LECH LECHA (Genesis, 12:1-17:27) — “A Covenant of Dedication”

In the end of this week’s Torah reading, we are introduced to the Mitzvah of Bris Milah, the Covenant of Circumcision.  This Mitzvah, more than any other, is the sign of the eternal pact between G-d and the children of Abraham.  In fact, one of the blessings recited at the Bris thanks G-d for giving us the commandment “lehachneeso bivriso shel Avraham Aveenu — to enter the child into the Covenant of our father Abraham.”

One of my favorite stories that I like to tell when I am performing a Bris is about a Mohel in what was then known as the Soviet Union, who one day heard an ominous knock on his door. He opened the door to find two KGB agents who accused him of being a Mohel, a profession that was illegal in the Soviet Union.  They told him to pack his belongings and to come with them.  He said goodbye to his wife and children, suspecting that he might never see them again.

After a long and silent trip by train and car, the KGB agents brought him to a large building.   They instructed him to go inside and do what he would be told.

Upon entering the building, the rabbi found the very last thing he expected — dozens of Jewish parents with sons waiting to be circumcised!  The project took him 3 days!

Before performing the Bris on a 2-year-old, he received an unusual request from the mother.  “Please,” she begged, “as soon as you have performed the Bris, give me my son to hold.”

The Mohel explained that his usual procedure was to put on a dressing and make sure that everything was stable before giving the baby to the mother.  But this mother was insistent that she hold the baby immediately.

The Mohel performed the Bris and handed the child to his mother who embraced him, kissed him, and fainted flat out on the floor!

When a Bris is performed on a 2-year-old, there is usually more bleeding and the event is much more traumatic for the baby and the mother, so everyone assumed that that was the reason she had passed out.   However, the mother later explained what had happened.

“When this baby was born two years ago,” she explained, “I knew how hard it would be to arrange for his Bris.  I knew that it would be illegal and dangerous, and I was afraid that I might get lazy and try to delay his Bris.  So, in order to make sure that I would never falter in my efforts to do this Mitzvah, I gave myself an additional incentive.  I swore two years ago that until my son would be ushered into the Covenant of Abraham, I would never kiss him.”

That is the real reason she passed out.  After two years of withholding her natural maternal instincts, she was totally overcome with emotion.

This is the meaning of the Briso shel Avraham Aveenu, the Covenant of Abraham.  There is something special about the children of Abraham, the Nation of Israel, who understand that sometimes doing the right thing has to hurt a little; sometimes we have to make sacrifices for what we believe in.

Abraham was called a Hebrew, an ‘Ivri’, from the word Eiver — across.  Abraham was considered to be on one side of the river and the rest of the world was on the other.  Abraham was totally unfazed by being “across the river” from the rest of the world.  He was not afraid to march to the tune of a different drummer.  He knew what was right and did it with pride.

Thank G-d, we live in a country where we are permitted to practice our beliefs freely and openly.  We don’t have to sneak a Mohel to a Bris.  We don’t have to worry that we may lose our jobs if we don’t work on Shabbos.

As easy as it is to be observant here, we often find ourselves being lax in fulfilling our covenantal obligations. What are we afraid of?  Are we concerned that the secret police may knock on our doors?  Thank G-d, that’s not an issue here.  Could it be that we’re afraid of being ‘Ivri’– across the river, of standing out and being different from our friends and neighbors?

Let us remember our father Abraham, who stood up to the world and spoke openly and proudly about his then-controversial beliefs.  Let us remember that righteous Jewish mother who stood up to the Soviet Union and made her son a part of Abraham’s Treaty with G-d.  America’s Founding Fathers, by the grace of our Father in Heaven, have given us a gift — the gift of religious freedom.  Let us make sure not to squander it.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz


From the Archives

“The Surrogate Mother and the Terrorist” (2009) 

…What a story!  Sarai can’t conceive, so she makes Hagar her “surrogate.”  Hagar conceives right away and “disses” Sarai.  Sarai persecutes Hagar, causing her to lose her baby and run away.  The angel tells Hagar to accept Sarai’s tough treatment, and promises that since G-d has heard her prayer, she will give birth to the father of the nation that will eventually give us Arafat, bin Laden, and Saddam Hussein!

Sarai’s behavior is puzzling… 

Read more.


“CHANGE!!” (2008)

 Let’s face it. CHANGE is in the air.  Our country is beginning to undergo a fundamental change in its entire method of doing business.  Some of us welcome the change.  Some of us are profoundly disappointed.  Some of us have great hope and optimism for the future that will be heralded in by our new president and Congress.  Others are frustrated and frightened by what will happen to our economy, our status in the world, our security andIsrael’s security.

Let me give both sides a bit of news.  You’re both wrong!…

Read more.


 “Tune that Name!” (2006)

… it is the universal desire of all parents to give their child an honorable name, and to bless him with the hope that he will grow up to bring credit to his name…

It is, therefore, rather surprising that we find that several of the Sages of the Talmud were named Rabbi Yishmael.  Ishmael, the oldest son of Abraham, does not seem to be a person whom we would want our children to emulate…

How could it be that parents would want to name their children after such a scoundrel?…

Read more.


“There Goes the Neighborhood!” (2005)

… It has happened so many times… How many nations have invited us in, enjoyed success, and then kicked us out?…

This past Tuesday, a rabbi I know was standing in front of the building where he had just voted.  One of our fellow citizens walked past him and made a comment that says it all: “I can’t stand looking at you people!”


Read more.


“The Soul Maker” (2003)

He gazed into her eyes.  He whispered to her words he had never said before.  “I now realize how beautiful you are!”

How romantic!  Who was this young man, who was expressing his fond appreciation of his beloved’s radiance?  Who was this lovely young beauty, the subject of his admiration?

This couple, who had dedicated their lives to teaching Torah, were no youngsters.  He was 75 years old.  She was 65.  His name was Abram; hers, Sarai.  (Later known as Abraham and Sarah.)…

Read more.


“The Salem Trial” (2002)

… It was a major superpower summit.  The most powerful men in the world were about to meet… Chapter 14 of Genesis describes what should probably be called the First World War.  Five kings went to war against four kings.  … What would happen when these two leaders would meet? …  How did “Malchizedek-the-bartender” become “Malchizedek-the-Priest”????? …

Read more.


“The Reward for a Mitzvah…” (2001)

…We’ve all heard of the city ofSodom… Abraham gave up the opportunity to become its king… A great selfless act on the part of our great patriarch.  However, he still could have done more…

Read more.


“A Covenant of Dedication” (2000)

… The Mohel performed the Bris and handed the child to his mother who embraced him, kissed him, and fainted flat out onto the floor!…

Read more.


This is the weekly message at http://TorahTalk.org . Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in  Monsey,  New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.


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Published in: on November 10, 2000 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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