I had the honor and pleasure last week of attending the bris of a baby boy. I've written before about b'rit milah and how the ritual has a timeless quality. Witnessing it, one feels connected to all the generations reaching back into the Jewish past and forward into the future, all joined by an ancient covenant.
This bris felt every bit as magical. Both mother and father seemed deeply and sincerely overjoyed to make their son a part of eternity through this ritual.
Looking over the table that the mohel set up for the bris, I saw a strange mixture of the modern and the ancient—surgical instruments and a tallit bag, anesthesia and a kiddush cup. Even after thousands of years, a bris still juxtaposes our fear of blood and pain with our reverence for the sacred and eternal. We confront our fears and our awe all at the same time.
There is a fitting connection to ritual circumcision in this week's Torah portion (Ekev). Moses stirs the Israelites with these words:
See, the heavens and the heaven's heavens belong to Adonai your God, the earth and everything on it. Yet Adonai fell in love with your ancestors and God chose you, their descendants, from all peoples, just as today. So, cut away the foreskin of your hearts and stiffen your necks no more. (Deuteronomy 10:14-16)
The reference to cutting the "foreskin of your hearts" is dramatic, maybe even wince inducing. It is an uncomfortable metaphor for us, and it is meant to be so. We should feel uncomfortable about our reluctance to appreciate the gifts we have received.
With beautiful words, the Torah reminds us that we live in a universe that is wondrous beyond our ken. (What on earth are "the heaven's heavens"? It can only mean something that is a mystery to our feeble understanding.) Yet, despite our seeming insignificance in this vast reality, we have been given gifts of immeasurable love—life and earth, thoughts and feelings. We should live in perpetual gratitude. So, why do we forget so easily? Why do we dull our minds to the miracles around us and within us?
Moses pleads with us to remember. He extols us to cut away the barrier that stifles our awareness. And that, I think, is also the meaning of the bris. We are meant to be reminded, uncomfortable as it may be, of the fact that we are made of vulnerable flesh and blood ... but we are so much more. We are feeble creatures that, yet, can be joined in covenant with God. We are temporary and transient, yet we can be in dialogue with eternity.
Other Posts on This Topic:
Ekev: Deuteronomy vs. Job