Grade 7/Gesher – Brit Milah: Partnering the God in the Process of Creation
Posted on November 12, 2015
Dr./MoheletJennifer Novick was our honored guest speaker in the Gesher class on Tuesday. Jen led a fascinating discussion of Brit Milah for our students as part of our Jewish Life Cycle study. Some of the content of our discussion follows. For more information, ask a Gesher student!
The session began with a discussion of “brit” or covenant. What is a covenant? The Brit Milah is an agreement between God and the Jewish people. In Genesis, chapter 17, God promises to be our god and to give us the Land of Israel. In exchange, Avraham promises, on behalf of all Jews, to let God be our god and to circumcise our sons as a sign of our agreement.
One student asked, why do we have to circumcise our sons to demonstrate our agreement? Why not simply sign a contract? The circumcision is a permanent marking of the body that cannot be undone. In fact, the mitzvah to circumcise one’s sons is a hok, a type of law with no rationale. We must do it because God said so.
The mitzvah of Brit Milah is specifically for fathers and if the father cannot circumcise his own son he must find somebody, a mohel (male) or mohelet (female), who can do it for him.
According to the Yorei Deah, giving one’s son a Brit Milah is the most important commandment to follow and represents an outward sign of one’s commitment as we dedicate the next generation to this covenant.
A student asked, is Brit Milah contradictory to Torah values since we’re not supposed to mar the body? (It is forbidden to cut oneself or tattoo for ritual or aesthetic reasons.) None the less, we are required to circumcise. Some commentators suggest that circumcision offers humans the opportunity to partner with God in the process of Creation. Similarly, the brachafor bread is ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz (who brings forth bread from the earth). Human beings must harvest wheat, mill the wheat into flour, and make bread from the flour in order to have bread with which to make this blessing. God gives us this opportunity to partner with God in order to achieve holiness and to perceive God’s presence.
We learned that theBrit Milah service has four parts: (1) Everybody and the baby and the baby are welcomed. It is a special honor to bring the baby into the room in which the Brit Milah will take place and an even greater honor to hold the baby during the circumcision. (2) The circumcision (3) naming the baby and (4) the seudat mitzvah or festive meal (all Jewish milestone events are punctuated by a communal meal).
And we learned that the foreskin is not discarded. It is buried.
Jen brought a beautiful drape used to cover Elijah’s chair and some of the tools used in the brit milah. Students were fascinated!
Our session with Jen was extraordinary! We were engaged, informed and brought closer to this significant ritual. During the presentation, she suggested that like rabbis and cantors, mohelim are klei kodesh, holy vessels, who bring holiness into the lives of others. This was certainly our experience. Toddah Rabbah, Thank you!