Unlocking The Mystery of Circumcision
Today, both Jews and Muslims practice circumcision and see it as a confirmation of their faith in God. Even more so, Jews see circumcision as a sign of an everlasting covenant with God.
In this week’s Torah portion Vayera (Genesis 18:1–22:24), “Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him” (Genesis 21:4).
Circumcision is so essential to the Jewish faith; Jews risked their lives to practice it. When the Greeks, who opposed circumcision, occupied Israel, they outlawed the practice under the penalty of death. This decree was a factor in the Maccabees’ military rebellion to restore religious freedom that culminated with the Chanukah miracle.
Throughout the Jewish Bible, circumcision is a sign of unwavering loyalty to God. The entire Jewish nation was circumcised (Exodus 48-49) in preparation for the Exodus from Egypt, and again before entering the Land of Israel (Joshua 5:3).
Considering circumcision’s fundamental importance, it is mysteriously shocking that Christianity discarded it, especially since the first Jewish Christians practiced circumcision. However, as gentiles and the Roman Empire adopted Christianity, a new religion developed that denigrated circumcision.
This gentile influence also saw the acceptance of pagan beliefs like the trinity and the bodily incarnation of God. No wonder the first Jewish Christians, known as Ebionites, were excommunicated from the church when they refused to accept these pagan practices and abolish the commandments.
Circumcision and its spiritual message are as relevant today as it was in biblical times.
God wants the Jewish people to be a partner in completing the creation of the world. We do this by refining and fixing it according to God’s will, wisdom, and instruction. God left man uncircumcised, so he could partner with God and bring the body to its most refined and initially intended form.
Our mission is to elevate the material world and reveal its intrinsic spirituality. Therefore, circumcision demonstrates our control over our sexual passions, so we value spiritual delight over mere physical pleasure.
I believe these lessons are the meaning of the biblical concept of “circumcision of the heart” (Deuteronomy 10:16). With God’s help, we transform our hearts to desire spiritual pursuits and to observe the commandments with sincerity and purity.
Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz