Monday, April 16, 2007

Tazria/Metzora 5631 First Ma'amar

“וביום השמיני ימול בשר ערלתו/On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin will be circumcised.” This week’s parsha begins with a description of the mitzvos incumbent on a woman who has just given birth, how long she remains in an impure spiritual state and the sacrifices she must bring. Why is the mitzvah of circumcision inserted here? It seems to be out of context especially in light of the fact that this mitzvah is already described in detail when God commands Avraham Avinu to perform it.

The Torah is teaching us that we are born to perform a mission. We can learn the nature of this mission from the mitzvah of circumcision. First we will discuss the mission itself. Then we will see how it relates to circumcision.

The first Midrash of this week’s parshah explains the pasuk in Tehillim, “אחור וקדם צרתני .../From behind and from in front you have bound me…” Chazal explain that this pasuk alludes to this world and the next. “אחור וקדם/behind and in front” can also be translated as “last and first.” “אחור/Last” refers to this world which was created last and “קדם/first” refers to the next world which was created first. If a person merits it he inherits two worlds, this one and the next one. The meritorious person is bound, so to speak, to this world and the next one.

Inheriting the next world is certainly a tremendous thing. It is the reason we exist. However, why is it a praise and reward to inherit this world? This world is merely transitory, the place where we prepare for the next world. The word the Midrash uses for inherit is nochel rather than the more common term yoresh. The word nochel has the same root as the Hebrew word for a stream - נחל. A stream connects two places. It transfers water and other items from one place to another. This Midrash is teaching us that we need to connect the next world and this world. How do we do this?

Chazal tell us that every Jew has a portion in the next world. They did not say that we will have a portion in the next world. They said that we have a portion now in the next world. The Sfas Emes explains that even in this world every one of our physical actions has an inner spiritual light hidden within it. This spiritual light is actually our portion of the next world in this world. When we perform a mitzvah, a kindness for someone, learn Torah, say a brachah with conscious intent or do any one of the myriad actions in the course of our daily lives with the intent to bring ourselves closer to God, we are drawing out the inner spiritual light that is hidden in the action. We are drawing down the stream, so to speak, from the next world into this world. In this way, we connect the next world to this one.

The purpose of the creation is for us to correct the physical world by revealing that inner hidden spiritual light. The Zohar explains that this same pasuk in Tehillim alludes to the creation of man. The word, “צרתני/you have bound me” can also be translated as, “you have formed me.” The Zohar explains that man was the last creation but he was the first in God’s thought, as it were, the ultimate raison d’être of the entire creation. Man was created last because he completes the entire creation. And because man’s purpose is to reveal the spiritual in the physical world, God hid Himself when He created man.

Circumcision represents the removal of the physical barriers and the revelation of Godliness. We make this happen through our actions. The Maharal explains that the number seven represents the physical. Creation took seven days. The number eight represents the supernatural. When we, through our actions, connect to the next world which is beyond nature and reveal it in this world, the physical barriers dissolve allowing the spiritual to shine through. For this reason, circumcision must be done on the eighth day.

We find this concept in a pasuk from Yechezkal referring to the third temple, “... שער החצר הפנימית הפֹנה קדים יהיה סגור ששת ימי המעשה וביום השבת יפתח וביום החֹדש יפתח/… The inner courtyard gate that faces east will be closed during the six workdays but on Shabbos it will be opened and on Rosh Chodesh it will be opened.” The gates of the temple opening and closing connote spiritual gates opening and closing. On Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh there is a spiritual revelation that we don’t find naturally during the week. In fact, a state of spiritual revelation is a definition of Shabbos. If we allow our Shabbos experience to affect the weekdays that follow, we draw the Shabbos into the week. In a sense, it is possible to experience an aspect of Shabbos during the week as well. This is the same as saying that through our actions we can draw the next world into this one.

The Midrash tells us that the reason we cannot perform circumcision before the eighth day is to assure that every baby lives through at least one Shabbos before he is circumcised. The Midrash’s message is that experiencing Shabbos, the state of spiritual revelation, enables us to remove the barriers which hide our inner Godliness.

Getting back to the beginning of our parsha, a child is born into this world with a mission. The details of each person’s mission may differ, but the general concept is the same. We are here to reveal the spiritual that hides within the physical. We do this by connecting to the spiritual through our actions. This is hinted at the beginning of this week’s parsha with the birth of a child and the mitzvah of circumcision which must be performed on the eighth day.

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