The covenant of Abraham

Moses comes down the mountain to an incredulous reception; “Let’s get this straight, the Arabs get all the oil and we’ve got to cut the end off WHAT?”

Is the above anecdote inaccurate (as well as in bad taste)? Do we circumcise because Moshe was so commanded? Isn’t circumcision a throwback to when Avraham was commanded to make a covenant in your flesh with G‑d?

Answer: A bit of both. The father makes a blessing “Blessed are you …. Who has commanded us to enter into the Covenant of Avraham”, but nonetheless, bris, like the rest of Judaism, is binding on us today only because thus spoke Hashem to Moses at Sinai.

Avraham, the first Jew, had been following the path of Torah and mitzvoth for some 96 years before being commanded to circumcise himself. Every other observance can be observed in practice before one becomes legally responsible, e.g. a child observes the tenets of Judaism prior to Bar Mitzva. Bris however is a one-time deal and therefore Avraham held off until receiving the order.

I received my order, as did every Jewish male, direct from G‑d, at Sinai.

Why then refer to it as the Covenant of Avraham? What did he have to do with your Bris?

Well, did you judiciously choose to undergo a bris? At your bris did you have in mind all the theories, rationales and customs associated with the mitzvah? Were you convinced of the wisdom of your actions?

All other mitzvot are undertaken in a spirit of intellectual appreciation or emotional attachment. We choose to submit.

The exception is Bris: A permanent, physical, involuntary branding of our body, identifying to all our connection to Hashem and Judaism.

Avraham had no choice. G‑d appeared and instructed him to undergo the ritual. True he was the first to thus submit to Hashem’s will, but to all intents and purposes every child ever carried in and handed over to the Mohel is replaying Avraham’s role.

The spirit of self-sacrifice for G‑d, and an ability to operate in a manner superior to the dictates of logic and reason, is inculcated in us from infancy. Every child is the first, and a unique entry into the Covenant of our father Avraham.