Let me start by dispelling one of the most pervasive misconceptions in Judaism: the miniscule amount of wine we give the kid at his bris is given for ritual reasons and not as an analgesic. The reason he stopped crying so quickly is not because he is shikker but because a properly performed bris is minimally intrusive. More often than not the child settles down immediately post-bris. The pain is fleeting but the positive effects last a lifetime. 

Only question is why cause pain at all? Judaism is characterised by the joy of torah and pleasure in mitzvos. We enjoy connecting with our G‑d, and thrill to help each other. Ours is a religion of happiness, not anguish, and it seems peculiar that we are welcomed into the covenant amidst pain. Could Hashem not have invented a less distressing initiation ritual?

You mean you mean it?

To many people religion operates best in the abstract, a time away from time where they suspend logic for the moment and accept the archaic premises of the past. They wander into a Synagogue, conform to the dress code for a while, and are drip-fed an irrelevant sermon. They might even vaguely enjoy their occasional interlude of nostalgia, but leave convinced that Judaism has no practical bearing on their ‘real’ life.

Sort of like the story of the typical Jewish father who was devastated to learn about his son’s new lifestyle choice. Unlike the boy’s contemporaries who had settled down to high-paying professional lives, his heir was spending long hours studying and praying in the local Synagogue.

The Father made an appointment with the Rabbi and tried to explain his disquiet with the amount of time his son was wasting on purposeless pursuits.

The Rabbi didn’t agree. “He’s conduct isn’t so very strange, you’ve got to remember that I also pray three times a day”.

“Achh, how can you compare, for you it’s business, ober dem na’ar meint dos mit an emes!” (that fool really means it!).

It may hurt, but it’s worth it

And it is just this attitude that we must attempt to dispel. Judaism is relevant. Mitzvos are a practical way for people to transform their lives. Learning Torah makes me a better person. When we do something for G‑d we should feel the positive vibes enriching every fibre of our being. Marx was wrong; religion is not an opiate of the masses, but a life-long struggle to change ourselves and change the world.

Nothing worthwhile comes easy. Only by overcoming the slings and hurdles of life do we prove ourselves worthy of personal salvation.

Bris let’s us know that we’re playing in the big leagues. It may hurt for a bit but the results leave an indelible imprint on our body and soul. Our connection to Hashem is not just in the abstract but is branded into our flesh. Even at times of pain and sorrow, whatever He requests, whenever He commands, no matter the aches and difficulties, we will follow Him.