Thursday, March 26, 2009

Covenant of Circumcision (Brit Mila)

Good morning Master Cohen, I trust you are enjoyed your Sunday morning breakfast, I have always loved the smell of cheese blintzes. I understand that the family is going bike riding on the Jaeger trail after your lesson.

<= = = Yessir, my dad got an emergency phone call, one of their instructors got sick, he got recalled and our last ride got tripped up, so we rescheduled. I confess, I have not read ahead today sir.

That is fine, today we speak of covenant, Brit, and in particular Brit Mila, the covenant of circumcision. You have noticed of course in the locker room and scouting that your penis may be different that some of the other kids and you are familiar with Brit Mila, I am sure, but today, we want to make sure you know it is more than an elective surgery. And we have another first, the first use of El Shaddai, God Almighty, a term that turns up in Job very often.

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD came and appeared to him and said, "I am El Shaddai , God Almighty, serve me faithfully and live a blameless life. I will make a covenant with you, by which I will guarantee to make you into a mighty nation."

At this, Abram fell face down in the dust. Then God said to him, "This is my covenant with you: I will make you the father of not just one nation, but a multitude of nations! But wait, there's more, I am changing your name. It will no longer be Abram, exalted father; now you will be known as Abraham, the father of many nations. I will give you millions of descendants who will represent many nations. Kings will be among them! "I will continue this everlasting covenant between us, generation after generation. It will continue between me and your offspring or seed forever. And I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you. Yes, I will give all this land of Canaan to you and to your offspring forever. And I will be their God.

Now Izzy, I am sure you have been taught that if a deal seems too good to be true, then look for the catch. If any deal in the history of earth is too good to be true, this is it. So Abraham remained silent, face down in the dust, listening, waiting for the other shoe to drop. "Your part of the agreement," God told Abraham, "is to obey the terms of the covenant. You and all your descendants have this continual responsibility. This is the covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Each male among you must be circumcised; the flesh of his foreskin must be cut off. This will be a sign that you and they have accepted this covenant. Every male child must be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. This applies not only to members of your family, but also to the servants born in your household and the foreign-born servants whom you have purchased. All must be circumcised. Your bodies will thus bear the mark of my everlasting covenant. Anyone who refuses to be circumcised will be cut off from the covenant family for violating the covenant."

<= = = Sir, I believe the famous Woody Allen joke is "Cut off my head, that is my second favorite organ." How is it possible this practice has survived through time?

Well Izzy you can think of this as a cosmic intelligence test. Do you want to be part of the covenant family and enjoy all the blessings God has for you, or not?

<= = = Sir, please do not misunderstand me, but I have been called names at school, when we went to Jerusalem, we had to curtail our visit to other parts of the country because of the Palestinian rockets, the news that is reported is heavily biased, and yet when I look at history it is worse, the holocaust, the diaspora, it seems like we have and always are on the brink of survival. I’m starting to feel like Tevia from Fiddler, when he says something like, “I know we’re the chosen people, but every once and a while couldn’t you choose someone else?”

Izzy, could it be that if we were not always on the brink, we would trust in the strength of our own hands, the wisdom of our own minds and not count on God? The covenant means we are part of the family God so long as we keep our side of the covenant. And speaking only for myself, I find in impossible to imagine being separated from God. I hope you feel the same way, much is riding on you.

<= = = You have hinted at that several times, can't you just tell me?

After your Bar Mitsvah, when you begin to cross into manhood, we can talk about such manly things, am I right? Of course I am right. Now, back to the story or this blogpost will exceed my terms of service with the ISP for length.

Then God added, "Regarding Sarai, your wife--her name will no longer be Sarai; from now on you will call her Sarah (princess). And I will bless her and give you a son from her! Yes, I will bless her richly, and she will become the mother of many nations. Kings will be among her descendants!" Abraham bowed down to the ground, ( he got up with God started talking about surgery to the male organ), he laughed to himself in disbelief. "How could I become a father at the age of one hundred?" he wondered, "I'm as good as dead". "Besides, Sarah is ninety; how could she have a baby?"
And Abraham said to God, "Yes, may Ishmael enjoy your special blessing!" Abraham was thinking God was senile and needed a bit of help.

But God Almighty who is ageless and all-knowing replied, "Sarah, your wife, will bear you a son. You will name him Isaac, one who laughts, and I will confirm my everlasting covenant with him and his descendants.

As for Ishmael, I will bless him also, just as you have asked. I will cause him to multiply and become a great nation. Twelve princes will be among his descendants. And it has been just as God has said. Later we will recite their names, but for now let's just say that much of the Middle Eastern Islamic world is the seed of Ishmael.

< = = = I heard in school that Arabs could not possibly be the seed of Ishmael, is that true?

The scriptures say that Ishmael will become a great nation. Most people will not give you a second listen if you try to claim Ishmael is the father of the United States, Russia, China, India, Europe, or even that one in a million underdog Israel. And yet God promised a great nation. Twelve princes that far back allows for a lot of diversity and reach, one might be able to assert the Arab nations are not purely the seed of Ishmael, using some scientific or historical approach that is in favor at the time, but it is flat out impossible to say there is no relation of the bloodline of the Arabs to the seed of Ishmael. The scripture says great nation, why beat that to death? Anyway, what is most important is how God concludes the conversation with Abraham.

El Shadai, the Almighty God then said, "But my covenant is with Isaac, who will be born to you and Sarah about this time next year." That ended the conversation, and God left, vanished from, Abraham just as He had appeared.

On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and every other male in his household and circumcised them, cutting off their foreskins, exactly as God had told him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old at that time, and Ishmael his son was thirteen. Both Abraham and Ishmael were circumcised the same day, along with all the other men and boys of the household, whether they were born there or bought as servants. The next few days, there was a marked loss in productivity in terms of herd development and for the next week the women in the camp were markedly edgy.

<= = = So is Abraham now a Jew?

Nope, but he is the founder of the covenant family. Other races can and do claim Abraham as their father, even tribes, tongues and races outside of the covenant family and scripture supports this. Now enjoy a biking outing with your family and I will come to you again soon.

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