Parshat Shemini

“And on the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised” (Vayikra 12:3).
The Sefer Hachinuch explains the Torah’s description of the Jewish people as a goy kadosh — a nation that would be holy, or separate from all the other nations: Everything that we do is to be elevated above the physical and the mundane; all our thoughts and words and actions must be directed along the ways of G-dliness.

To help us succeed in this lofty mission, Hashem gave us a sign to remind us how we are different from the other nations — the commandment of bris milah. Of course, Hashem could have created baby boys without foreskins at all, so that bris milah would be unnecessary. And since Hashem wanted the Jewish people to be a separate nation, wouldn’t it have made more sense to have created Jewish males with the foreskin already removed?

Any expectation we have for ourselves often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we don’t like a certain character trait that we have, we might tell ourselves that this is just the way we are, that we are unable to change. It’s no surprise then that we won’t be able to change. But the Vilna Gaon says that if we aren’t constantly changing, then what is the purpose of our lives? What are we doing with the precious gift of every day if not trying to improve ourselves?

Everything we do on earth should be directed toward perfecting ourselves in every aspect of our lives. This is a critical part of serving Hashem each and every day. The Torah is our guidebook to spiritual self-improvement, but if we think that we cannot change then the Torah won’t even apply to us. It’s hard for us to change, and so easy to tell ourselves this is just the way we are. But Hashem wanted to show us that change is always possible, so He gave us the mitzvah of bris milah. He didn’t want us to be born physically “perfect” or “complete” so that we shouldn’t think we are spiritually or morally “finished.” The sign of bris milah constantly reminds us that life on this world is one of constant change and the endless pursuit of perfection.

Student studying in MMY