The Advantage of Brit Milah at Eight Days - וירא

Thursday, 10 November, 2022 - 10:09 pm


The Advantage of Brit Milah at Eight Days


Sibling rivalry is not a new phenomenon. It is a recurring theme in the book of Genesis.


The Midrash describes a rivalry between Abraham's two sons, Yishmael and Isaac, as to whose relationship with G-d was more "beloved". Yishmael contended that his connection was more profound as he was circumcised at the age of thirteen years old, when he had the ability to protest. Yet, Isaac countered that his relationship with G-d was more profound since he was circumcised at eight days old: 


Yitzchak and Yishmael contended with each other. Yishmael argued, "I am more beloved than you because I was circumcised when I was thirteen years old." Yitzchak countered, "I am more beloved than you because I was circumcised at eight days." (Bereishis Rabbah, Vatera 55:4)


While Yishmael’s argument is clear, Isaac's is not at all obvious. What possible advantage is there to circumcision at eight days, when the child has no understanding of the act and no ability to consent? 


Yishmael and Isaac represent two perspectives on the relationship with G-d. Yishmael argued that the relationship is predicated on, and proportional to, the person's appreciation of G-d and desire to connect to him. Isaac, however, understood that a human being cannot overcome the unbridgeable gap between a finite person and the infinite creator. Only G-d Himself can fuse creator and creation. Isaac understood that we don't create a relationship with G-d; but rather, by fulfilling a commandment, G-d binds himself to the person. 


The Torah describes the covenant of circumcision as an everlasting covenant: "My covenant shall be in your flesh as an everlasting covenant." Isaac understood that nothing a human being can accomplish is eternal. The everlasting covenant is achieved by G-d alone. Isaac, therefore, argued that when a child is circumcised at eight days old, without any input on his part, it is clear and evident that the bond is real, that it is everlasting, because it is achieved by the infinite G-d. 


One lesson from Yishmael and Isaac's debate is that Yishmael argued that since the human being creates the relationship, it has to be developed gradually over time. Yishmael argued that it takes years to build a connection based on appreciation and desire. Isaac teaches us that the most profound, eternal bond can happen instantaneously. All we need to do is perform a commandment which invites G-d to create the eternal bond. 


Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos Vayera 25:3 and Achron Shel Pesach 5741.



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