Thoughts from Parsha Lech Lecha
This is My covenant, which you shall observe between Me and between you and between your seed after you, that every male among you be circumcised.Chapter 17:10 Genesis
Circumcision is the bais of future righteousness. Fortunate is Israel! Zohar
You know there are things I do that I understand and then there are things that I do that I don’t understand. In the infinite complexity of life the mechanisms and chain reactions that lead me to walk and think, to be thirsty, to prefer roses that carnations. Why I enjoy the sunset or the fresh freeze.
Perhaps the thing that I have trouble understanding is the reason why so many Jews continue to circumcise their boys, even when they are ignorant of or ignore every other single mitzvah they can. They live a life totally rejected by tradition and Torah, and then their little boy is born, and CHOP! off comes the foreskin.
And especially since the bris is a “sign” of the covenant between God and the Jewish people, a completely spiritual act that can only be accomplished in a purely physical act, it would seem that natural thing to give up first! However, that is not how it happens.
[EDITED TO INCLUDE FULL STORY]
The following powerful story appears in “Hassidic Tales of the Holocaust” by Yaffa Eliach:
“I will tell you another story,” said Rabbi Israel Spira to his student Baruch Bear Singer, “a story that took place in the Janowska Road Camp. Janowska was one of those camps about which, if one is to recall the events that took place during one year, one can fill pages with tales of heroism, suffering, and death. Not one book, but ten volumes. And even then, it would just be a drop in the ocean.
“Many have asked me to publish the stories of Janowska in a book. I told them I am not writing new books. It would be sufficient if we read and studied the existing books. But this particular story is a duty to record. It is a mitzvah to tell it, for it is a tale about the devotion and sacrifice o a daughter of Israel.
“One morning in Janowska, I was standing and sawing wood with another katzetnik (camp inmate). To humiliate us as much as possible, I was given as a partner a very short mane. As you see, thank God, I am not among the short ones. It made the wood sawing both a difficult task and a laughable sight. With each pull of the saw, my partner would stretch out and stand on the tips of his toes, and I wold bend down till my aching, swollen feet were bleeding. And the Germans stood by and watched our misery and suffering with delight.
“One morning, on Hoashana Rabba, as wee were sawing wood, the wind carried in our direction piercing, tormented cries such as I had never heard before, even in Janowska hell. The desperate clamor was coming closer and closer as if the weeping was filling up the entire universe and drowning it with painful tears.
” ‘ It is a children’s Aktion, little angels from the entire vicinity of Drohobycz, Borislov, Lvov, Stryj, Stanislav, and others were brought here to meet their maker.’ ” said a ktzetnik who passed by, pushing a wheelbarrow, without even glancing in our direction. I though the cries would shake the world’s foundation. We continued sawing the wood as our eyes became heavier and heavier with tears.
“Suddenly, just next to us, I heard the voice of a woman. ‘ Jews have mercy upon me and give me a knife.’ In front of us was standing a woman, pale as a sheet. Only her eyes were burning with a strange fire. I thought that she wanted to commit suicide. I looked around, and since I saw no German in sight I said to her, ‘Why are you in such a rush to get to the World of Truth? We will get there sooner or later. What difference can a day make?’
” ‘ Dog, what do you say to that woman?’ A tall young German who appeared from nowhere demanded an answer, while swinging his rubber truncheon above my head. ‘The woman asked for a knife. I explained to her that we Jews are not permitted to take our lives. For our lives are entrusted in the hands of God.’ I hastily added, ‘And I hope that you, too, will spare our lives.’ The German did not respond to my words. He turned to the woman and demanded an explanation from her. She answered curtly, ‘I asked for a knife.’
“As she was talking she kept examining the German with her feverish eyes. Suddenly her eyes stopped wandering. Her gaze was fixed on the top pocket of the German’s uniform. The shape of a knife was clearly visible through the pocket. ‘Give me that pocket knife!’ she ordered the German in a commanding voice. The German, taken by surprise, handed the knife to the woman.
“She bent down and picked up something. Only then did I notice a bundle of rags on the ground near the sawdust. She unwrapped the bundle. Amidst the rags on a snow white pillow was a newborn babe, asleep. With a steady hand she opened the pocket knife and circumcised the baby. In a clear, intense voice shoe recited the blessing of the circumcision. ‘Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us by thy commandments and has commanded us to perform the circumcision.’
“She straightened her back, looked up to the heavens, and said, ‘God of the Universe, you have given me a healthy child. I am returning to you a wholesome, kosher Jew.’ She walked over to the German, gave him back his blood-stained knife, and handed him her baby on his snow white pillow.
“Amidst a veil of tears, I said to myself that this mother’s circumcision will probably shake the foundations of heaven and earth. Next to Abraham on Mount Moriah, where can you find a greater act of faith this this Jewish mother’s?”
The rabbi looked at his student with tear-filled eyes and said, “Since liberation, each time I am honored at a circumcision to be a Sandak, it is my custom to tell this particular story.”
Based on a conversation of the Grand Rabbi of Blozhov, Rabbi Israel Spira, with Baruch Singer, January 3, 1975. I [Yaffa Eliach] hear it at the rabbi’s house.
I just had the honor and privilege of being able to make a bris for our third son, Naftali. Every time the experience is moving and transformative in such a deep way that I have trouble speaking. I literally can barely get a word out. And for those who know, this is highly unusual. But at the bris of my sons, no word. Incomprehensible sense of joy. Overwhelming responsibility. Sadness â€”that my father OBM is not there. Feeling of great accomplishment, coupled with a sense of total humility. Deep, so deep. A sense of being humbled and awed by the power of creation, amazement at my own act in the continuation of this eternal covenant.
I could give a whole lectureâ€”I haveâ€” on all the intricacies of all the symbols and meanings of the bris. It takes me an hour and a half just to get started. But ultimately, it is something that I find nearly impossible to explain, why it is so important to so man,y that they have risked their lives for this.
May God grant the Jewish people a quick and speedy redemption based on the merit of their faithful adherence to the Bris.
[I apologize for not using the original story, just that before Shabbat it would have taken toolong to type in.]
One of the forced laborers in the camps related that one day he heard frightening cries of anguish the likes of which he had never heard before. Later he learned that on that very day a selection had been made — of infants to be sent to the ovens. We continued working, tears rolling down our faces, and suddenly I heard the voice of a Jewish woman: “Give me a knife.”
I thought she wanted to take her own life. I said to her, “Why are you hurrying so quickly to the world of truth…” All of a sudden the German soldier called out, “Dog, what did you say to the woman?”
“She requested a pocketknife and I explained to her that it was prohibited to commit suicide.”
The woman looked at the German with inflamed eyes, and stared spellbound at his coat pocket where she saw the shape of his pocketknife. “Give it to me,” she requested. She bent down and picked up a package of old rags. Hidden among them, on a pillow as white as snow, lay a tender infant. The woman took the pocketknife, pronounced the blessing — and circumcised the child. “Master of the Universe,” she cried, “You gave me a healthy child, I return him to You a worthy Jew.”