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”And on the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised” (Vayikra 12:3).
King David declared (Tehillim 119:162), “I rejoice at your word, like one who finds great booty.” The Gemara explains that the “word” being referred to here is Hashem’s commandment to our Patriarch Avraham to circumcise his offspring. The Jewish Nation accepted this particular mitzvah with great joy. The Gemara (Shabbos 130a) states further: “Every mitzvah which they accepted upon themselves with joy, like circumcision, they still continue to perform with joy,” even today.
We constantly witness the enormous delight the parents of a newly circumcised baby have, and the festive meal they make in honor of the occasion. How different this scene is from the one of a child who needs an operation, even a minor one. Those parents are worried and upset, and pray fervently that he won’t need the surgery after all. This is testimony to the truth of the words of the Gemara. Circumcision is a mitzvah which was accepted in joy and which is always performed with joy.
What is the reason for this profound happiness, specifically concerning this mitzvah?
To fully understand this, we must realize the significance of the bris milah (the covenant of circumcision). In olden days, covenants of loyalty between several parties were made by shedding blood. This covenant of circumcision is between none other than Israel and Hashem. It is an act that proclaims the assurance that the Jews will never abandon Him for any other gods, and that He will never abandon us as His Chosen People and pick some other nation instead.
Many misunderstood our exile from Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) and the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash (the Holy Temple in Jerusalem) as a rejection of our status as His Special Nation. Others claimed that they had been chosen to replace us. The Sages relate that the Jews themselves had similar thoughts and they argued before the Prophet Yechezkel, “A woman who was divorced by her husband, and a slave who was sold by his master, can they have any claims upon them?” Imagine a man who ended his marriage one day, and that night searches out his divorcee, who has moved out of his home, and complains to her that his supper is not ready! Or consider a master who sold his servant to another and then calls him to demand his help with some tedious task. Of course they will refuse him and explain that they are no longer obligated to him. Similarly, the Jews argued, if Hashem sent us out of Israel, due to our sins, then He can not command us to serve Him any more. All of our obligations towards Him have been annulled, they maintained, and we have new masters in the Diaspora. We will be like all the other nations.
The Prophet replied in the Name of Hashem (Yechezkel 20:32-34): “And that which comes into your mind shall never come about, that you say, We will be as the nations, as the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone. As I live, says Hashem G-d, surely with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out, will I rule over you. And I will bring you out from the peoples, and will gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out.”
Yechezkel explained to them that our relationship with Hashem is not like a woman who can be divorced, nor like a slave who can be sold. We are children of Hashem, as it says (Devarim 14:1), “You are children of Hashem, your God.” A father has a special relationship with his children, which can never be annulled, no matter how bad the child may be. He may punish him, and if he is exceedingly bad, he may even evict him from his home. But he always remains his father and the purpose of even the greatest punishment, banishment from his father’s abode, is solely to bring him back home and renew the good relationship they both enjoyed when the child behaved himself. And every moment that the son is in exile, his father is waiting and hoping to hear from him that he recognizes his mistakes and wants to return, with the promise that he will be good and never repeat his errors again.
One of the places Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz zt”l, Rosh Yeshivat Mir in Jerusalem, used to visit every month was Kever Avshalom, the monument of the son of King David, who revolted against his own father. At this site, Rav Shmulevitz would raise his eyes to Heaven in prayer and would say: “Master of the Universe, who is the most despicable human being possible in the world? Surely a son who tried to kill his own father. No doubt that no one could ever forgive him for this appalling sin. Yet we find that when Avshalom was killed by General Yoav, King David wept bitterly and said, ‘O my son Avshalom, my son, my son Avshalom! Would G-d I had died for you, O Avshalom, my son, my son’ (Shemuel 2 19:1). The Sages even tell us that King David succeeded in freeing Avshalom from Gehinom (Hell) and bringing him into Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden). Why did he do this for such a terrible person? The answer is because he was his father, and a father’s love and mercy is totally unconditional, even for such a terrible son as Avshalom. “Master of the Universe,” Reb Chaim would conclude, You are our father. Therefore, even if we are as bad as Avshalom, and have revolted against You, G-d forbid, still Your love towards us never ceases. Please, show us your affection, protect us from evil, and bless us with all that is good.”
Hashem’s love for His people is eternal. He swore that He would never trade us for any other nation. Our bond is inseparable. But when we misbehave, He, like every responsible parent, punishes us, for our benefit, so that we will repent and benefit from all the wonderful things He wants to bestow upon us. And when we are really out of line, he metes out the greatest punishment of all: exile, expulsion from His holy habitat. But He has neither divorced nor sold us, G-d forbid. He has merely sent us away so that we will, hopefully, appreciate what we had, and yearn to return. And when that yearning comes to its peak, we will recognize our mistakes, regret them, and admit them, and, most important, resolve to be good from now on. Then Hashem will quickly return us to our home where we will, once again, live with Him in harmony and devotion forever.
That is why the Jews perform the rite of circumcision with so much joy: because it is the symbol of the covenant between us and our Father in Heaven. And just like it cannot be undone, so it is a symbol that that very covenant is absolutely irrevocable and that one day, soon, we will all be together again, in the rebuilt Holy City of Jerusalem, by the hands of Moshiach, speedily and in our days, Amen.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network