Tuesday, May 24, 2016

522 - Tazria

While discussing the laws pertaining to a woman who gives birth which are mentioned at the beginning of this week's parsha, the Torah includes the mitzvah of bris milah: "On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised" (Vayikra 12:3). Rav Wolbe (Daas Shlomo) cites a Gemara which highlights the uniqueness of this mitzvah.

"Hashem surrounds Bnei Yisrael with mitzvos. They don tefillin on their heads and arms, they wear tzitzis on their clothing and they affix a mezuzah upon their doors. About these mitzvos Dovid declared, 'Regarding seven [mitzvos i.e. two tefillin, four tzitzis and one mezuzah] do I praise You daily.' When Dovid entered the bathhouse and was aware that he was undressed, he lamented, 'Woe unto me that I stand bare of mitzvos.' After he remembered the bris milah he was comforted, and upon leaving he composed a chapter in Tehillim, "lam'natzeiach al ha'sheminis" - referring to the bris milah which is performed on the eighth day" (Menachos 43b).

What bothered Dovid about the fact that he was bare of mitzvos? After all, he had not been derelict in their performance, rather, he was standing in a bathhouse where there simply was no obligation to perform these mitzvos! Indeed, the Torah gauges a person by how they act in a situation where they are exempt from performing mitzvos.

This idea is expressed by Chazal (Avodah Zara 2b) when describing the scenario that will unfold when Moshiach comes. The nations of the world clamor for reward despite their lack of performing Hashem's will and they will plead to give them a mitzvah for them to merit reward." Hashem will command them to perform the mitzvah of sukkah, and each person will build a sukkah on their rooftop. Hashem will then cause the sun to beat down mercilessly thereby causing them to leave their sukkahs, but not before delivering a sound kick to its walls. The Gemara continues that although one who is suffering is not obligated to sit in the sukkah, nevertheless, they should not have kicked the sukkah before exiting. The Torah defines a person by his behavior when exempted from mitzvos. The nations act disdainfully, while a Jew who is exempt from this mitzvah takes leave of the sukkahsubmissively, as would "a servant who offered water to his master and the master threw the water back in his face" (Sukkah 28b).

With this in mind, we can understand Dovid Hamelech's distress when he realized that he stood bare of mitzvos. He was bothered that a situation existed where a person could be totally free from any mitzvos. The potential to enter a place where one is devoid of mitzvos indicates that the mitzvos are merely external acts to be performed and not spiritual deeds that are fused into a person's makeup and part and parcel of his being. He then remembered about the bris milah imprinted upon his flesh and was comforted by the awareness that mitzvos are ingrained into a person's body and they become part of his very essence. Thus, there is no situation where one is free from mitzvos.

Upon leaving the bathhouse he sang about the mitzvah of "the eighth day." The number seven represents nature. The seven mitzvos of tefillin, tzitzis and mezuzahsurround a person i.e they do not actually change a person, rather they sanctify his natural existence. In contrast, the number eight is symbolic of those things which are above the realm of nature. The bris milah takes the physical body and elevates it into a world of spirituality high above the realm of nature.

The month of Nissan and the Yom Tov of Pesach afford many people a break from their daily schedules in general and their learning sessions in particular. We are defined by the way we behave during our "off hours." The very essence of a Jew is ingrained with mitzvos andkedusha and we should make every effort to ensure that we maintain our unique holiness despite the lack of a structured schedule.

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