July 19, 2024
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Enabling Our Neshama With a Bris Milah

My cousin was born extremely prematurely and needed to be in an incubator for a few months. The family had to wait several additional months for him to be healthy enough to finally have his bris milah. During all that time…he did not have a name! I thought it was so odd to be without a name for such a long time.

A year ago on the week of Parshas Lech Lecha, my twin grandsons received their bris. During the pregnancy—always a high-risk event with twins—we referred to them as baby A and baby B. Finally, at their bris, they were named Aryeh (baby A) and Nosson Tzvi (baby B). Why do we need to wait to name a baby until the bris? Why can’t we give them a name earlier?

The Sfas Emes gives an amazing insight. A person is composed of a body and a neshama (soul). These are in constant struggle. The neshama wants to do the will of Hashem, while the body yearns to pursue physical pleasures. Our job is to unite the two, allowing the neshama to lead the body to perform the mitzvos of Hashem. However, until a person has a bris, his neshama does not have the ability to control and lead the body. A person’s name represents his essence. His name is associated with his neshama. The bris unlocks the neshama and allows it to integrate with the body.

This concept is reflected in the case of Avraham, whose name was changed on his bris milah (at age 99) from Avram to Avraham—adding the letter heh to his name. Hashem told Avraham “his’halech lifanei vheyeh tamim—walk before Me [by performing circumcision], and you will be complete.” Rashi quotes the Gemara that there are 248 limbs in the human body. The numerical value of Avram is 243, and with the additional letter “heh,” equals 248. Hashem was telling Avraham you are in control of 243 limbs of your body but there are five limbs you do not yet control: two ears, two eyes and the area of milah. The eyes and ears are receivers and hard to control, as one automatically sees anything in his line of vision and hears anything within earshot. But upon performing the bris, your name will be changed to Avraham = 248 because now you will be able to control even these senses and will receive special divine providence to help you only see and hear appropriate things.

This was a fulfillment of the blessing Hashem promised Avraham for leaving his birthplace, homeland and family—“I will make your name great” and “I will increase your name.” Besides Avraham’s name increasing in letters, it gave Avraham the ability to be a much greater person.

Dovid Hamelech said, “Sod Hashem le’reiav”—the secret of Hashem was given to those who fear Him. The Midrash explains that the “secret” refers to bris milah, which Hashem gifted to Avraham and his children. Hashem gave this secret to klal Yisrael, but not to the nations of the world. These powers—sight, hearing and the male drive—are difficult to control. But Hashem gave Avraham and the Jewish nation the mitzvah of bris milah, which enables us to be fully in control of all our senses and limbs.

Lust and desire constitute very strong drives in man, with which he struggles. We entered Yom Kippur reciting Tefilas Zakah, in which we asked Hashem for forgiveness in this area. At Mincha on Yom Kippur the Torah portion read is all about illicit relationships, demonstrating the great challenge to purity and holiness. The advertising world and media understand this very well, creating a pleasurable ad environment to market beer or a car by including female models, even when they have no direct connection to the items being marketed.

Although a bris milah is a once-in-a-lifetime procedure, it represents the struggle of man in channeling his drives for good purposes his whole life. Hashem gives special divine help to the Jewish people to allow their neshama to control their body even in the automatic senses of sight and hearing. A keen awareness of this special divine gift can help us ascend beyond our status as simple human beings with basic drives to the status promised to Avraham’s children of being part of a great nation.


Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. PTI has attracted people from all over northern New Jersey, including Teaneck, Paramus, Fair Lawn, Livingston and West Orange. He initiated and leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. He has spread out beyond PTI to begin a weekly beis medrash program with in-depth chavrusa learning in Livingston, Fort Lee and a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]. For more info about PTI and its full offering of torah classes visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.

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