A Special Covenant
A Special Covenant with the Jewish People
Berit Milah is the special covenant between the descendants of Abraham and G-d. Sefer Hachinuch explains that G-d commanded the Jewish people to make a permanent sign on their bodies which separates them from the nations of the world, in order to impress upon them that their souls as well, and their spiritual responsibilities, are on a higher plane than the rest of the world.
The Perfection of Man
One time, Turnus Rufus, the Roman Governor, asked Ribbi Akibah, “Who’s product is better, the Creator’s or man’s?” Ribbi Akibah immediately sensed that it was a trap. If he would respond that man’s product is better, the governor would kill him for his foolish response. If he would respond that G-d’s product is better, than the governor would take the Jews to task for performing circumcision. Ribbi Akibah responded, “My master, please wait for me. I need two hours to go home and return.” Ribbi Akibah quickly went home and asked his wife to make a very good tasting challah, thoroughly sifted from bran, with a little oil, sesame, and cumin. His wife made a challah even better than he asked for. He took the challah and some wheat kernels, and appeared before the governor. He said, “My master, please answer my question before I answer yours. Which is nicer, this challah, or these wheat kernels?” The governor responded, “This challah is surely nicer.” Ribbi Akibah replied, “My master. You asked me a question. You have just answered it. Man’s product is better. G-d creates wheat, and man produces bread.” Turnus Rufus replied, “If that’s the case, then why didn’t the Creator create man already circumcised?” Ribbi Akibah replied, “G-d gave us the task of circumcision in order to purify us with his commandments.”
Sefer Hachinuch explains, that the male body is specifically created by G-d in an imperfect state, in order for us to perfect the body by removing the foreskin. This impresses upon us, that just as it is in our power to perfect our bodies, it is incumbent upon us to perfect our souls by perfecting our deeds and thoughts. Through Torah study, fulfillment of misvot, and working on our character traits, we can turn ourselves into delicious tasting challah.
The Power to Atone
Our Rabbis teach us that the bris is like a sacrifice to G-d. Just as the blood of a sacrifice atones for sins, the blood of the circumcision as well atones for sins. In fact, the circumcisions has greater power to atone, because it effects the human body, whereas a sacrifice is just on one’s animal. Toldot Yitzchak states, that the reason G-d commanded to wait till the eighth day, is because of this very point. Circumcision is like a sacrifice by which the law is that an animal cannot be sacrificed until its eighth day. That also explains why it’s customary to celebrate with a meal. Just like the consumption of a sacrifice atones, eating a meal of celebration for a bris atones. In פרקי רבי אליעזר it states that Abraham circumcised himself on the tenth of Teshrei, the same date as Yom Kippur. We learn this from the words בעצם היום הזה which are written in both places. Every year on Yom Kippur, Hashem looks at the berit of Abraham, and He atones for the sins of Benei Yisrael.