Monday, March 07, 2011
Tuesday, March 01, 2011
Brit Milah: Fast Track to Eden
Crudely put, for sure, but it's a sentiment remarkably in tune with one Jewish mystical tradition regarding the significance of brit milah, ritual circumcision. The meaning of this most arcane of Jewish aboriginal customs has largely eluded many modern Jews. Most people are reduced to saying either:
1) We do to maintain the traditions of our people, or...
2) God told us to do it, so we do it, or...
3) I want all the men in my family to match.
In the Torah itself, it is evident that the practice was thought to bring a measure of physical and spiritual protection (Ex. 4). In a piquant legend along these lines, when the fish who swallowed Jonah is about to be eaten by Leviathan, Jonah flashes the great sea monster and Leviathan flees from the sign of the covenant (I'd be startled too). The fish then releases Jonah in gratitude (PdRE 10).
But the medieval mystics of the Rhineland found another rationale - that circumcision ensures same-day service entry into Eden in the World to Come. How can they claim such a thing?
They demonstrate this is via a remarkably clever display of close reading of the Bible. For they take the wording of Deut. 30:12, "Who among us will ascend into heaven?", ignore the context (it's a rhetorical declaration that one need not enter heaven to know God's will), and instead examine the Hebrew to discover an occult message. Lo and behold, they find one. They note that the first letter of each word in the phrase,
מי יעלה לנו השמימהspells MILaH, (circumcision). So, "Who among us will ascend into heaven?" The verse, it is claimed, provides its own answer - those who have been circumcised (Eleazar of Worms, commentary on Deut. 30:12)!
Not that those without the seal of the covenant (gentiles and women, for example) won't eventually get to Eden. Brit Milah, however, ensures one takes the short cut [pun intended]. Thus for the trimmed there will be no temporary stop in Gehenna, the Jewish purgatory (Gen. R. 21:9; Er. 19a).
Incidentally, the same interpretation also discovers the four-letter name of God,
in the last letters of each word of the same phrase. This in turn provides an explanation (beyond the shape of the letter) for why later Kabbalists associate the Hebrew letter Yod (the first letter of the Divine name) with the phallus.
Zal g'mor - to own the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism, go to: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050