The First Commandment
The Covenant of Circumcision or brit milah, also referred to as a bris, is a Jewish ritual performed on every male baby eight days after birth. This ritual is one of the more significant moments of a Jewish boy’s life and is meant to signify the relationship between the child and G-D and his connection to the Jewish community. The commandment of circumcision was the very first commandment given to the Jewish people and of all the ceremonies and commandments within Judaism it is probably the most cherished and observed.
Until the age of thirteen, Jewish children are not obligated to keep any of the mitzvoth or commandments. It is only when girls turn twelve and boys turn thirteen, do they become responsible for fulfilling all the commandments. Judaism believes that at this age children gain a better understanding and appreciation of the commandments they must fulfill. In turn, it should be noted that the bris, is an exception to this rule; at the tender age of eight days, babies have no comprehension of the importance of circumcision, yet they must undergo this vital ritual.
Abraham as a Pioneer
Abraham, the first of the three forefathers of the Jews, circumcised himself at the age of 99, creating an eternal bond between God and the children of Israel and thus the commandment states: ”This is My covenant that you shall observe between Me and you and your children after you, to circumcise your every male. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall become the sign of a covenant between Me and you” (Genesis 17:10-11). Abraham took it upon himself to instill his values of fearing and serving God, into the Jewish people forever.
Eight days- an arbitrary age?
The Torah commands Jews to perform the ceremony of brit milah on eight-day old male babies. While one can never fully understand G-D’s motivations, there are spiritual reasons for performing the bris ceremony on the eighth day. Today there has been research that points to scientific and medical reasons why the eighth day maybe significant. Some researchers claim that a baby’s blood and clotting process is very unstable until the eighth day, when it normalizes.
The Act of Circumcision- A Deeper Meaning
In the Talmud, there is a story that mentions an evil Roman commissioner who asks Rabbi Akiva why G-D commands people to help the poor and does not provide for them “personally.” Rabbi Akiva’s response was simply that G-d wants to give human beings the privilege of performing the mitzvah, or good deed, of giving charity to the poor. G-d could have created a perfect world with no poverty but rather created an imperfect world so that we could take active part in correcting it. It is through the brit milah that the Jewish people are able to create a bond to their religion and people through not only a spiritual act but a physical one as well.