Moses comes down the mountain to an incredulous reception; Let me get this straight, the Arabs
get all the oil and weve got to cut the end off WHAT?
Yes folks, its time to discuss one of my favorite mitzvos, Bris. (One shouldnt really play favourites,
after all they are all Hashems commandments, but for me a bris represents parnoso :-))
Is the above anecdote inaccurate (as well as in bad taste)? Do we circumcise because Moshe was
so commanded? Isnt circumcision a throwback to this weeks Torah portion when Avraham was commanded to make a covenant in your
flesh with G-d?
Answer: A bit of both. The father makes a blessing Boruch Atoh . 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?
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 Hashems will, but to all intents and purposes every child ever carried in and handed over to the Mohel
is replaying Avrahams 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.
Friday November 14, 2003
A Jews relationship to his maker is not based on a few hours of distant veneration followed by
benign disregard for the rest of the week. We confide in G-d, constantly talk with (and at) Him, bargain with Him and, after
all that, kvetch when things seem to be wrong.
To believe in G-d is to accept that everything has reason and purpose.
Although often we may be flummoxed by what appears to be the arbitrary capriciousness of fate, at heart we acknowledge that
G-d knows what Hes doing and is doing what He knows to be best.
Genuine faith, however, does not preclude demanding justice
from Hashem for decisions that seem unjust, at least to our mortal eyes
And it was in just such a situation; when G-d,
the source of all goodness and kindness, proposed destroying the city of Sodom and her surroundings, that Avraham was moved
to object Shouldnt the judge of the whole world act with justice?
This grievance has been directed at Hashem
in the wake of every disaster that He has visited on us throughout our long and bloodstained history.
The fact that we
complain is not so remarkable; consider however, Avrahams complaint was not a renunciation of Hashem, rather an expression
The evil we observe and the wickedness and pain we are forced to endure comes also from G-d. Our complaint is
not against Him for what He chooses to do nor why. We are confident, appearances notwithstanding, that G-d,
who is good and does good, is acting in our best interests. However how, the method He chose, the pain and suffering
accompanying His actions, those we find impossible to accept.
When Avraham demanded justice from the true judge his accusation
was G-d, I can accept that your actions, cruel and painful as they are, are for the ultimate benefit, if not physical then
at least spiritual benefit, of your victims. But is that the best you could do? You are all-powerful, it lies within your
capabilities to accomplish the same benefit for the same individuals in less painful form. That was Avrahams demand for justice,
that is our grievance, and that accusation has never been (and maybe can never be) satisfactorily answered.
Friday November 21, 2003
Ive been traveling. Discomfited by the cramped conditions. Disliked the overweight seatmates pouring coke
down my pants. Hated the fact that the airline left my pre-ordered kosher meals behind. Actually didnt mind handing over my
passport at customs giving me the opportunity to remember how I looked 6 years ago, before all my cares and worries rendered
me haggard and wrought before my time.
A guy goes to heaven and is shocked by the inequitable treatment he observes being meted out by the
divine judiciary. A fresh-faced youngster is being feted with all the honour and adulation due to one far more advanced in
years, while a hoary oldster is being pushed around as if he were still wet behind the ears,
He is quickly explained that This is the World of Truth, here we dont go by the age written on your passport,
we add up the useful, constructive moments of your life, those hours devoted to torah and mitzvoth, subtract all ones wasted
time spent on useless pursuits and vain inanities and thus calculate your true age.
Avraham and Soroh were old, advanced in years. Tautology? Whats the difference?
Examine the Hebrew words, Zakain, Bo Bayomin The former refers to old age, the latter to completeness
of days, theyd lived long lives, true, but it was remarkable how much they accomplished.
Friday November 28, 2003
I'm writing from NY (relax, I'll be home, please G-d, before Shabbos) where I just spent an amazingly
inspirational week at the International Shluchim Conference. Imagine the scene when 2500 Lubavitchers meet to spend 4 days
discussing programming ideas, to attend sessions on everything from campus outreach to establishing a small town burial society
(I loved the one about time-management and I guarantee you'll be thrilled with the results - if I find the time to implement
all those great ideas).
In many ways we in Melbourne are blessed. The availability of Kosher food, the variety of educational
choices, the sheer vibrancy of the local Jewish scene all contribute to enrich the smorgasboard that is Australian Judaism.
I have mates who, to all intents and purposes, are Judaism of their cities. The only religious functionary, chief chef and
bottle washer of the local institutions and assistant principal (after their wife) of the newly established Hebrew school.
was humbling to look around the banquet hall and to reflect on the drive, dedication and commitment being extended in the
greater cause of Yiddishkeit by these thousands of normal guys. Humbling but inspirational, I've got to work harder.
guy there had made an individual choice to spend their life dousing spot-fires erupting in the Jewish bush, but the inspiration
for them all is the the same, the Rebbe.
When the Rebbe accepted the leadership of post-Holocaust Chabad, there were probably
less than 100 families of Lubavitcher chassidim around the world. 5 families in Melbourne were the catalyst for an incedible
generation of activity in Australia, and that success was mirrored worldwide.
I have plenty more to share about the feelings
and motivations I have encountered over the last week and in some ways I'm looking forward to the plane-ride as an opportunity
for reflection. I have loved every minute here and am looking forward to getting home, seeing my wife and kids and getting
on with our plans and goals.