A Taste of Torah: Weekly Commentary from the JTS Community
Leviticus 12:1 - 15:33
April 29, 2006 1 Iyyar 5766
This week's commentary was written by Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz, Senior Rabbinic Fellow, JTS
Too often our perception of God's creations and works assumes a sense of completion and perfection. We tend to place an inordinate share of responsibility on the shoulders of God, as it were — arguing that God's involvement in creation necessarily implies wholeness. Our Parashat this week, Tazri·a-Metzora, however demonstrate otherwise; humans are commanded to complete creation and enter into partnership with God. This lesson is evident from the opening of Parashat Tazri·a, which teaches, "On the eighth day, the flesh of [a newborn male's] foreskin will be circumcised" (Leviticus 12:3). Why does God make a deliberate choice to create boys uncircumcised? What does this act teach us about the significance of brit milah — both for the particular act of circumcision and more generally, regarding the essence of Judaism?
Rabbi Avigdor Miller comments on the extent to which this verse communicates a vision of partnership between God and humans. Miller cites B'reishit Rabbah 11:7:
A philosopher once asked Rabbi Hoshiah, 'If circumcision is so great, why was it not given to the first man (Adam)? Rabbi Hoshiah responded to the philosopher, 'All that was created in the six days of Creation requires making, as it is stated in Genesis 2:3, 'And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because God ceased from all the work which God createdto make." Just as the mustard seed requires sweetening... and wheat requires grinding, humans too require improvement.
Far from conveying a sense of finitude, the midrash expresses God's mindfulness in leaving some creative works incomplete. Human action is needed to complete the task, thus creating a partnership between God and humans. For Rabbi Miller, the lesson is not simply bound by the tradition of brit milah. The message is broader and more profound: "[one] should not rest content with the native wisdom and native character traits; but just as [a male child] requires the improvement of circumcision so also does [a person] need constant addition of wisdom and progress in improvement of character" (Miller, A Kingdom of Cohanim, 125).
Brit milah, then becomes a powerful symbol of human involvement in refining divine creation. A quintessential act of recognizing the covenant between God and humans cannot be realized until humans become actively involved. The same may be said for so many other areas of our lives.
Torah places the gift of 613 mitzvot, commandments, in our hands. They are little more than words on parchment without human actors animating and fulfilling these sacred commands. Ultimately, if we are to build a sense of kehilla kedosha, holy community, in our lives, it must be rooted in this notion of partnership between us and God.
Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz