G‑d commanded the Jewish people (Leviticus 12:2), “On the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.” The act of circumcision, marking the completion of the body, is a human act. This teaches us that our spiritual, emotional, moral and ethical perfection requires human effort. G‑d cannot do it for us.
There are many partnerships into which a person will enter during his or her lifetime. Most of them, at some point, will come to a natural end, or will be broken by one of the parties. The brit milah, ritual circumcision, is a symbol of our partnership with G‑d. Etched in the flesh of our physical bodies, the covenant will never end or be forgotten.
This covenant with G‑d surpasses human comprehension. It is a bond that pledges unconditional devotion, no matter what may transpire between G‑d and individual. It is a bond that is absolute and unchallengeable.
Why A Bris?
Birth is one of the only moments in life where one comes face to face with G‑dliness.
In fact, the newborn child will continue the chain of Jewish life begun thousands of years ago with our patriarch Abraham and matriarch Sarah. This new life is one more link in the chain of Jewish history.
The first person commanded to circumcise himself was Abraham, at the age of ninety-nine. G‑d told him (Genesis 17:7), “And I will establish a My covenant between Me and between you and between your seed after you throughout their generations as an everlasting covenant, to be to you for a G‑d and to your seed after you.” Demonstrating his submission to G‑d by marking the physical body with the sign of the covenant, Abraham revealed the intrinsic bond every Jew has with G‑d.
For this reason a Jew is circumcised as an infant, when he has not yet developed his capacity for reasoning or making judgements, for the covenant of circumcision is not an intellectual or calculated partnership. The circumcision of an infant demonstrates that the connection between the Jews and G‑d is beyond rationale.
G‑d chose the very organ that is the source of life, which can also be chosen to use for the basest acts, as the site to be sanctified with circumcision. This gives us the profound message that we can use every physical drive for holy purposes.
For thousands of years, even under persecution, Jews have circumcised their sons using the services of a mohel, ritual circumciser, who knows all the intricacies of performing the circumcision. By having your son ritually circumcised, you join their ranks in connecting your child with G‑d in an unbreakable covenant.
If circumcision is what G‑d wants, why aren’t we born circumcised?
G‑d created the world imperfect, and gave us the mission to perfect it.
G‑d created wheat; humans make bread. G‑d created a jungle; humans create civilization. The raw materials are given to us, and we are to use our ingenuity to improve on the world that we were born into.
This is symbolized by the bris—we are born uncircumcised, and it is up to us to “finish the job.” This is also true metaphorically.
We each have instincts and natural tendencies that are inborn, but need to be refined. “I was born that way” does not excuse immoral behavior: we are to cut away any negative traits, no matter how innate they may seem.
Why on earth would G‑d choose circumcision to represent something sacred?
Spirituality is about making the physical world holy.
The way we eat, sleep, work and procreate should be imbued with the same holiness as the way we pray; our homes should be as sanctified as our synagogues.
We find G‑d on earth just as much (and perhaps more) than in the heavens.
So we put a sign on the most physical and potentially lowly organ, to say that it can and should be used in a holy way. In fact, it is in sexuality that we can touch the deepest part of our soul—when we approach it with holiness.
Why specifically on the eighth day?
The number seven represents nature—seven days of the week, seven colors of the rainbow, seven musical notes (do re mi, etc.).
The number eight is the number that surpasses seven, and thus represents the miraculous, what is beyond nature.
We do the bris on the eighth day because the Jewish people survive on miracles. Our history defies the laws of nature.
We welcome a new Jewish child into this miraculous existence on the eighth day of his life, as if to say, “Expect miracles!”