© 2015 by Rabbi Zvi Aviner
Torah Class THEFT-9/Abraham’s Covenant and Circumcision
Last class we saw Abraham struck by fear. He had traveled throughout the land and had met its inhabitants, seven categories of groups according to their level of faith, all engaged in THEFT. Thus
1. The Canaanites stole the Land from the Semitic Emoriates
2. The Egyptian ‘Pharaoh’ abducted Sarah,
3. Lot his nephew stole waters from the locals
4. The people of Sodom were masters of theft: Abraham told their king that he would not share with him ‘from a thread to a shoelace
5. His allies Aner Eshkol and Mamreh who kept the Seven Commandments yet took a share in the loot
6. Malik Tzedek who took a tenth of the loot
7. His servant Eliezer, whom the sages saw (as one explanation) as an imposter who aspired to take over from Abraham. He looked like Abraham, sounded like Abraham, and taught Abraham’s faith to others. He is the one who caused Abraham to fear. If an imposter would take over after his passing away, he would distort the faith!
YHVH appeared to him and said “Do not fear Abraham, I shall be your shield.” One explanation is that She promised that Her Name would serve as a shield to Abraham against any imposter.
And Abraham turned to YHVH in a new Name and a new Name combination:
1. YHVH/ELKM (seen YHVH but uttered ELKM) a combination unknown to the Greek or English translations of the Torah. It signifies Abraham’s recognition that he was facing the two Attributes standing one behind the other in final verdict. He uttered ELKM since he recognized the biological barrier to YHVH’s promise, that at his advanced age he and Sarah could never hope to have a child of their own)
2. He preceded this Name Combination by offering a totally new Name: AaDoNai, My Master, May Lord, My Owner.
3. Henceforth YHVH is uttered as AaDoNai in all places, apart from where the text indicates that it should be uttered as ELKM.
4. As it turned out in history, these new Name and Names Combinations has worked as a secret code that no one understand but those who lean on Abraham or are grafted on his tree.
Here is where we ended our class last time. Shortly afterwards Abraham begot Yishmael from Hagar, and he grew up to be a 13 years old boy. At this point Abraham had a revelation about a new Commandment: Circumcision.
1: Circumcision: One more Commandment over Noah’s Seven
Let’s ask, why should Noahides, who follow Noah, learn about Abraham who lived ten generations after him? Why should Noah’s Children who are obliged by Noah’s Seven Commandments learn about Circumcision?
One answer is that Abraham was a dedicated Noahide. He aspired to teach all Mankind the Seven Commandments and bring them under Noah’s Covenant. That is a good reason for every Noahide to be familiar with Abraham.
But there is a deeper reason: as we’ve learned, G-d promised to bless those who would LEAN on Abraham spiritually or those who would be grafted on his tree. Or that, all people need to know Abraham. No, they should not believe in Abraham as a vehicle of believing in G-d. Abraham is no a replacement for G-d or a door to G-d. People only lean on him and his faith to address G-d by themselves.
Should then all Noahides circumcise themselves, in sympathy with Abraham? The Talmud asks that question. The surprised answer is that indeed all Mankind were POTENTIALLY included in the obligation to circumcise themselves lin the footsteps of Abraham, but Moses RESTRICTED it to Israel only.
In fact Moses took all the Commandments that were given after Noah and restricted them to Israel. In that category you find two Commandments: (1) Circumcision given to Abraham (2) The prohibition to eat the Sciatic nerve, given to Jacob. Needless to say, the Ten Commandments of Sinai were specifically given to Israel.
The logic is this: All people listen to Moses; since he is the one who wrote the Torah. But Moses in his modesty did not see himself a replacement of Adam and Noah. He therefore turns to Noah’s Children and tells them: you should abide ONLY by those e Commandments that Noah himself had ordered.
A key to detect a false prophet: one who claim to have replaced the previous true ones.
2:The text: Circumcision
The Circumcision Commandment did not come isolated, but rather as a part of Abraham’s new Covenant. This is similar to Noah’s Rainbow Covenant that was ‘signed’ by a new Commandment, the 7th.
And similar to Noah’s Rainbow Covenant, the Heavenly Court appeared to Abraham in full Glory, with the two Attributes talking to him in the same ‘protocol’: YHVH spoke first then ELoKiM.
And as in Noah’s Rainbow Covenant, each Attribute spoke to Abraham about issues that concern it. YHVH spoke about the Covenant’s goal and its affect on the human heart, whereas ELoKiM gave Abraham the Laws of the Circumcision in details.
Here is the Covenant’s text. We’ll count how often the Names YHVH, ELHM and Covenant appear in the text:
YHVH speaks first about the Covenant goal
“(1) YHVH appeared to Abram and said, I am El Shadi,
walk before me and become wholly (complete)
and I’ll set my (1) COVENANT between me and you
and multiply you exceedingly. And Abram fell on his face.
ELoKiM speaks second, giving the Covenant’s Laws
(1) ELoKiM spoke to him saying:
And I, Myself, my (2) COVENANT is now with you,
And you shall be a father of many nations.
Neither shall your name be Abram anymore, but your name shall be Abraham
for the father of many nations I’ve made you.
And I will make you exceedingly fruitful,
and I will make nations of you and kings shall come out of you.
“And I will establish my (3) COVENANT between me and you
and your seed after you, in their generations to everlasting (4) COVENANT
to be (2) ELoKiM to you and to your seed after you.
The land in which you’ve sojourned, all the Land of the Canaanite,
for an everlasting possession. And I will be their (3) ELoKiM.
“And (4) ELoKiM said to Abraham,
you shall keep, you and your seed my (5) COVENANT
after you in their generations. This is my (6) COVENANT
which you shall keep between Mm and you, and your seed after you,
every male child among you shall be CIRCUMCISED.
And you shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin
and it shall be a token of the (7) COVENANT between Me and you.
And he that is EIGHTH days old be circumcised among you.
Every male child in your generations, he that is born in the house
or bought with money of any stranger, who is not of your seed.
He that is born in your house and he that is bought with your money
must need be circumcised and my (8) COVENANT
shall be in your flesh for everlasting (9) COVENANT .
And the uncircumcised male child the flesh of whose foreskin
is not circumcised that soul shall be cut off from his people
he has broken my (10) COVENANT.
(5) “ELoKiM said to Abraham, You shall not call Sarai your wife Sarai
because her name is Sarah, and I shall bless her and I have already appointed
for you a son from her. She will become nations
kings of nations shall be descended from her.
And Abraham fell upon his face and he laughed and he said to himself in his heart
shall a child be born to a hundred years old?
Or shall Sarah who is Ninety years old give birth?
And Abraham said to (6) ELoKiM
O, that Yishmael might live before you.
“And (7) ELoKiM said, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son.
indeed and you shall call him Isaac And I will establish my (11) COVENANT
with him for everlasting (12) COVENANT and to his seed after him.
And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Lo! I have blessed him already.
And I will make him fruitful and multiply him exceedingly.
He shall beget twelve princes and I shall appoint him to be a great nation.
But my (13) COVENANT will I uphold with Isaac whom Sarah
will bear you at this time next year. And he finished talking with him
and (8) ELoKiM went up from Abraham.”
3: The numbers
As you see, YHVH spoke here only once, stating the Covenant’s goal and its affect on the human heart. She said: “be wholly,” which is both an instruction and a purpose, as we’ll soon discuss.
ELHM, in contrast, appears 8 times
giving Abraham the laws of the 8th Commandment, Circumcision
to be performed on the child’s 8th day.
Similarly in Noah’s Rainbow Covenant YHVH also spoke once and ELHM 7 times, giving Noah’s the 7thCommandment: the prohibition to consume blood or a limb taken from a living animal.
Hence the number that ‘ELHM ‘appears in a given Covenant corresponds to the numerical status of the new Commandment it introduces.
Thirteen times ‘Covenant
In Noah’s Covenant the word ‘covenant’ appears 7 times
In Abraham’s Covenant ‘covenant’ appears 13 times.
Is it because ‘13’ is the represents the age of Yishmael when he was circumcised?
Or is it because 13 is the age when a boy accepts the yoke of the Commandments?
In any rate, Isaac would be circumcised on the 8th day, in full correspondence to the 8th Commandment: Circumcision
Let’s discuss each Attribute’s words:
4: YHVH perspectives of Circumcision
“And YHVH appeared to Abram and said to him, I Am El Shadi,
walk before me and become tamim, WHOLLY (complete)
And I shall give my Covenant between me and you
and I shall multiply you exceedingly.”(Genesis 17: 1)
YHVH, who dwells in our heart, speaks about the affect of the Circumcision on the human heart. She says: “Walk before me and be ‘tamim,’ wholly…”
The Talmud offers several explanations to the world ‘wholly.”
Some say that wholly is ‘complete.’ Without circumcision Man’s physical body is ‘incomplete.’
The Talmud describes a debate between Rabbi Akiva and a Roman Governor (2nd century AD.) The Governor wondered why circumcision is needed. Isn’t Man born ‘perfect’ by Nature? Isn’t our body perfect as it is without human intervention?
Rabbi Akiva did not answer. But next time when the Governor visited him he offered him a meal of uncooked grain. When the guest raised his brows Rabbi Akiva said: Haven’t you said that natural products are better without human intervention?
Others see Circumcision as an b>health issue. True, removing the foreskin reduces the risk for certain cancers. But had this been the reason for Circumcision, G-d would have given it to all Mankind!
Others say that ‘wholly’ refers to spiritual purity, the Circumcision of the heart.
Tamim, in submission
But there is a better explanation. The word ‘tamim,’ wholly, also means ‘simple-minded’ or compliant.
It means: be tamim, simple minded, accept my words with submission.
It means: surrender yourself to my service, BE MY SLAVE.
This explanation makes sense since it perfectly fits Abraham’s posture towards YHVH. He had just recently called YHVH as AaDoNai, My Master, My Lord. He had always preached that the CREATOR is also our OWNER, our Landlord, the Owner of our Castle, our Universe. And He is the Owner of my personal body!
That posture had brought Abraham to fight against THEFT. For him THEFT is not a mere social contract for the sake and welfare of our communities, but rather a religious dictum of first priority.
So here YHVH accepted Abraham’s own position of being the CREATOR’S Slave. In YHVH’s eyes it is OK to refer to Her as AaDoNai. She even ordered Abraham to circumcise himself and his seeds as a token for their absolute dedication to the CREATOR’S service.
Circumcision is therefore the Emblem of our Master AaDoNai in our flesh (Seforno).
Now becoming G-d’s slave requires total submission to His Will. For Abraham and his seeds there would be no free time. Every minute is dedicated either to DO His service or to LEARN what to do, all day and all night, when you go to bed and when you wake up.
Not every Child of Noah need to do this. Not every person on Earth Is expected to live such a dedicated life.
Being a ‘slave’ to G-d does not mean you have to enter a monastery and study holy books all day long. It means rather to see the CREATOR everywhere, in the market as well at home; in the field or at the University hall. It means you see Her all your life, no free minute!
I Am El Shadai”
YHVH mentions the title “El Shadi.” it has several meanings:
1. ‘The One who has said ‘Dai, Enough!’ This goes back to the story of Genesis that ends up in the Sabbath with the appearance of YHVH. It is as if YHVH held back the World from expanding without limit (Rashi)
2. ‘Shad’ means ‘a breast.’ Shadai therefore is the Attribute by which the CREATOR ‘Feeds the World’ with compassion, as from a breast. This fits the concept of YHVH as a Merciful Attribute. The Hebrew for Mercy, rachmim, is derived from rechem, womb. Remember that it was Eve, a new mother, who saw YHVH first in full glory. Eve could feel what Mercy is and how compassionate it is to feed the world.
Enormous impact on humanity
Amazingly, this word tamim, wholly, compliant, has impacted history like no other word.
As it turns, tamim (shalim) is close to the Arabic Islam. Yes, Islam is the faith of Abraham who surrendered his will to G-d’s will with full compliance.
There were two occasions when teaching the gentiles the Seven Commanded ended with NEW RELIGIONS:
1. When Paul was sent to the Diaspora to teach the Romans and the Greeks the Seven Commandments. This ended up of course with Christianity.
2. In the 6th century Arab Peninsula, when the Jews of Medina (Yathrib) opened their schools to teach the gentiles the Seven Commandments. This ended with Islam.
As it happened, the Name YHVH has served as a secret code to detect those who, like Eliezer, aspire to inherit Abraham unlawfully:
1. They have no clue what YHVH means. They read it as Jehovah, inserting the vowels of AaDoNai in the Name. They also have no clue that the combination YHVH/ELHM exists. They speak about Mercy w/o knowing that YHVH is the Attribute of Mercy.
2. If Allah stands for the CREATOR of Genesis, it is a gross error to call Him “Allah the Merciful.” In fact, Islam is unaware of everything we’ve said about the Sabbath, the Kingdom of YHVH, Her ‘penetration’ into our World, and so on.
As YHVH ended Her message to Abraham, ELoKiM stepped in to give Abraham His own perspectives of the new Covenant and the Laws of the new Commandment: Circumcision.
5: ELoKiM’S perspective of Circumcision
In the 8 times ELoKiM appears in the Covenant, He pledges 8 issues AS PART OF THE COVENANT.
1. ELoKiM changed Abram name to Abraham with means: a “father of many nations.’ The additional letter ‘h’ increases his strength.
2. ELoKiM would make Abrahams very fruitful (despite the bad natural odds)
3. ELoKiM would keep the Covenant for eternity (despite the bad natural history of nations)
4. ELoKiM would give the Holy Land to Abraham’s children from Sarah.
5. ELoKiM ordered Abraham to circumcise every newborn male in his household
6. ELoKiMordered Abraham to circumcise his newborns males on the 8th day after birth.
7. ELoKiM changed Sarai’s name to Sarah, adding the letter ‘h.’
8. ELoKIM would keep THIS new Covenant only with Sarah’s son. Hagar’s son Yishmael would receive a separate blessing of fertility.
6: Climbing up the Commandments’ Ladder
Abraham and his seeds would henceforth abide by (at least) eight Commandments, one more than the rest of Noah’s Children (Maimonides.) It seems a minor addition, just one more Commandment, but it signifies a whole new dedication, a new zeal.
Circumcision, the new 8th Commandment, is designed to support Abraham’s notion of submission to the Owner Will. It is as we’ve said the Emblem of our Owner in our flesh. It endows us with Abraham’s zeal for RIGHTFUL OWNERSHIP. A major portion of the Talmud is dedicated to that commitment. It endows Israel with rejection of any ORGENIZED THEFT committed by armies and Empires. The Jewish people, even at the peak of a political and military might, has never aspired to build an Empire on account of others.
Hence Circumcision is not just another Commandment on a list. It is, rather, the 8th Commandment that enhances Abraham’s struggle against THEFT, or Adam’s 4th.
In same token Noah’s 7th Commandment (Do not consume blood and a limb from a tortured animal) came to enhance his stance against his generation’s sin of BLOODSHED, Adam’s 3rd.
Later we’ll see that Jacob received the 9th Commandment that prohibits the consumption of the Sciatic nerve. It came to enhance Jacob’s life long struggle against INJUSTICE, Adam’s 5th..
Now you realize that the 10 Commandments of Sinai came to enhance Israel’s struggle against BLASPHEMY, Adam’s 6th. .
Each new Commandment heralds a new zeal
Each Commandment added after Adam came to support one of his original six.
Noah’s 7th was added to support Adam’s 3rd, BLOODSHED
Abraham’s 8th was added to support Adam’s 4th, THEFT.
Jacob’s 9th was added to support Adam’s 5th, INJUSTICE
Israel’s 10 support Holiness and diminish Adam’s 6th, BLASPHEMY
Since Adam received in Eden no more than six Commandments, we do not expect to receive any more Commandments than Moses’ Ten.