The Torah Podcast Transcript
031 The Torah Podcast – Is your Body Affecting your Thinking? – Anatomy and Spirituality – Brit Milah
Torah Portion of the Week – Lech Lecha
At the end of the Parsha we have a verse that says, “When Avraham was 99 years old, Hashem appeared to Avraham and said to him, ‘I am Kel Shachai.” This is the first time we’re using this name, and I’m going to explain what that name means in a minute. “Walk before me and be perfect.” Rashi explains, “To be perfect is talking about bris milah.” Hashem is commanding to do bris milah. “I will set my covenant between me and you.” The bris milah’s going to make a covenant – that’s what the word bris means – it means covenant, between Avraham and Hashem, “That I will increase you most exceedingly.” Avraham fell on his face, and God spoke to him saying, “As for me, this is my covenant with you. You shall be a father of multitudes of nations. Your name shall no longer be called Avram, but your name shall be called Avraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.”
This is the bris between the Jewish people and God. The name Kel Shachai really means Kel dai, that it’s enough. It means the God of enough. The Beis haLevi brings the Bereishis Rabba that says, “The Holy One Blessed be He, said to Avraham, “Non-circumcision has predominated long enough. And milah has been foregone for long enough. I am the one who said, ‘Enough,’ to my world.” The Gemara in Shabbos 30b says, “Hashem said, ‘Enough.’ Why? Because if he didn’t say enough, what would have happened? The wheat plant would have gone and sprouted out pastry.” In other words, nature itself would have produced until the end, so God had to put a boundary on it. His wisdom decreed that the final stage be left for man. “And so it will be until the end of days, when the world is perfected. And Eretz Yisroel will produce pastries and woolen garments.” In other words, things will go on until the end.
The Midrash Tanhuma says, “Turnus Rufus asked Rabbi Akiva, ‘If God really wanted man to do bris milah, to cut the orla off, why wasn’t man born that way?” The Midrash says that Avraham Avinu could have possibly asked the same question, but since Hashem referred to Himself as Kel Shachai, the God of enough, he understood. The Midrash says, “Enough. I left off creation for man to complete.” Thus, he completed himself through milah. In other words, God gave space for man. This bris milah is the completion of man as a human, spiritual entity.
Rashi explains that when Avraham did the bris, that’s when God added the hey to his name and we’re going to call him now, Avraham. Rashi says there, “And now the word Avraham, the total of your letters is the numerical value of 248 which means all the parts of the body.” At this point he is complete. It means that the spirituality inside of his neshama, his soul, can penetrate every part of his body, and he could become a spiritual being at that point. It’s the bris milah that’s the completion of the human body to be able to hold the soul in the proper way, which means the proper connection to God. Without the bris, the body is actually blocking our relationship with God, because the body which is physical blocks the spiritual. With the bris we are able to overcome our physical natures.
The Tur on the Chumash explains, “We know that Avraham Avinu kept all of the mitzvos. So, the famous kasheh, question is, “If it’s true that he kept all of the mitzvos, why did he wait until he was 99 years old to do the mitzvah of milah? Avraham was able to derive all the mitzvos through his intellect. This is a very important mitzva, so why didn’t he do this mitzvah also?” One answer, one shita that he brings down is, it was only after the milah that Avraham was able to conceive of all the mitzvos. In other words, the milah was blocking his intellect, but once he did the milah he was able to conceive of all the 613 mitzvos but only after the milah.
The Shem MiShmuel asks, “Why is it that Avraham delayed in doing this mitzvah, and he had to go ask his friends whether he should do it or not?” The Midrash Tanhuma says, “Avraham had three close friends – Avner, Eshkol and Mamre. Avner said, ‘You’d better not do it because you’ll maim yourself. Maybe the relatives of the kings that you just had a war with are going to come and kill you.’ Eshkol said, ‘Don’t do it, you’re too old. You’re going to die.’ And Mamre said, ‘Go ahead and do it.’ Why when it came to this mitzvah did Avraham ask his friends? He did all the other commandments. Not only that but we know that this was one of the tests of Avraham Avinu. Therefore, this test had to be greater than the tests before, and the tests before is, he threw himself into a fiery furnace. He gave up his entire body. He lay down his life to fight the four kings. What’s the problem with this mitzvah?” The answer that the Shem MiShmuel wants to give is that the bris milah has the ability to transform an individual into a totally different spiritual level. He explains that since Avraham’s whole goal in life was to bring people close to God, he was afraid he was going to be on too high a level. He was going to be too different than everybody else. He was going to have no way to relate to people, he was on such a spiritual level. He’d be like an angel. Since he would lose touch with the common man, he would figure he has no way to mekarev them, to bring them close to God, because once he did the bris milah, all the gates of spirituality became open to him.
The Midrash Rabba says, “Avraham said, ‘Why I am still uncircumcised travelers come to see me, but now that I am circumcised, are you saying they won’t come to see me anymore?’” He would be on too high a level, so that’s why he asked his friends. Once he saw that Mamre said it was okay to go and do it, he sees that people can still relate to it. He said, “Okay, I can still affect the common person. They’re still going to come along to Yiddishkeit. They’re still going to convert, even if they have to do milah. And even if I’m already on this high level, I’ll still be able to bring them close.”
The Malbim explains that the hey in Avraham’s name added on the ability to reach hamon, a multitude of people. The bris gave him the ability to have greater influence on more people. That’s what the possukim say. And before Avraham had the bris milah we see in the possukim that he fell on his face. When God came close to him, he wasn’t able to stand. That was before the bris milah. And at the very end of the Parsha, Hashem used the name Elokim. Why? The Malbim explains, “Because the Elokim is the only name that could be used as a possessive, where we know Elokai Avraham, Elokai Yitzhak, Elokai Yaakov – the God of Avraham.” This meant that Avraham was able to have a much deeper, greater relationship, closer. He was able to stand and be close to God. The possuk said, “God spoke with him,” rather than to him. God was with him after the bris. This was the unique covenant – the word bris means again, covenant. This was the covenant between man and God.
He goes on to explain that removing the orla, removing the skin from the membrane affects the thoughts, the emotions and the actions of a person. It makes them more spiritual and less likely to be swayed with material desires, because we know that the bris itself is on the place of the material desires. It says, “You shall circumcise all males.” The entire male being is now going to have a different essence. This set the Jews apart from the rest of the world.
Now, what I want to bring out here is we see that the body itself in an ikuv, a deterrent to spirituality. If the body’s not in the proper way, you can’t have spirituality. This applies to other aspects of Judaism, for example kashrus. We know that if you eat treif, non-kosher, it’s metamtem the lev. The lev, heart, becomes impure, and then the thinking becomes impure. Another example is netilas yadayim. In the morning you’re supposed to wash your hands three times to take off the tuma, the impurities that came upon you when you were sleeping; because when you sleep, your neshama, soul leaves your body and it’s like you were dead. You have the tuma of like a dead person. You have to remove that from your hands in the morning. Chazal say, “If a person doesn’t wash his hands in the morning he’s going to be scared. He could become meshuggeneh, mad.” There are all these different things that we do physically that affect our spirituality. It affects our menuchas nefesh, our peace of mind. It affects the way we think. Religious Jews go to the mikvah, ritual pool. When they go in the mikvah they take the impurities off of their body. Why the body? Why can’t it just be spiritual? What does it have to do with my body? No, the body is the thing that’s stopping you from having feelings and thoughts of spirituality. You could only go so far, Avraham was only able to go so far, as long as he had the milah. But it also applies to day to day life – kashrus, netilas yadayim, going to the mikvah.
The Ramchal says, “The two are in a constant state of battle. If the soul prevails, it not only elevates itself but it elevates the body as well.” In other words, if you are able to clean yourself up and express your soul, your neshama, through mitzvos, you’re going to actually start to purify your body. It’s self-perpetuating. The more pure your body becomes – the more holy your body becomes, the more holy your thoughts will be; which could help you again to uplift yourself to new levels. “On the other hand,” he says, “If he allows the physical to prevail, then besides lowering his body, he also debases his soul.” He continues later and says, “As the soul continues to participate in good deeds, it should likewise be able to spread out and radiate, thus purifying the body.” The mitzvos purify your physical body.
We know that tzaddikim, righteous people, they don’t rot in the grave. There was a famous story of the Chida which is very recent. They dug him up and brought his body to Eretz Yisroel. His body was still intact. How could it be? The answer is, the body has the ability to either bring the soul down or the soul has the ability to bring the body up, and make the body into a spiritual entity. And in theory it’s a miracle that we can understand one word of Torah. A word of God – how could a word of God penetrate into a physical body? We’re physical. How could we have any glimpse of spirituality? But through God’s chessed, kindness, He made it that we could have spirituality. Now if we take that spirituality and we extend it, we’re going to affect our bodies. And we affect our bodies, we affect our minds. This is a very, very important principle. People say, “Why don’t I feel spiritual?” Maybe you didn’t do netilas yadayim, (washed your hands 3 times) ? Or, “Why don’t I feel holy?” Maybe you’ve eaten treife? This is what outsiders of Torah don’t understand. What’s the problem with just reading the books, and you understand what it says? It’s not true. If a person is tomeh, a person is physically impure, he will not understand what’s being written in the Torah.
Not only that, it also applies to Torah learning itself as purifying the body. By sitting for hours and not sleeping, and pushing sleep away from your eyes, sitting and learning is physically exhausting. But that learning of the Torah which is spiritual is going to affect your body. The effort that you put into the learning is making your body more pure, which makes your mind more pure. This is why the conservatives don’t understand. They start changing the rules. What do you mean? Did they put thousands of hours into learning? No, they have already let go of so many things for the sake of comfort; and they’re eating who knows what. Their wives are not going to the mikvah, so what do you expect? Of course their minds are going to lead them in all kinds of weird ways. It’s the antithesis of Torah. Torah is not just intellectual knowledge. Torah is knowledge of spirituality.
Now there’s a whole fight going on. The conservatives want to change in Eretz Yisroel, the rules of conversion. Who are these people? What are they, do they know anything about Torah? Are they pure, holy people? How can they say what the Torah says? Besides the fact that they don’t give any honor to the great Torah scholars, and spend hours and hours in thinking who’s right, who’s wrong, what do we need, what does it say; what is the mesorah, what is the tradition? Besides that, their bodies are impure because they’re not really following the Torah. They’re not keeping Shabbos. They’re full of averas, full of sins. If you sin, of course your mind isn’t going to be able to think in the right way, in the correct way; in the way of truth – to make a true accounting of what needs to be done, what’s right and what’s wrong. Judaism is not a social club. “Oh, bring them in anyway. Bring this one in, that one.” Come on – would you bring somebody into the Major Leagues that couldn’t even play baseball? “Yeah, bring him in. We like him, he’s our friend.” It’s serious here.
The bottom line is we learn from this week’s Parsha, the effect of the mitzvos, and learning Torah, and bris milah, and kashrus, netilas yadayim; expending effort in learning and doing mitzvos, all these things have an effect on our physical body. And therefore, they affect the way we think. This means, if we want to uplift ourselves we have to be exacting in the mitzvos, because without being exacting in the mitzvos, our body is blocking true spirituality.
A Powerful Parable
The Maggid Mi Dubno has a parable on this week’s Parsha, “Lech Lecha, for you shall go forth from your land.” At the end of the possuk it says, “El haaretz asher areicha,” to the land that I will show you.” He says, “One time there was a very wealthy man who used to invite a lot of guests to his table. Each guest, depending on his level, he would sit him closer to the head of the table, so the people who were more important sat closer to him and they actually got better food. The people who were richer, they’ll get a nice people of meat. People further down the table got some stew. And the poor people got vegetables. This is what they were used to.
One time a man came in. He looked like he was dressed like a very important person, so the owner of the house put him at the front of the table. As he fed him the meat, he saw that he wasn’t really interested in that. When the vegetables passed by, he grabbed for the vegetables. He realized, this must not be a rich man. He says to the guest, ‘Please get up. I think you should sit at the end of the table.’ Somebody said, ‘Why are you embarrassing him?’ ‘God-forbid, I’m not trying to embarrass him. I’m just trying to sit him where he feels comfortable.’” That was the moshul, parable.
The nimshal, meaning is, the Jewish people – we know that Avraham Avinu was commanded to go to Eretz Yisroel, so Bnai Yisroel, the Jewish people, were supposed to be in Eretz Yisroel, close to the Beis HaMigdash, close to the holiness of Yerushalayim. He says, “But when the Jewish people start acting like the rest of the world and they start grabbing for the vegetables, the want a little bit of a taiva, an appetite for olam hazeh, this world, so Hashem says, ‘Fine. You want to be like that? Go to the back of the table.’” But hopefully, all the Jews are going to to teshuva, to repent, and they’re going to be gathered from the four corners of the earth and brought back to Yerushalayim at the proper place, at the head of the table.
Great Stories – Rav Reuven Grossovsky
Rav Reuven Grossovsky, the Rosh Yeshiva who used to live in Minsk – there was a certain point in Minsk where things were very, very bad. Socialism and secular Zionism was spreading among the Jews. Torah was considered old fashioned, and the Yeshiva students were made fun of. Rare was the house that a family was not affected. Rav Reuven Grossovsky, he was one of the fortunate ones. He studied with another 30 young men in some beit Knesset, house of prayer, and Rav Reuven used to keep an eye on two younger members of the study group.
Now, these two younger students were in danger because their relatives were pressing them to leave the Yeshiva and go to University, because that’s what was in the air at that time. One of them was named Aharon, and the other one was Yaakov. Aharon’s father who was a respected Dayan, had passed away. There was great pressure in his house to enroll him at the university, because he was such a brilliant mind that they figured if he learned something, mathematics, he would become very, very rich. He’d be able to support the family. Rav Reuven saw that these two students were under a lot of pressure. He said, “You know what? I’m going to take these boys out of Minsk.” He sent them to Yeshivas Knesset Yisroel in Slabodka. Aharon was only 15 years old at the time, but he used to go to the shiur, lesson of the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Mordechai Epstein, and he used to stand on a bench because he wasn’t able to see. He would stand on the bench and he would scream out difficulties against the Rosh Yeshiva. He was obviously a genius.
His relatives used to say, “No, come. We need help. Your mother needs help. Come, you have to go to university.” Rav Reuven would intercept the letters. They would argue and say, “Look, why are you wasting your talent in those dusty volumes of Talmud? Come to the university and study the wisdom of the greatest minds on earth. You will surely be successful and become famous one day; but if you continue these silly studies with these old men, who will know your name 40 years from now? Whoever heard of Rav Aharon Kotler?” One of them was Rav Aaron Kotler, the greatest Rosh Yeshiva that America has ever seen. And the other was Rav Yaakov Kamanetsky, another one of the gedolei hador, greatest men of the generation in America. He says that these two great, great Torah scholars for the rest of their lives always thanked Rav Reuven for saving them and keeping them in the right path.
Peace in Your Home
Rav Nachman Diament continues in shalom bayis. He has a chapter as follows – when 80% equals 0. He says, one time he was in a car and he was traveling from Beer Sheva which is far away from Bnai Brak. He was going to Bnai Brak. He picked up a hitchhiker. The boy was all excited, “Are you going all the way to Bnai Brak?” They get closer to Bnai Brak. The driver asked the boy where exactly he needed to go. He quotes a Rashi in Mikketz that says, “Cursed are the wicked because their deeds are incomplete. You might as well finish the mitzvah. Can you please take me all the way to my house?
Rav Diament was in the car and he thought the guy was joking, but he sees the kid is serious. The driver said, “Listen, I’m sorry but it’s not possible.” He says, “What do you mean? If you drop me off here, I will have a kilometer and a half by foot.” The driver said, “There’s nothing I can do.” He opened the door, he let him out. He says, “The boy stumped away slamming the door behind him, not even saying a word of thanks.” He drove him all the way from Beer Sheva to Bnai Brak and he didn’t even thank him. Why? Because he was missing a kilometer. In other words, he was saying, “Listen, I want 100% or I don’t want anything.” He said, “This could also happen in shalom bayis. Let’s say for example, the husband asks the wife, “Please call my mother today and give her a message, and deposit this check in the bank.” He gets home, he says, “Did you call my mother?” She says, “Oy, I forgot. I’m sorry.” “Did you make it to the bank?” “I got there but the bank was closed.” The husband says, “What did you do today?” This is the worst thing that a husband could say. What do you mean, what did she do today? She got up at 6:00 o’clock in the morning, she went to get grocery shopping, she cooked, she woke up the kids, she sent them to school, she made sandwiches and snacks, she made breakfast for him and for her. She went to work, came home, took care of the kids again, fed them again, washed the dishes, washed the floor, put two loads of laundry in, folding, ironing, bathing the children, putting them to sleep. And all this is zero? What do you mean, what did I do today? He says, “At that point, no apology is going to help.” He says, “If a person thinks that 80% is 0 or 90% is 0, he should not even think of getting married.”
Now, there’s another aspect. Not only a question of appreciating what’s being done, but not expecting more from your spouse than what you do yourself. For example, a man says, “I want two things from my wife.” He goes to the counseling together, and he’s saying in front of the wife, “I just want two things. When I come home, the house looks a little bit normal, organized and at 2:00 o’clock my meal is ready.” The wife starts to cry. She says, “Listen, I have to clean up the house? When I get into the car which is your car, the car’s a total wreck. I have to clean off the seat every time I go to sit down. The car is a wreck.” And she says, “When you walk in at 2:30 that’s okay, right? I have to be exacting with my time and have the food ready, but if you come at 2:30 and you say, ‘Listen, I was talking to my friend,’ you’re not exact in the time either.” “What do you mean that you needed to take up the reason that he gave, that he had to take a rest afterwards? ” “Yeah, but when you decide to come at 2:30 all of sudden you don’t need a rest.” You can’t play a double standard. The husband or the wife should never demand from the other what they don’t demand from themselves.
He brings Rav Yisroel of Salanter who says, “A person has to worry about his own olam haba, his own next world. He should worry about this world when it comes to the other individual. He should help him in this world. But he says, “The tragedy of that would be the opposite. When it comes to his physical world he’s worried about himself. When it comes to spirituality, what the person is doing right or wrong, all of a sudden he’s worried about the other guy. That’s not the way to do it. That means you’re demanding more from the other person than you demand from yourself. A man and a woman could walk around for years with the feeling that what is permitted for me is forbidden for you. That’s not fair. You can’t demand from your spouse more than you demand from yourself. And you can’t demand from your children more than you demand from yourself. And you can’t demand from your students more than you demand from yourself.”
So, two points here: 1. Appreciate what is being done, even if it’s not perfect. It’s 80%, you have to appreciate the 80% that the other person’s doing for you, and 2. Do not demand from them more than you demand from yourself.
That’s it for this week’s podcast. I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it with your friends, and please leave comments.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff
Stephan Sundkvist says
There are physical impediments that must be overcome to reach a full conversion to a true Judaism. Bris Milah is one of the necessary steps to get into the covenant that Hashem made with Abraham.
Very often we think we can make some shortcuts that seems easier to us. But in the heavenly kingdom, there are no shortcuts. And why should we hesitate and deny ourselves the blessings that come with the covenent? And this can be a hard decision to make, especially if we have reached a certain age. As long as our parents decide for us, it makes it mabe easier, but Abraham was an old man when he got circumcised. Blessed be he.
This also goes for all the other mitzvos. This is the purifying process that we all need to go through.
It is easy to turn many of these things into a simple intellectual thing, but it is about true spirituality.
By remaining in an unclean environment, physically or spiritually, we tend to return as it is written: Prov 26:11 As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.
May Hashem help us to do the mitzvos. Amen.