Why does God want us to Circumcise and Why THERE?

Bris Milah:  What it’s NOT…

One of the central concepts of a Bris Milah Ceremony is the idea that we are NOT doing a medical circumcision.

Rather we are imprinting the pure child with an everlasting sign representing the bond or pact with God. 

In Hebrew, the term for this concept is אות ברית קודש.

Understanding God’s Curious Choice of Placement

The question arises, why is this sign (the mark of circumcision) placed on upon the male reproductive organ?

To clarify, we are NOT explaining the REASON we do circumcision.

The mind of God is too complex and we can never fully understand God’s choices.

As Jews, the reason we circumcise our children by removing the foreskin on the 8th day of life is because God commanded us to do so.


Taste of the Mitzvah

The question of this article is to address what the Rabbis call טעם המצוה, the Taste of the Mitzvah.  That is to say, “if we were privy to a glimpse into the mind of God, what is one of the benefits for which he created the commandment of Bris Milah (circumcision)?”

Inherent within the question lies the question of why did God deem the male reproductive organ as the best to place this mark representing our bond with Him?

  • Why not have the mark be to expand the earlobes like some African tribes do?
  • Why not have the mark be a tattoo above our heart proclaiming our devotion to God?
  • Why not have the mark be anything else?  Why specifically the mark of circumcision?

Emulating Holiness

To understand this, we must delve into two concepts.

  • First is a verse קדושים תהיו כי קדוש אני, which means “You should make yourselves Holy because I am Holy”.  In this verse we are commanded to try to emulate the Holy ways of God.
  • Secondly, God is a creator.  He created all of existence, including all forms of life.

We too were created with the ability to create life.  A man and woman can join together through a Holy union to create a new life.

The Challenge

However, due to the pleasure involved, it is easy for a man to get distracted from the purpose of the male member’s creative power. 

Temptation may draw a man to spill his seed in an unproductive manner or to join with a woman outside of the Holy bond of marriage for the sake of chasing pleasure.

A Powerful Reminder

We therefore place the mark of circumcision, a powerful reminder of our pact with God, upon the male member, the primary tool used in the process of creating a new life.

This mark reminds us at the moment temptation strikes that we are a nation of God with a Holy mission of קדושים תהיו.

We are charged with a mission to live Holy lives in the pursuit of resembling God. 

A primary form of holiness is to reserve the use of our member for its creative power to bring new life into this world. 

Of course, we may also enjoy the pleasure of physical intimacy and union.  We must simply reserve that pleasure to share with our spouse within the bond of marriage.

That is a Taste of understanding God’s choice of location for the holy sign of circumcision, the אות ברית קודש.

A Torah True Source

As with all truth, it can always be sourced to the Torah.

Jewish Sages throughout the generations know how to decipher the true meaning behind the text.

Of course, I am not the first student of the Talmud to discover some of the beauty and symbolism behind the traditions of Bris Milah.

In such, I decided to research other Biblical commentators who have sought to explain the phenomenon of why we circumcise the male organ.  This is the only sign we inscribe into the human body.

The Radak on this Topic

In my research, I came upon the Radak, Rabbi Dovid Kimhi, a famous 11th century scholar and generational leader who wrote about this same topic over 800 years ago.

In his commentary on the book of Genesis where the commandment to circumcise was first introduced, the Radak explains as follows.

“לאות ברית, as a mark of the covenant; although there are other symbolic acts which are signs of the covenant and the obligation to keep the laws of the Torah, such as the phylacteries, the fringes, the Sabbath, etc., this symbol is by far the most potent one, the only one to be performed on one’s body.
The other “signs” are only a reminder. This is the only such “sign” to be performed on one’s body. Seeing that this is so, The Torah chose to select the reproductive organ of the male, seeing that most of the sins one commits are somehow related to this organ and involve misuse of that organ.
It is the organ, which, unless handled with care, is apt to allow the bestial party of the human being to come to the surface, thereby weakening the aspect of our nature which wishes to cling to godliness.
When looking at that part of one’s body one reminds oneself automatically that G’d has forbidden Jews to engage in recreational sexual activities, in mating with partners which the Torah has forbidden in the interest of purity, etc.
Sexual emissions are to be used only for the purpose of impregnating one’s wife or when prescribed for medical reason by a physician.”

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