Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Parshat Lech Lecha

The Double Edge of Circumcision

Dedicated to the birth of the first child to my niece, Michal (and Danny) Rosenthal, the first grandchild of my sister, Ruti (and Sruli) Berkowitz and the first great-grandchild of my parents, Yudit and Yisroel Abelesz.

God made a double edged promise to Avraham if he would leave his homeland and "go to the land that I will show you". God would: "...make of you a great nation…and through you all the families of the earth will be blessed" (Bereshit 12:1-4).

This promise was reaffirmed to Yitschak: "I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and will give to your seed all these lands; and by your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" (ibid 26:4) and to Yaakov: "The land whereon you lie, to you will I give it, and to your seed…And through you and your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed (ibid 28:13-14).

On the one hand, God promises Avraham exclusivity – he will become a great nation in his own distinct land. Yet on the other hand, he is also promised universality: he will become the father of humanity, that through him all humanity will attain blessing. By becoming a nation dedicated to God's values, Avraham's descendants would then positively influence the rest of humankind so that they too, would attain God's blessing.

Furthermore, before accepting the Torah, the children of Israel were required to accept both these national and universal roles: "you will be unto Me a kingdom of priests (universal), and a holy nation (national)" (Shemot 19:6).

God also placed these roles as the centerpiece of the Brit Mila, He made with Avraham. Firstly, Avraham's name was changed from Avram to Avraham, signifying that "the father of a multitude of nations have I made you" (Bereshit 17:5). Secondly, "This is My covenant, which you … and your seed after you shall keep: every male among you shall be circumcised" (ibid 10). Through, circumcision, Avraham and his descendents became unique, physically different and set apart from all other nations, signifying His exclusive relationship with them.

These two ideas still exist in the circumcision ceremony of Jewish males: The Circumcision and the Naming. The circumcision signifies the child's acceptance of the Jewish people's national role and the naming signifies his acceptance of the universal role.
Perhaps this is why two blessings are recited at the ceremony: The first "על מצות מילה" – "on the act of circumcision" representing the national role, and "להכניסו בבריתו של אברהם אבינו" – "on entering him into the covenant of Avraham, our forefather", representing the child's acceptance of his universal role.

This is indeed the task of the Jewish people. May we merit to accomplish both these roles.


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