The Torah tells us that Avraham and Sarah had gone childless most of their lives. In fact, it hadn’t been until Avraham was one hundred years old, and Sarah was ninety years old, that Yitzchak, the true spiritual heir to the first Forefather, had been born.
This, Chazal tell us, was because Yitzchak had to be born spiritually pure. Avraham had to first bring himself up to the spiritual and intellectual level that would elevate him into a whole new realm, one above nature:He [God] took him [Avraham] outside ... (Bereishis 15:5)However, that had been only to give birth to Yishmael, through his concubine Hagar. Even thirteen years later after this prophecy, Sarah had yet to bear a child for Avraham. The process of Avraham’s development to bring a Yitzchak into creation had not yet reached completion.
Avraham said to God, “Master of the Universe, ‘One born in my house will be my heir!’ (Ibid 3).”
He answered him, “This one will not be your heir, but he that shall come from your own innards.”
Again he said, “Master of the Universe, I have searched my constellation and have found that I am incapable of having a son!”
God answered him, “Leave your astrological speculations, because Israel is not governed by mazel!” (Shabbos 156a)When Avraham was ninety-nine years old, God appear to Avram and said to him, “I am an Almighty God; walk before Me and be pure ...” (Bereishis 17:1)This had been the introduction to Bris Milah. The purity, and the perfection referred to in the above possuk would be the result of Bris Milah. On such a level of spiritual perfection, Avraham could finally make the eternal covenant with God for which creation had waited over two thousand, and father Yitzchak as a result.
This idea is alluded to in the Torah itself at the birth of Yitzchak:Sarah said ... “Who would say (millel) to Avraham that Sarah would nurse children ...?” (Bereishis 21:7)Millel (mem, lamed,lamed), which means “say” has the same root as the word milah (mem, yud,lamed, heh). To indicate how Avraham had become the embodiment of this spiritual and physical perfection, Avraham’s name was changed by God from Avram to Avraham, as the result of an insertion of the letter “heh” into his name:
The Torah changed [from its usage of the word] d’var (say) because its (millel’s) gematria is equal to 100 (40+30+30), as if to say, once Avraham was 100 years old. (Rashi)
Avram > Avraham aleph, bais, raish, heh, mem aleph, bais, raish, mem
The possuk hints at the importance of this name change and how it reflected a fulfillment of the purpose of creation itself:These are the stages of creation of heaven and earth ... in the day that He created them [be-hibar-um]... (Bereishis 2:4)In the merit of Avraham, not in the merit of Avram.These letters [also spell] b’Avraham, as if to say that in the merit of Avraham, heaven and earth were created. (Ba’al HaTurim)
But why did this name change signify so much?
The gematria of the word Avraham is 248, corresponding to the 248 major limbs of the body, from a Torah point of view. Thus, the name change signalled that Avraham had gained mastery over all 248 limbs of his body as a result of Bris Milah. (Nedarim 32b.) Every aspect of Avraham’s being had become an instrument to carry out the will of God.
However, service of God requires more than simple obedience. The number “248” also corresponds to the number of positive mitzvos in the Torah. Of the 613 mitzvos in the Torah, 365 of them are called negative mitzvos, and 248 of them are positive in nature.
Obviously, the natures of positive and negative mitzvos are quite different. A negative mitzvah is one that commands us to not do something we might otherwise have done, for example: Don’t eat unkosher food. However, a positive mitzvah is one that instructs us to do something we might otherwise not have done, like Bris Milah.
In a sense, a negative mitzvah is easier to fulfill, since it requires one to not expend energy; a positve mitzvah says, make the effort. Negative mitzvos are an issue of self-control, of protecting the status quo, which is why they correspond to the days of the solar year, as if to say, don’t spoil creation through immoral behavior. (Maharal, Tifferes Yisroel, Chapter Seven.)
On the other hand, positive mitzvos correspond to the limbs of a person’s body to intimate that such mitzvos function to do more than protect the condition of creation; they provide a person with the means to use his hidden potential to rise above creation.
This is why Bris Milah was the eighth of Avraham’s tests. It is also why it is performed on the eighth day after the birth of the child, since eight is a number that alludes to the realm above nature, and of miracles, (Hence, Chanukah is eight days long.) and the sefirah (A sefirah acts a sort of spiritual diaphram to filter God’s light down to the lower parts of creation.) Binah, from which the Nun Sha’arei Binah—the Fifty Gates of Understanding—emanate:
Hence, Bris Milah didn’t just signify Avraham’s mastery over all of the limbs of his body—it indicated his ability to energize them to run ahead of God, so-to-speak ...
10 — Keter
9 — Chochman
8 — Binah
7 — Chesed
6 — Gevurah
5 — Tifferes
4 — Netzach
3 — Hod
2 — Yesod
1 — MalchusGod appear to Avram and said to him, “I am an Almighty God; walk before Me and be pure ...” (Bereishis 17:1)Bris Milah signifies our commitment to tap the hidden source of inspiration, the world of da’as, the world of sod, in order to create the motivation to do what needs to be done to maintain the order of creation, and to bring it to fulfillment. This is why Amalek was against kedushas Bris Milah. (Tanchuma, Parashas Teitzei, 10; according to the midrash, Amalek cut off the Bris Milah of the Jewish people as a sign of total disregard for the Bris and all that it embodied (see also the Pri Tzadik, Parashas VaAirah, 1).)
The “Covenant of the Word” is none other than our commitment to harnass our intellectual powers to motivate our physical being until we become living expressions of Da’as Elokim, (The Vilna Gaon says that Bris Loshon is toiling in Torah.) which is best expressed through what emanates from our mouths, but which can also be expressed through what we do. This is why there is such an emphasis on learning Torah verbally and out loud. (Eiruvin 53b.)
This is the meaning of the possuk:This people I created to speak My praises. (Yishayah 43:21)Hence, one lacking Bris Milah cannot bring a Korban Pesach (Passover Offering), and if he does, he will suffer kares (excision). It is like using water to ignite a fire, for the Korban Pesach, like Bris Milah, embodies all that the Jewish people were freed from Egypt to become. It is irrelevant for an uncircumcized Jew to partake of such an offering.
As the possuk relates, when our lives become expressions of Da’as Elokim, they also becomes praises of God. Not only can dibur be k’ma’aseh (words become like actions) (Shabbos 119b.) , as the Talmud states, but, actions can become like words, literally. This is at the heart of the notion of the supreme mitzvah incumbent upon all Jews, Kiddush Hashem—the sanctification of God’s Name.
Like in the case of Pinchas. This had been precisely what Pinchas had done that day to merit his own name change, and to become Eliyahu the Prophet, whose presence at each Bris Milah throughout the ages brings completion to the ceremony. It is no coincidence that wine is used to add holiness to the bris, for as we know from Purim, and as we will see from the Seder, wine is the symbol of da’as and the freedom it provides.
What precisely had Pinchas done that day?
Pinchas ben Elazar ben Aharon HaKohen saw, and arose from amid the assembly, and took his spear in his hand. (BaMidbar 25:7)In this short possuk much is revealed. First of all, the root of Pinchas had been the kehuna, whose role it is to be a conduit for Da’as Elokim. After that, Pinchas’ had been a three-step process: he saw, he arose, and he took.What did Pinchas see? He saw what was happening and he remembered the halacha. (Rashi)However, we already know that Pinchas’ was a vision that was constructed from the da’as of the Fifty Gates of Understanding. Hence, while everyone else had been wallowing in the darkness of the crisis, Pinchas had looked beyond the despair of the moment, and found the wherewithall to stem the tide of self-destruction and put things back on track. Though Bilaam had boasted to have known Da’as Elyon—the da’as of High (BaMidbar 24:16.) —Pinchas’s da’as had been higher yet.
It was this da’as that provided Pinchas with the inspiration to “arise” from within an assembly that was sunken in confusion and despair, not an easy thing to do. While everyone else was either involved in transgressing, or incapacitated and on the way down, Pinchas was on the way up and on the move.
And what did he take? Pinchas had taken a spear, which the midrash says he disassembled to make it look like a walking stick. This had been part of Pinchas’ plan so that he could fool the guards assigned to guard the door of Zimri’s tent. However, it just happens to be that the word spear is romach (raish, mem, ches)—248—the number of positive mitzvos, and a direct allusion to Avraham and Bris Milah! (Even in the possuk that refers to the covenant God made with Pinchas, the word “shalom” is written with a broken “vav,” so that the word can be read shalaim, which means “complete” (Nazir 43b), alluding to his level of spiritual perfection.)
On the story level, Pinchas had taken a “spear” and had overcome Zimri to stop the plague. On the level of sod, Pinchas had taken romach—the inspiration, the simcha that comes from tapping the hidden da’as of creation, and alluded to by the positive mitzvos—and had counteracted Bilaam and Balak, whom, we have already pointed out, were rooted in Amalek. (See Section One, Chapter Two; interestingly enough, wine is also called chamar (ches, mem, raish), which possesses the same letters as romach (raish, mem, ches), and which differs from the word chamor (ches, mem, vav, raish) by the letter vav (Kesuvos 111b).) He had returned the spirit of God to the Jewish people ...“My spirit that is upon you and My words that I have placed in your mouth ...” (Yishiyahu 59:20)Thus, Pinchas had also reversed the process of kotzer ruach, which leads to the abandonment of Torah and mitzvos, and which results in Golus Mitzrayim—the exile of the mind made to receive Da’as Elokim. He had overcome the forces of Ba’al Peor, the god the Midianites worshipped, whose name means “Mouth of Leather.” The word midyan itself can mean “strife.”
If so, then Geulos Mitzrayim will be strictly a function of Da’as Elokim. To break away from the shackles of Egyptian society—in any generation—there has to be an infusion of a high level of da’as; the light of the Fifty Gates of Understanding have to give off their light and provide their illumination.
How else could the Jewish people have risen from the depths of spiritual defilement, from the forty-ninth gate of spiritual impurity, and have left the inpenetrable borders of Mitzrayim b’yad ramah yet—with an exalted hand?