Addition By Subtraction

Friday, 4 November, 2022 - 2:16 pm

When G-d gives Avraham the instruction to circumcise himself, He tells him, “I am the Al-mighty G-d; walk before Me and be perfect.” This implies that through the act of circumcision Avraham perfects himself. This constitutes addition by means of subtraction. That is some fuzzy math. Yet, our sages intimate, by the act of circumcision a male can achieve truly being “in the Divine image.” (Females are considered to be in the “Divine Image” without the need for circumcision.) How a physical form can constitute the “Divine Image” is challenging enough to understand. Throw the perfection reached by circumcision into the equation, and now we are thoroughly confused.

Obviously, when we speak of the “Divine Image” we are not referring to a literal physical form. Judaism rejects any concretization of G-d. As the poet declares in Yigdal, “He has no body, nor the image of a body.” Therefore, the notion of Tzelem Elokim (Divine Image), must refer to something conceptual and/or metaphoric. How we interpret that is for another discussion. But with respect to the association with circumcision, I would like to offer the following insight.

The Zohar uses the anthropomorphic analogy of the human male body to describe nine of the ten Divine Attributes, known as the “Sefirot.” One of those ten Sefirot is called Yesod. Yesod is the connection point between the Divine Masculine Energy and the Divine Feminine Energy (known as Malchut). Here is how the Zohar frames it. “Yesod is the body's extremity, the sign of the Holy Covenant.” From this we derive that since the anthropomorphic analogy of the body is presented as an extremity that has the sign of the covenant on it, in order to be in the “Divine Image” one must be circumcised.

Why did Hashem leave this to us instead of creating us already circumcised? Clearly, He wanted us to have a role in achieving this state of perfection. This is similar to the role we play in the rest of creation, where we take the raw materials created by G-d and turn them into usable goods.

From here we see how vital this tradition is to the Jewish people. Sadly, there is a subset of folks who wish to stem the trend of devotion to the Covenant of Abraham. The short-sightedness of their action and the detriment it brings to their children and to the Jewish people as a whole can hardly be understated.

Maimonides relates that while there is a threefold covenant for all Mitzvot, there are thirteen mentions of the covenant when it comes to the Mitzvah of circumcision. This gives us some understanding into just how integral circumcision is to Judaism.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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