles)
Just as Bris Milah does. Indeed, according to the Vilna Gaon, one of the primary functions of Moshiach Ben Yosef is to reveal Sod, the hidden parts of Torah.
And, it seems, based upon all we have said to this point, that the choice of our generation is really quite straightforward: either Hollywood’s approach to life in this world and man’s potential, an approach that reveals the physical but hides the spiritual, or Bris Milah’s approach, one that sanctifies the physical and, in doing so, reveals the greatest depths possible of the spiritual. It should be obvious which one will survive the test of time, and ultimate and inevitable transition from Yesod to Atarah.
May it happen in our time, and soon.
Have a great Shabbos,
Copyright © by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Winston has authored many books on Jewish philosophy (Hashkofa). If you enjoy Rabbi Winston’s Perceptions on the Parsha, you may enjoy his books. Visit Rabbi Winston’s online book store for more details! www.thirtysix.org