This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Lech-Lecha (5765)
This week we read about how Abraham founded the Jewish people and received the commandment of circumcision.
At first glance it is not so clear what is going on here; The Bible is supposed to be a spiritual, religious book, why is it concerned with these mundane things?
Abraham didn't do any miracles, make mystical statements, talk about entering heaven or even leave inspirational messages of world conquest like the founders of other religions...hardly a Biblical character.
Similarly the Jewish people are the smallest of nations, committed all sorts of sins (Golden Calf etc), are hated by almost everyone, and can't themselves even get clear who exactly they are.. who cares how they were founded?
And finally, the covenant of circumcision (Brit Mila); although it is something that even unaffiliated Jews mysteriously still do, is certainly not unique to the Jews and is, after all, a pretty primitive and painful ritual.. hardly worth being a biblical covenant!
Here is a story I heard recently from Rabbi Hertzel Borochov of Rechovot that might help us understand.
Rabbi Borochov runs an 'Igrot Kodesh' center. This means that people come to him with problems they would have asked the Lubavitcher Rebbe and he finds the answers in one of the twenty five volumes of 'Holy letters' (Igrot Kodesh) that the Rebbe wrote to people (the Rebbe received (and answered) more mail than any man in the world, including the president of the USA).
Rabbi Borochov also has a custom of occasionally visiting storeowners near his place of work to encourage their observance of Torah whether it is with putting on Tefillin or just having someone to talk to.
About six years ago he visited an auto repair 'body shop' run by a one Mr. Tzion K'doshim and his wife. [Interestingly, she did all the heavy work; hammering and welding, while he did the fine painting and delicate final touches].
Mr. K'doshim put on Tefillin and was glad to see that someone cared, but when the Rabbi asked if he had any children and how they were, Mr. K'doshim and his wife sadly looked at one another, their eyes filled with tears and she finally mumbled something about 'not so good'.
It took a bit of coaxing but the Rabbi finally got them to talk. Their fifteen year old son had problems; since he was five years old he had not grown an inch.
At first the doctors thought that perhaps he was just a late developer but the years passed and nothing happened. So the doctors took more tests and prescribed various treatments and hormones but the boy remained four feet tall. Soon he would be sixteen and it was driving them all crazy. He was becoming introverted and depressed. He had no friends, no self confidence, no hope for the future and no reason to live.
Rabbi Borochov asked them to write a detailed letter to the Rebbe about their problem and promised to do what he could.
That evening when he arrived home the first thing he did was go the bookcase, randomly pick one of the 25 volumes, pray to G-d for success, and insert the letter between two of the pages.
Then he opened it to that place and read what was written. It was a detailed explanation of different aspects of the commandment of ...circumcision!
Absolutely nothing to do with his problem! Maybe he should try again.
But then he caught himself. If this is where the book opened then maybe this is the answer! After all, we are supposed to believe that there are no accidents and to try to see the good in everything. So the next day he returned to the body shop and gave them the news.
The Kedoshims were happy to see him but when he told them the answer he received their faces went blank. Circumcision? What has that got to do with being short? How could circumcision help? It's ridiculous!! Not only that, but the boy had already been circumcised!
"By a proper Mohel?" the Rabbi asked, grasping for straws. (The one cutting the foreskin must be a properly certified expert called a 'Mohel').
Suddenly Mrs. K'doshim began to stammer. "Well, sort of. that is. it certainly. . err. what difference does it. ."
Her husband interrupted, "It's no big deal. What difference does it make!"
Then he turned to the Rabbi and continued. "When he was born our friends convinced us that it was primitive and crude to have a rabbi do it. And they're right! So we had the doctor at the hospital make the circumcision under anesthetic. But what does that have to do with his height?! Excuse me Rabbi . thanks for the help but I think maybe we should forget it."
But Rabbi Borochov stood firm. "After all", he explained to them, "it probably wouldn't require any more than a pin-sized cut to make one drop of blood . and maybe it might help. It has to be done anyway according to the Torah. It won't cost money. A lot of older people are doing it etc. etc."
After a half hour they finally agreed. The Rabbi even set up an appointment with Rabbi Yaron Amit who runs 'Brit Yosef Yitzchak Center' in Jerusalem; a large, modern medical facility dedicated to circumcising older people (originally established for the thousands of Russian Jews who want to return to Judaism.)
They only lacked one detail; their son. When he heard the idea he looked at them with wide eyes and announced that, in his opinion, they all were insane.
What possible connection could there be between his height and this?! Not only that, he wasn't religious, he didn't care what the Lubavitcher Rebbe said, especially in some randomly opened book, he certainly had no desire to have another 'brit', he had suffered enough already and he wanted them to leave him alone!!
But a few months later he suddenly changed his mind and agreed. And although when they visited Rabbi Amit he examined him and decided that it would be necessary to perform almost a complete circumcision anew, nevertheless the boy agreed to do it and the date for the circumcision was set.
Meanwhile Rabbi Borochov became so involved in other things that he completely forgot the entire incident.
It was four years later that he happened to be walking in a shopping center and heard someone call his name.
"Rabbi Borochov! Helloo there!!" He turned around and there was Mr.
"Rabbi, don't you remember me? You were at my garage several years ago, you convinced me to buy Tefillin. Do you remember now? My wife does the welding? Remember?" he said as he pumped the Rabbi's hand. "How are you?
Good to see you Rabbi!"
"Of course! Hello! Kedoshim, right?" Rabbi Borochov answered. "How are you?
How is your wife? Hey! Tell me . what is with your son? Did he make the Brit Mila?"
"Ahhh! Of course!!" Mr. Kedoshim lifted his open hands to heaven and exclaimed. "Ah! Thank G-d! Oy! Right! It was you!! Rabbi, you won't believe it. He made the Brit and . well a few months later he started to grow. Now he's is huge! Taller than you, Rabbi! He is in the engineering corps in the army.. a real fighter! He's religious now also. You should see him. Sorry we didn't call you but we simply forgot."
Rabbi Borochov told me that just a week ago he went to their son's graduation party and what they said was true, the 'boy' was fifty pounds heavier and a full head higher than he.
The uniqueness of the Jewish people is not that they are more spiritual or powerful than the other nations and religions. (The Torah even calls us the smallest of nations).
Rather, the uniqueness of the Jews is that they are eternal: they are the representatives of the Infinite Creator in this finite CREATION.
That is how the Torah, the Jewish people and the Commandments have withstood the trials and tribulations of persecutions, expulsions and perfidies for almost 4,000 years; since the first Jew. Because they too are eternal.
This was all begun by Abraham. He was the first human being to risk his life for the sake of advertising that the world is one with the Creator, and that the Creator has a plan, a Torah, for His creation.
And G-d repaid him by promising that this trait of self-sacrifice would be inherent in, first, the souls of his offspring (through Yitzchak) and then, with the 'Brit Mila', in their PHYICAL BODIES (i.e. in the WORLD) as well.
That is the Jewish people.
That is what happened in our story. The Brit Mila actually affected the boy's physical body and made it grow!
And it will happen in a big way in the coming of Moshiach.
Then, and only then, will we see the fulfillment of all G-d's promises to Abraham; the Jews will be the 'Fathers of all Mankind' (see Rashi 17:5). G-d will circumcise our hearts (Deut. 30:1) and, like the boy in our story, it will affect the world PHYSICALLY.
As Maimonides writes in the end of his 'Yad HaChazaka', "At that time there will be no hunger or war, no jealousy or strife. The world will only want to know G-d, therefore the Jews . will be filled with the wisdom of G-d."
And the Lubavitcher Rebbe's showed the way. From the writings of Chassidut we can learn how we can 'circumcise our hearts" (Deut. 10:16) and do everything possible to fulfill the goal of the Jewish people; To bring....
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