Circumcision is a symbol of human participation in God’s creation
“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean. And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. And she shall then continue in the blood of her purifying three and thirty days; she shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying be fulfilled” Leviticus 12:1 – 4
- The practice of circumcision precedes the giving of the Torah. Surprisingly, Abraham is the first to perform it – in a deeply idolatrous environment, during his strenuous travels across Canaan. This background can help us understand why the Bible calls circumcision a “covenant” – it is a contract signed between God and his believers. Abraham enters this covenant under harsh circumstances, driven by his pursuit of truth – two characteristics that have since been deeply associated with the Jewish people.
- The Parasha exposes two opposite ends: birth, which represents the forces of innocence and pureness that elevate this world; and leprosy, which represents the destructive forces of darkness and impurity. It is no coincidence that this contrast appears in our Parasha. Our life is made up of these two contradictory elements – and we need to find a way to navigate the journey and grow through it. We must seize the opportunities that each new moment presents, treasure life, and try to produce as many positive thoughts and admirable deeds as we can.
Slander disintegrates harmony
“When the plague of leprosy is in a man, then he shall be brought unto the priest; And the priest shall see him: and, behold, if the rising be white in the skin, and it have turned the hair white, and there be quick raw flesh in the rising; It is an old leprosy in the skin of his flesh, and the priest shall pronounce him unclean, and shall not shut him up: for he is unclean” Leviticus 13:9 – 11
- An individual’s soul is the source of their personal purity. When a person passes away, their supernatural spirit leaves the body and enters a different dimension. Conversely, an individual’s physical body – and its accompanying impulses – is the source of their personal impurity. By its very nature, the material world seeks to deteriorate us spiritually – whereas the spiritual world wishes to raise us. During our lifetime, we experience a constant clash of titans – light versus darkness, body versus spirit, and more.
Pearls of Divine Wisdom: “At Childbirth Bears”
- Circumcision is a sign of the covenant between God and His believers. Abraham enters the covenant of circumcision in the middle of his long and onerous journey, driven by eagerness and curiosity. This ritual symbolizes human participation in God’s work, as well as our need to make an impact and difference in this world.
- Parashat Shemini simultaneously exposes two extreme ends: birth, which represents the forces of innocence and purity that elevate our world; and leprosy, which represents the darkness that causes our world to decay. These two contradictory fundamentals are part of life – and we must learn to navigate this journey and grow. Every person must choose between light and darkness.
- Our souls and spirits are a source of purity. Our physical impulses are a source of impurity. Our interaction with the material world can lead us to lower spiritual spheres, whereas our interaction with the spiritual world can lift us up.
- The Hebrew word for leprosy, tzaraat (צרעת) is linked to the phrase motzi shem ra (מוציא שם רע, slanderer). Leprosy is a sign of spiritual deficiency – and in biblical times, a person indulging constantly in gossip could be stricken by this illness.
- The reason slander is considered such a terrible sin is that it disintegrates communities from within. Gossip is often rife with prejudice and occurs in secret. This is the reason its punishment is a visible illness.
Purity is achieved by restricting negative impulses and eliminating evil thoughts and deeds.