by R' Yerachmiel Kram
"Man is Born an Untamed Donkey"
"If He desires circumcision, why doesn't the infant emerge
[from the womb] already circumcised?"
"And on the eighth day he shall circumcise the flesh of his
foreskin" (Vayikra 12:9).
The essence of the commandment of milah is the
perfection of Creation and bringing it to a state that
completes it with finality. The foreskin is considered a
defect, a flaw. We learn from the text in Bereishis
that when Avrohom Ovinu was commanded concerning the
miloh, he was told, "Walk before Me and be perfect"
(Bereishis 17:1). Rashi explains, "According to the
Midrash, this means: Walk before Me with mitzvas
miloh and in this thing you will become perfect, for so
long as you have a foreskin, you are considered blemished
An uncircumcised person is considered handicapped, a
blemished creature, and when a father initiates his son into
the covenant of Avrohom Ovinu, he is correcting and improving
the body of his son and bringing him to physical completion.
Gentiles cannot grasp the deep impact of this concept and
think that man has no business tampering with nature or
correcting it. The hatred of gentiles towards our Torah has
made circumcision a perennial subject of discussion, one
argument of which is dealt with by the Midrash.
"The wicked Turnusrufus once asked R' Akiva: `Whose deeds are
more pleasant -- those of Hashem or those of flesh-and-
blood?' He replied: `Those of mortals.' Asked Turnusrufus:
`What about heaven and earth? Can man create the likes of
"Said R' Akiva: `Don't tell me things that are beyond the
capacity of mankind, things they are incapable of. Give me an
example that they can accomplish as mortals.'
"He asked: `Why do you circumcise yourselves?'
"`I knew you would ask that. That's why I started off by
saying that man's actions are better than Hashem's.' He then
brought some wheat stalks and some pastries and said: `These
are the products of Hashem and those are manmade products.
Aren't those [cakes] better than these stalks?'
"Said Turnusrufus: `But if He desired circumcision, why
doesn't the newborn emerge from the womb already
"Said R' Akiva: `Why does his umbilical cord come attached to
his mother, requiring it to be severed? And as for your
asking why he is not born circumcised, this is because Hashem
specifically provided us with commandments in order to purify
us through them. This is why Dovid said: `The word of Hashem
is perfect,' " (Tanchuma Tazria, piska 5).
This dialogue is one of many which took place during that
period and through which the Romans attempted to explain the
motives behind the religious decrees [prohibiting
circumcision] which they passed against the Jewish remnant
still living in Eretz Yisroel after Churban Bayis
The Mitzvos Were Given to Israel in Order to Purify
If we read with the proper attention the debate between the
wicked Roman and one of the prime tanoim, we will note
that there are two parts to this discussion. At first, he
argued that Hashem's handiwork is perfect and pleasant and
there is no call for man to improve or amend them in any
This argument was forthwith dismissed by R' Akiva who easily
disproved it by laying out wheat stalks as raw material and
delicious pastries in contrast, as the manmade finished
product. This showed how much is still lacking before kernels
are transformed into edible delicacies. Creation is not
complete, in its raw, natural state, and man is called upon
to improve and modify its forces, to intervene and bring
nature to its perfected form whereby he can derive the utmost
benefit from it.
But Turnusrufus was not satisfied with that. For even if man
is permitted to intervene with nature, to cook and bake what
grows, this is only by way of license or permission. It is an
option, not an obligation, whereas circumcision is a
commandment which must be obeyed. It is not optional.
If man wishes to eat cake, he must process the wheat and
produce it; but he is at liberty to eat the kernel as is,
without the extensive preparation. The Roman was incapable of
understanding why man should be commanded to improve on
nature when he could have been born already circumcised.
In his gentile-Roman way of thinking, the commissioner
misunderstood that the mitzvos came to `assist' Hashem to
carry out His aspirations. This is what was believed in Roman
and Greek philosophical circles. This puzzled them, and he
asked, "If this is what He wishes, why can't He arrange it
He really sought to arrive at the simple conclusion that
Hashem wasn't even interested in circumcision at all and that
this commandment was really a manmade innovation.
R' Akiva set him straight and explained that the commandments
were not devised to supply the Creator with something that He
lacked beforehand, as it were. "Hashem gave the commandments
to Jewry for the sole purpose of purifying them."
A gentile is incapable of understanding this. His
misconception stems from his ancestor, the wicked Eisov, who
refused to have himself circumcised when he grew up. Yitzchok
had not circumcised him on the eighth day because of his
ruddiness, which was thought to be a medical risk and later,
Eisov refused to allow it.
This suits his name, as well. Eisov stems from
osui -- made, completed, finished. According to his
world outlook, nature has taken care of everything and there
is no room to improve on Hashem's handiwork of creation.
Yaakov, however, knows that he is only holding on to the
heel. He is at the beginning of the improvement which he is
obligated to make as his mission in life. For tikkun,
improvement and self perfection, is Yaakov's goal in this
The Obligation of Miloh Hints to the Obligation of
Let us try to understand one of the ways in which the
commandment of miloh purifies a Jew. To be sure, the
reasons for the mitzvos are esoteric secrets beyond our
grasp, but we are permitted to study them somewhat and see
what the Rishonim said about them. This, then, is what the
Sefer Hachinuch writes:
"Hashem wishes to complete His design for Creation through
the Chosen People, and He desires this perfection to be
executed by man. He did not create him perfect from the womb
to signify that just as he perfects the form of his body by
himself, so too will he be able to perfect the form of his
soul by modifying his actions" (Mitzva 2).
Man was created with a defect in his body to signify that he
is also defective in his spiritual makeup. The commandment to
repair his body comes to indicate that he must also perfect
and improve his spiritual makeup and stature.
And in this aspect, man is different from other creations
which do not need to attain any further perfection. And the
Jew, having been born physically flawed and incomplete, is
required to cut his foreskin and also to work on his
spiritual stature for as long as he has breath in his body
and has days in this world.
Regarding the Creation of Man, the Torah Does Not Say that
Hashem, `Saw That it was Good'
A man's obligation to perfect his spiritual stature is
implied already in the genesis of the world. At the end of
the account of the creation of all the creatures in this
world, the Torah notes, "Hashem saw that they were good." We
see this first with the creation of light: "And Elokim saw
the light that it was good." (4) Again, with the creation of
birds and beast, "And Elokim saw that it was good." (21) Man
is different in that his creation is not accompanied by this
The ancient Jewish philosopher R' Yosef Albo, explains in his
Sefer HoIkrim that all the creations in the world,
from the inanimate, vegetable and animal kingdoms, attain
their perfection or ultimate purpose through their very
being, for nothing is demanded of them beyond their
existence. They serve their reason for creation as is. And
this perfection expresses itself through the word "good." It
teaches that the light, the birds and the beasts reached the
pinnacle of their service, purpose and function, as was
expected of them. From the moment it came into being, a fish
satisfied its raison d'etre and satisfied its Creator.
This is why the Torah states, "And Elokim saw that it was
But with man it was different. He does not fulfill his
purpose just by being, by existing, by appearing on the stage
of this world. On the contrary, he is born wild, untamed,
full of base drives, animal desires and negative tendencies.
He must toil hard to mold his character and build a spiritual
edifice. He is far from complete at birth, at the time of his
creation. And just as he must circumcise himself to perfect
his physical state, so must he take steps to perfect himself
as a human creation in the spiritual sense.
An elephant will be the same entity when it dies as when it
was born: no more or less than an elephant. It cannot become
more. But man can rise to the very heavens, as did Moshe
Rabbenu, or forfeit his divine image and become like Yerovom
Let Us Make Man in Our Form and in Our Image
The Yismach Moshe, one of the giants of Chassidus,
elaborated and expanded on this idea. He opens with the
questions asked by Chazal, mentioned in the Midrash:
"Why does it state by the creation of man: Let us make
man in our form and in our image"? Why the plural form? Is
Hashem not One and Only in the universe? Which `partner' did
He have to consult, as it were? Why doesn't it simply state,
"Let Me make a man"?
There is a message here in man's being a partner in his own
creation, when he, together with Hashem, molds and builds his
spiritual stature. Animals are totally passive in their own
creation; they are wholly a product of the A-mighty. An
animal has no role, no intervention in its own creation.
But man must struggle and toil to create himself, to attain
any spiritual stature of worth. As Chazal said, "A man's evil
inclination renews itself each day against him, and were it
not that Hashem helped him, he would never be able to
overcome it" (Kiddushin 30). Together with Hashem, man
works to construct his edifice, his form and image. Hashem
says to him, as it were: "Let us make a man, you and Me.
Together we will form the potential man within you . . . "
For, "All is in the hands of Heaven, except for the fear of
Heaven" (Brochos 33b).
Man Must Repair the Works of Creation and Bring it to its
Just as Hashem wanted man to toil upon his image and form as
a human, so would He like him to toil in the works of
Creation to sustain and improve them. Even though the world
and all that is on it was created for a specified purpose and
defined goal, this is not sufficient to justify it or bring
it to its ultimate design. Man must intervene and toil.
The end purpose of wheat is to produce bread and baked goods,
but Hashem did not create the world so that it produced a
finished baked product. The earth brings forth only wheat and
man must process it through many steps before he can smell
the mouthwatering aroma of freshly baked bread being removed
from a hot oven.
Flax was created to supply clothing, an elementary human
need. Still, clothing does not grow on trees or stalks. Man
must take the flax through many stages before he can clothe
himself in linen garments.
Why didn't Hashem create the world in such a manner that man
could immediately obtain the finished product without
prodigious effort on his part to produce it from the raw
resources? Why couldn't He have made a world in which the
earth brings forth loaves of bread, cakes, suits and
Because He did not wish this. It is man's job to occupy
himself in the perfection and completion of the work of
Creation. Hashem wants man to take what is given to him and
complete the form of the state of nature to the state he
requires and desires. It is up to him to grow, grind and bake
the wheat into bread, to grow, beat and weave the flax into
cloth and clothing. Regarding this activity, the Torah says,
"For then [on the seventh day] He rested from all the work
which Elokim created to be done." Hashem created the
world in such a manner that man would have to complete what
was left for him to be done so that each raw material be
efficiently used for its respective end product.
Shakkai [the Name of Hashem which denotes] -- "I am He Who
Said to My World: Enough!"
R' Yehonosson Eibshitz interprets what is written in the
gemora in this vein. "Hashem said `dai - -
enough' to His world. Said R' Yehuda in the name of Rav: At
the time that Hashem created the world, it continued to
expand and accelerate until He rebuked it and forced its
growth to a standstill. This is what Reish Lokish said: Why
is it written `I am Keil Shakkai'? I am the One Who
said to My world: Dai -- Enough" (Chagigah
How can we understand that the world wished to expand and
keep on growing? If Hashem created it according to certain
preordained rules and laws, to a set nature and order, why
did it seek to expand beyond that?
Apparently, this does not mean that it was proliferating in
magnitude, from a small planet to a larger one, taking up
more space in the universe. Rather, it means that it
continued to develop in quality, what we term
"sophistication." When the world achieved the initial will of
Hashem to produce wheat as a raw product and flax as a
growing resource for potential use of man, it continued to
improve its performance by producing finished products, upon
its own initiative. This is the expansion referred to
But this was an error on the part of the earth, a self
designation that was unwarranted and not part of the original
design. Therefore, Hashem rebuked the earth and said to it:
Enough! I wish to create a world that is not perfectly
complete or completely perfect. It is up to man to fill in
the gaps, to round out the work and bring each thing from its
raw state to its manmade perfection through his human effort
and input (Tiferes Yehonosson).
It is from this episode and this command that His name
`Shakkai' is derived -- `She'omarti le'olomi
Dai -- Who said to My world: Enough!'
Hashem Revealed Himself to Avrohom With the Name `Shakkai'
When He Commanded Him Regarding Circumcision
We can now better understand why Hashem revealed Himself to
Avrohom Ovinu precisely with this name when He commanded him
regarding miloh. We read: "And Avrom was ninety-nine
years old, and Hashem appeared to Avrom and said to him: I am
Keil Shakkai; walk before Me and be perfect and I will
give My covenant between Me and between you, and I will
increase you most exceedingly" (Bereishis 17:1-2). Why
did Hashem reveal Himself to Avrom precisely at this time
with this particular Name?
There is a direct correlation between the idea behind the
commandment of circumcision and what this particular name of
Hashem represents. When Hashem commanded Avrom regarding
miloh, the question, which was to repeat itself
throughout history, first presented itself: "If He desires
circumcision, why does He not produce a circumcised male
infant in the womb?" The Measure of Justice presented the
question that Turnusrufus was later to repeat, a poignant
question that pierces the very crux of our faith in Divine
This is why Hashem chose to appear with this particular name:
"I am Keil Shakkai." I said `Stop! Suffice it!' to My
world when it continued to expand and improve itself to reach
the perfect state of completion. This is because it is My
will that man bring Creation to its optimum state through the
execution of My will via the commandments.
This is precisely the reply to the question that is posed by
the commandment of miloh. To begin with, man was
created with a flaw, a foreskin, which he is commanded to
remove, himself, in order to perfect the design of his own
physicality. Hashem wants man to do this of his own accord,
his own free will, in the same manner as He expects man to
take wheat and transform it into the finished product of
When Hashem reminds Avrom, "It is I Who said to My world:
Suffice!" He is obviating the question of, "If He desires
circumcision, why didn't He take care of it Himself?" The
mention of the concept behind this particular name of Hashem
is the very rebuttal to those who argue against the Divine
origin of the commandment of miloh.
His Divine Wisdom Decreed to Let Man Perfect His Own
Man was created flawed and defective in order that he perfect
himself and repair his own physical form. This principle was
well expressed in the work of the Ramchal, Daas
"Hashem could undoubtedly have created man and all of
Creation with perfect completeness. This should logically
have been so for He, Himself, is perfect in every way and all
of His deeds should ostensibly be perfect and complete in
every way. But when His Divine wisdom decreed that man be
given the opportunity to perfect and complete his own design,
He created mankind lacking this perfection. It is as if He
actually arrested His measure of perfection, His measure of
great goodness, precisely at the point where man must
complete this final stamp and carry out the Divine design
according to the end which was conceived and desired in His
unfathomable thought" (Chapter 26).
In other words, to begin with, "His Divine wisdom decreed to
leave it up to man to complete and perfect his own self" and
to mold his own form. This is because Hashem wanted man to
toil and exert himself so that he could justifiably claim his
It is shameful for the soul to enjoy that reward reserved for
the righteous without its having exerted itself to rightfully
deserve it. The soul does not want `shameful bread,' a
handout. Therefore, man was created in such a way that he
would feel that he was claiming his reward with justification
and not as an outright, undeserved gift.
The commandment of miloh is the first in the life of
man, the first opportunity to repair a flaw. It is like a
signpost that announces to man: All of your days must be
spent in toiling to continually improve and repair, more and
This is why we bless the newborn immediately after he has
entered the covenant of Avrohom Ovinu: "Just as he entered
the bris, so shall he continue on to Torah,
chuppah and good deeds."
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