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Four Dimensions Of The Eighth Day

Let us thus examine the reason for the eighth day requirement from all these perspectives.

12.04.2024 357 (0)
Four Dimensions Of The Eighth Day
Four Dimensions Of The Eighth Day

Why the Eighth Day?

The commandment to circumcise our male children on the eight day was mentioned in Genesis, where G-d commands Abraham to enter in a covenant with G-d and is repeated in the beginning of this week’s parsha, Tazria, after mandating a seven-day period of impurity upon birth of a male child.

The question has been raised why the eighth day? In Torah literature the number seven is the ideal number. In the words of the Midrash: “All sevens are beloved”: The seventh day of the week is Shabbos, the seventh year is a Sabbatical year, the seventh month is Tishrei, the seventh generation from Abraham was Moses and seven generations from Moses was King David. If seven is so beloved, why wouldn’t circumcision be performed on the seventh day?

There are four levels of Torah interpretation. pshat-simple, straightforward, remez-hints, drush-homiletical, probative and sod-secret, esoteric.

Let us thus examine the reason for the eighth day requirement from all these perspectives:

The Level of Pshat

The pshat or straightforward understanding requires that we understand the command to circumcise on the eighth day in context. The preceding verse speaks of how the mother of the male child is in a state of ritual impurity for seven days after birth. It follows logically that the circumcision should wait for the mother to regain her status of purity before the Bris.

There is a parallel to this notion of waiting seven days. In Genesis the Torah recounts how Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah by his father-in-law Laban who then offered to give him Rachel after a week of celebration. From this we see that we try to separate two significant events by seven days, even if they are the same. How much more so when the first event is not one of joy but rather it is a time when the mother is in a state of withdrawal from her husband since she is in a state of ritual impurity.

This explanation is rooted in the Midrash that states that it would be awkward to have everyone coming to the joyous celebration of the Bris while the parents’ joy would be conspicuously absent. After seven days of separation followed by the mother’s immersion in the Mikveh and they can fully resume their relationship and their joy restored, they can then share the simcha with everyone.

Another simple explanation given is that the newborn needs seven days to be strong enough to be circumcised.

Perspective of Remez

From the perspective of remez, there is a verse in the book of Psalms (Psalm 119:162) that describes King David’s joy of being circumcised: “I rejoice over Your word, as one who finds vast spoils.” This verse, the Talmud explains, alludes to circumcision and that King David was exulting over the fact that he was circumcised. Now, the Hebrew word אמרתיך-imrasecha (Your word) comprises sounds from all five organs of speech: The aleph is from the throat, the mem is from the lips, the reish is from the teeth, the tav is from the tongue, and the chof is from the palate.

This explains the significance of the eighth day because the words “the eighth” in Hebrew is haShemini, which also contains letters from all the five organs of speech: The hei is from the throat, shin-is from the teeth, the mem from the lips, the yud from the palate, the nun from the tongue.

At this point we must understand the significance of circumcision connecting to all the organs of speech.

The explanation lies in the connection our Sages have made between circumcision of the foreskin with circumcision of the lips, which means curbing and refining the power of speech. Indeed, our Sages have linked sexual impropriety with verbal impropriety. When people use their power of speech for slander, foul language, cursing, etc. it influences and compromises their sexual integrity. And, conversely, when people engage in immoral behavior, they are prone to abuse and corrupt their power of speech as well.

The above also connects the commandment of circumcision on the eighth day with the laws concerning the Metzora, the major theme of this parsha.

The Metzora, afflicted with and contaminated by skin lesions (known as tzara’as) our Sages taught, was caused by Lashon-Hara-the evil tongue.

The Level of Drush

On the level of drush, the level that probes beneath the surface to discover a deeper, didactic meaning, the following has been suggested:

The Talmud records how a Roman official challenged Rabbi Akiva with the question: Why would you circumcise your child, which implies that G-d’s handiwork is imperfect and needs improvement. Rabbi Akiva’s response was by comparing circumcision to the way human effort improves on raw food.

In other words, circumcision, by definition, suggests that we mortals have the power and license to improve G-d’s handiwork.

How do we acquire the rights to do so? Only when we recognize that the world is G-d’s creation may we get His permission to improve on it. If we do not recognize G-d’s role as our Creator, our initiatives would be sacrilegious because it would demonstrate that we don’t acknowledge G-d’s role and we would then attribute all of our accomplishments to ourselves.

G-d grants us that permit when we observe Shabbos and thereby testify to G-d’s sovereignty over the world that He created. Once we acknowledge G-d’s proprietary role we then receive permission to improve on the natural world.

This explains why our Sages state that circumcision occurs on the eighth day so that a Shabbos passes before the Bris. To perform the Bris we must first internalize the lesson of Shabbos.

The Perspective of Sod

From the perspective of sod-the esoteric and mystical level of Torah the number eight represents the power of transcendence. Through circumcision, we go beyond the system of holiness associated with and present in the conventional structure of the world which is represented by the number seven. There are seven days of Creation, and therefore the number eight represents going beyond the G-dly energy vested in Creation.

In Chassidic thought circumcision is distinguished from Shabbos in that the holiness of Shabbos is generated by our preparations throughout the week and our resting on Shabbos. Our efforts bear spiritual fruit that is the holiness of Shabbos.

By contrast, the holiness that is generated by circumcision on the eighth day is not engendered by our efforts. Our efforts, including the act of circumcision itself, no matter how formidable, can never reach that sublime light of the Divine. The act of circumcision “merely” removes the impediment to absorbing that dimension of holiness that is generated by G-d.

The fact that circumcision occurs on the eighth day also explains why we perform this rite on a baby that has no comprehension whatsoever of what he is going through. That is precisely the point. With circumcision the child rises above the system of rational thought by introducing him into the covenant where he has no understanding of what is happening. This underscores the notion that our covenant with G-d is not based on and limited to logic but is rooted in a connection to G-d which defies and transcends rationality.

This idea connects circumcision to the Messianic Era, at which time our Sages teach the stringed instrument called the kinor will consist of eight strands in contrast to King David’s kinor which consisted of only seven strands. The Messianic Era will expose us to a perpetual connection to the transcendent level of G-dliness. The entire world will undergo the spiritual form of circumcision and all evil will disappear from the Earth thereby allowing the most sublime Essence of G-d to be fully revealed.

Summary

In summation:

Circumcision is on the eighth day because:

Pshat: to make the transition from days of impurity to the joyous day of heightened spirituality and to ensure the baby’s strength to endure the circumcision.

Remez: Circumcision connects us to the purity of speech reflected in the fact that the Hebrew words for “the eighth” contains letters representing all the five organs of speech as does the Hebrew word “imrasecha-Your words” which refer to circumcision.

Drush: A week with Shabbos empowers and “licenses” us to make changes to G-d’s handiwork.

Sod: The number eight points to the transcendent aspect of G-d that defies logic and is accessed when we remove the impediment of the foreskin through circumcision and prepares us for the Messianic Era when all the impediments will be removed, and the Divine Essence will be fully manifest.

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