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The Covenant of Avraham

G-d commanded our Patriarch Avraham to circumcise himself and his male children (and other males amongst his household), and when he fulfilled this command he became the first one to those that are circumcised i.e. first one to all those that enter in the covenant between G-d and each and every Jew.

At the circumcision of a Jewish child, the father of the child makes a blessing: “blessed are you G-d king of the universe, that has sanctified us with his mitzvos and has commanded us to enter him into the covenant of our Patriarch Avraham”. The covenant of circumcision that is taking place now, is connected and associated with that of our Patriarch Avraham. Since he is “our Patriarch Avraham” he gives as an inheritance to each and everyone of his children the inheritors the power to enter unto a covenant with G-d. An inheritance does not depend at all upon the situation and the preparation of the child to inherit, since even a baby that is one day old can inherit everything.

From this it is understood that the covenant of each Jew is “the covenant of our Patriarch Avraham”, because his power and preparation to enter in this covenant comes to him as an inheritance from our Patriarch Avraham.

But this needs further clarification:

The Rambam[1] writes with regards to this mitzvah: “we don’t circumcise ourselves because our Patriarch Avraham has circumcised himself and the members of his Household, we rather do it because G-d has commanded us through Moshe our master that we should circumcise”. It is therefore understood, that although the power for the fulfillment of the mitzvah of circumcision is inherited from our Patriarch Avraham, nevertheless then mitzvah itself (the manner in which we are obligated to fulfill it), is not a continued inheritance of “the covenant of our Patriarch Avraham”, but it is based upon and begins with the command of G-d through Moshe – so why is this mitzvah referred to as “the covenant of our Patriarch Avraham”?

Specifically in accordance with the statement by our sages of blessed memory[2] “All the mitzvos which the Patriarchs per­formed before You were ethereal, but the mitzvos that we fulfill are compared to oil”. This implies that with our fulfillment of the mitzvos there is an advantage over their performance through our Patriarchs, just like the advantage of the oil over its aroma. How is it then possible, that the mitzvah of circumcision that we fulfill, is considered “the covenant of our Patriarch Avraham”?

One also needs to understand: the language of the blessing “the covenant of our Patriarch Avraham” emphasizes the concept of our Patriarch Avraham. At first glance it seams that it is more important to emphasize that the covenant is with G-d, i.e. to “bring him in to the covenant with G-d”.

It would become understood by introducing the words of Alter Rebbe in his Shulchan Aruch:[3] that “the first stage of the entry of the holy soul is etc. with the mitzvah of circumcision”.

At first glance, this is not understood: even before a child is born, while he is still in his mother’s womb, “they teach him the entire Torah”[4], so even before he is born there exists within him the holy soul that she is the one that learns ”the entire Torah” – so how does this tie in with the quoted above that the beginning of the entry of the holy soul is during the performance of circumcision, which takes place when the baby is eight days old?

The explanation thereof: “the entry of the holy soul” means – the inner connection of the Neshomoh with the physical body, till its essential unification as one entity, when the accomplishment of the Neshomoh in the body becomes recognized and visible; however when the fetus is in the womb of its mother, although the holy soul exists within him, nevertheless not only has his neshomoh not yet “entered” and become united with his body (as mentioned above), even the effect of his neutral soul is not yet recognized and felt in his body – since he eats and drinks and receives his nourishment from what his mother eats etc.[5]

Even after he is born, when the soul has already become connected with the body; what is recognized and revealed in his body is not the accomplishment and the connection of the neshomoh (which is still within him in a state of concealment), only the neutral soul’s. The inner entry of the holy soul in the body and its revealed connection is accomplished and recognized only through the covenant of circumcision, because then ““My covenant will be an eternal bond in your flesh.”[6] – that the covenant with G-d is engraved in the flesh of the physical body, till it becomes a “covenant (that is visible also to the nations) of the world”.

This is the advantage of the mitzvah of circumcision over other mitzvos:

All mitzvos connect the person who fulfills them with G-d the commander. But unlike the mitzvah of circumcision, in all other mitzvos this connection is unrecognizable in the body of the person fulfilling the mitzvah; for instance: the hand that gives out charity, although this mitzvah definitely effected a change also in the physical existence of the hand – this is not a change that is visible and recognizable in the physical flesh of the hand. Furthermore – the entire concept of this mitzvah (circumcision) is that the change through the covenant with G-d should be recognizable in the flesh of the body – to the eyes of a human being, and also to gentiles (as mentioned above).

In this point, the advantage of the covenant of circumcision is greater than the covenant that G-d made with the Jews on Mount Sinai (and similar covenants): the covenant that G-d made with Jews in Sinai and in the Plains of Moav, was also with those that were not present there in their body, merely in their Neshomoh, as it says[7]: “with whoever is here today etc. and whoever is not with us here today”, and it is explained in Pirkei Drabi Eliezer[8] that the making of this covenant was also with the past generations and also with the future generations, i.e. that the making of this covenant was with the Neshomos which were all present at that event (of Mount Sinai).

Furthermore: those that were present there in their physical bodies, they also entered the covenant only through Hearing the words of the covenant from Moshe; that although the sound is heard by the ear, one of man’s physical limbs, nevertheless the ear is merely a medium through which the Neshomoh hears (with her spiritual power of hearing), and accepts (upon herself) the things that she heard. It is evident from this, that the covenant made in the Plains of Moav (and those similar to it) was mainly with the Neshomos of the Jews; however the covenant of circumcision, that her concept is to be “my covenant in your flesh for an eternal covenant”, that (also) the flesh of the physical body should be connected in an eternal covenant with G-d (as mentioned above). Through this a dwelling is made for G-d in the lower worlds[9].

This is the entire concept of the Mitzvah of circumcision: when the child is eight days old, while he is still negated from the entire concept of knowledge and understanding, and due to the revelation of the neshomoh and his spiritual powers he is not able to enter into a covenant with G-d; nevertheless the Torah obligates him to become circumcised in this age – because the entire concept of the covenant of circumcision is that the flesh of his physical body should be connected in a covenant with G-d (as mentioned above), and this is possible even (and even the more so) by a child who is merely eight days old.

Accordingly it can be explained also the language of the blessing: “to enter him into the covenant of our Patriarch Avraham”:

Reb Menachem Mendel Horodoker[10] explains the tremendous trial of our Patriarch Avraham by the akeidah, that although many Jews (even simple people) throughout the ages withstood the trial of mesiruth nefesh (even in similar cases to the akeidah) even without hearing an explicit command to do it from G-d himself – nevertheless the trial of our Patriarch Avraham is tremendously great – and the reason is, because our Patriarch Avraham was the first one who withstood this trial and to be the “first one” is pretty difficult. But once the “first one” paved the way – then it becomes easier for those who fallow him, because they are following his ways.

But this only applies to a concept that depends upon a person’s understanding and feeling and upon his service of G-d, that in order he should be able to overcome with his own powers the hardships and preventions in this concept – when he knows and when he feels that the “first one” already preceded him with this (especially when this “first one” is his father) and paved the way “for him and for all the Jews” it helps him in his own service of G-d. But when the case is something that is not connected with his knowledge and his activity, just an activity that is done in his body without any preparation by him – especially by a child who does not have any control and influence over his spiritual powers – then the fact that this deed was already performed in the past does not help him in any manor; so in this regard there is no difference between him and the “first one” – in this activity he is the “first one”, because he does not receive any help from the one who proceeded him.

This applies also to an adult (and a convert) who is fulfilling the mitzvah of circumcision – although he already possesses knowledge and feeling etc. – since the whole idea of the Mitzvah of circumcision is to enter the physical flesh (through a physical activity) in a covenant with G-d (as explained above at great length); it is understood that the help that comes through the spiritual powers and accomplishes with and through them, does not accomplish anything in the activity of the covenant itself (i.e. that the power that comes from the first one (even the one that comes as an inheritance) has a connection only to the spiritual preparation to enter the covenant of circumcision, but not to accomplishing and engraving the covenant in the physical body). As a result, each and every person who fulfills the mitzvah of the covenant of circumcision, whether he is a child or an adult, he is on the same level as the first one in this regard.

With this it would become understood why we say “to enter him into the covenant of our Patriarch Avraham”: because the concept and advantage of our Patriarch Avraham is that he was the first one (as mentioned above); and since every Jew that fulfills this mitzvah is also on the level of the “first one”, so he his actually entering “the covenant of our Patriarch Avraham”.

Accordingly we can explain an additional concept that demands explanation: why is the concept of a covenant of circumcision connected with a thing that causes “pain for the child”? Specifically – since happiness and joy is basic in the service of G-d – as it says[11] “serve G-d with joy”, so why were we commanded by G-d to do this Great Mitzvah in a manner of pain – the opposite of the concept of happiness and joy?

Although this that the activity of circumcision causes pain is because this is the nature of the body in all similar activities (incisions) – but since all concepts of the world are precisely and exactly the way these things are above in their source (since “they have evolved from them”[12]) and even the more so in a concept of a Mitzvah – it is evident that the concept of pain in the covenant of circumcision is with a specific intent and purpose.

Especially according to the opinion of Acharonim that the mitzvah of circumcision must be through pain (and therefore one can’t put the circumcised through either complete or partial anesthesia, in order that he should not feel the pain) – definitely the pain is a basic concept in the mitzvah of circumcision.

The explanation thereof:

The concept of the mitzvah of circumcision is to draw down G-dlines also in the physical flesh in the body, through which it becomes “a dwelling in the lower worlds” for G-d, i.e. that even in the lowest level, while it still retains its low status – one makes a dwelling for G-d, and therefore it has to be in the flesh the way it remains in its natural state; defined in all its properties – that also in such a flesh that feels pain in a thing (mitzvah) in which it should have an opposite effect (joy and happiness), even in such a low level one accomplishes that it should be connected in an eternal covenant with G-d.

The directive from this:

The Alter Rebbe writes in his Shulchan Aruch[13]: “a person has absolutely no permission over his body whatsoever etc. to cause it any kind of pain”, it is simply evident from here that a person is not allowed to look for an occupation in a manner that would cause him pain. Nevertheless when the issue at hand is a concept of a mission to make for G-d a dwelling in the lower worlds, then, on the contrary, he is not allowed to refrain from this due to the pain that is connected with this, and perhaps only in this manner is he fulfilling his job and mission.

From this it is understood that one upon who it was placed a job off such a “mission” can’t rely on his own opinion whether to accept this mission or not, because a person is close to himself[14] and it is possible that he should tilt and taint his mind as long as he can walk away from the mission due to the pain it might cause him, although one may say that he has to notify the sender that according to his opinion (of the Shliach) he would have pain etc. but the decision itself has to be from the one who sends out the emissaries (who definitely has no ax to grind, G-d forbid).

And to the contrary, when he would devote himself to his job with all of his powers, in addition to the power of the sender, definitely he would succeed and fulfill his mission the way it needs to be done – and without pain and troubles, just with joy and happiness and a good heart – and he would make a dwelling for G-d in the lower worlds.

[1] Commentary on the Mishnah Chulin end of chapter 7.

[2] Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:3.

[3] Orach Chayim Mahadurah Tinyanah, 4:2.

[4] Nidah 30b.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Bereishis 17:13.

[7] Dvorim 29: 14.

[8] Chapter 41.

[9] Tanchumo Noso. C.f. Tanya chapter 36.

[10] Pri Hoaretz Parshath Vayeira.

[11] Psalms 100, 2.

[12] Cf. Tanya chapter 3.

[13] Laws of damages of body and soul.

[14] Sanhedrin 9b.