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(5745) The dearness of Yitzchak who was circumcised at eight days old (Ber. Rab 45:4)  


1. The Midrash tells us that:

“Yitzchak and Yishmael were debating each other. This one said ‘I am dearer than you since I was circumcised at thirteen years old and this one said ‘I am dearer than you since I was circumcised at eight days old’”.

״יצחק וישמעאל היו מדיינים זה עם זה, זה אומר אני חביב ממך שנמלתי לשלש עשרה שנה וזה אמר חביב אני ממך שנמלתי לח׳ ימים״

The reason that “I was circumcised at thirteen years old “ is more “dear” is plainly understood ( as the Midrash continues afterward, that Yishmael claimed) “I was in doubt whether to protest, yet I did not protest” .

One must however understand:

What advantage is there of being “circumcised at eight days”- because of which Yitzchak said: “I am dearer than you”?

The commentators state that the virtue is in that which “A Mitzvah performed at its (proper) time is better” (מצוה בשעתה עדיף) and the time of circumcision is at “eight days”.

However, this is not straightforward since:

[In addition to that which concerning Yishmael’s circumcision, G-d first commanded (אנגעזאגט) him when he was thirteen, and therefore there is no place to say that he missed out on the “Mitzvah in its time” since, for him, then (when he was thirteen years old) was the “time” of the Mitzvah.

(And has been spoken before, regarding the reason why Avraham could have circumcised himself on Yom Kippur, even though the law is that circumcision, not occurring in its proper time (מילה שלא בזמנה), does not supersede Shabbat and Yom Tov – and Avraham kept the entire Torah even before it was given – was because, since he was commanded at that time regarding circumcision, that for him, it was considered circumcision at its proper time (מילה בזמנה).

In addition to this, it is:]

The aspect of “a Mitzvah in its time is better” is only a particular advantage in the fulfillment of the Mitzvah – the time of the Mitzvah. Therefore how can one compare the dearness of fulfilling a Mitzvah “in its time” to the advantage of Yishmael’s circumcision – a virtue in regard to the entire fulfillment of the Mitzvah (כללות קיום המצוה) (“I was in doubt whether to protest, yet I did not protest”). So much so that, because of this, Yitzchak should say “I am dearer than you“?

One must say that this aspect of being circumcised at eight days is not just a part of the Mitzvah – its time, but that this is critical to the entire aspect of circumcision.  Circumcision at eight days has a different scope and quality (גדר, איכות).

This is also proven from that which the Sages state that:

  • Adam HaRishon was commanded to fulfill seven Mitzvot etc.
  • To Noach was added ‘tearing a limb from a living animal’ (Eiver Min haChai) etc.,
  • To Avraham was added circumcision,
  • Yitzchak was inculcated in this at eight days (יצחק חנכה לשמונה ימים) (since Yitzchak “was the first that was circumcised at eight days old).


Why does the Midrash separate the Mitzvah of circumcision into two statements –

  • The command of it (to Avraham)
  • And the aspect of “inculcating at eight days old” (through Yitzchak) –

If, because that by Yitzchak, (one) detail was added, namely “circumcision at eight days”- is this sufficient cause to accord (a separate statement regarding) the “inculcation” (חנוך) of the Mitzvah of circumcision to him?

Moreover- does this separate distinction – warrant the similarity to the distinction (and addition) of circumcision to Eiver Min haChai etc.?

Therefore it follows (געדרונגען) that the aspect of circumcision at eight days effects a primary innovation in the entire aspect of circumcision.

2. One could say that the clarification of this is:

The essence of Brit Mila is (like the words of the verse) – “My covenant shall be in your flesh as an everlasting covenant”. (״והיתה בריתי בבשרכם לברית עולם״)

Through Brit Mila, an eternal bond, is effected between the circumcised and G-d, as it were.

This is similar to the adoption of a covenant between loved ones:

When they want to insure (פארזיכערן) that the love between them will remain in a manner that no-one nor any condition should affect it – they strengthen this with power and force (בתוקף ועוז) through making among themselves a pact (כריתת ברית).

However, regarding a pact between people – which regarding a created being – there can be changes –it is possible that even the pact should become void.

However when G-d makes a “covenant”, in this case – with a Yid (through that which the Yid circumcises himself) it is an “everlasting covenant” is which change is not applicable.

This is one of the explanations why Avraham Avinu was not circumcised until G-d commanded him to do so – even though Avraham Avinu fulfilled the entire Torah even before it was given. For a created being, since he is subject to change (בעל שינוי), cannot of his own accord, effect an aspect that is everlasting, a “Brit Olam” - an eternal bond. This can be accomplished solely with the power of the Creator who says (and which gives power) that “My covenant shall be . . as an everlasting covenant”.

3. Therefore one can understand why the time of Brit Mila is specifically when one is quite small, at eight days old, when the one circumcised (נימול) is a still a child and cannot, at all, join, with his own power, in the fulfillment of the Mitzvah.

A thing that a person, conducts with his own powers, requires a preparation in time, until he is sufficiently prepared, and has the ability to accomplish it. However, regarding the “covenant” that one accomplishes through the Mitzvah of Mila, it comes completely from the Creator - there is no hand of the one circumcised (תפיטת ידי האדם) in this.

The deed of the Mitzvah (פעולת המצוה) itself is indeed effected through a person. However the covenant which is created through it, is accomplished entirely by G-d.

In other words, the simple reason (דער פשט), is not that through the Mitzvah of Mila – the person connects himself with G-d, but rather it is the opposite: When a Yid is circumcised, G-d connects the person with Him in an “everlasting covenant”.

Therefore there is no reason that one should wait until the child matures and can himself participate in the decision to fulfill the Mitzvah, since, in any case, this will entirely not be his accomplishment. Therefore, it is, on the contrary, at the first opportunity (even before the child is sufficiently strong) that one circumcises him.

4. Accordingly one can also understand the virtue in the Mila of Yitzchak – the “first that was circumcised at eight days old“ over that of the Mila of Avraham (and Yishmael):

The Mitzvah of Mila was given to a, only just after he had prepared himself, through his prior Avodah during the course of ninety-nine years, with an orderly approach (סדר והדרגה).

This began with his “recognizing his Creator” (which included the different levels in this – three years old, forty years old, forty-eight years), and his Avodah to proclaim G-d in the world etc., until he reached the highest completeness which is possible for a created being to attain – and only after this, was he given (from Above) the Mitzvah of Mila, through which he became “perfect” (תמים).

Therefore, in his fulfillment of the Mitzvah of Mila, it was not visibly emphasized and recognizable that this is a “covenant” and bond which comes completely from Above.

In other words, even by Avraham, it was not in a manner that his previous Avodah was a receptacle to the covenant – a cause and reason to the covenant – since as aforementioned – the covenant which is accomplished through Mila – an everlasting covenant, eternal – is not in the realm of the person (בחיק הנברא), since ‘all that is created wears away’ (כל הווה נפסד), therefore a created being cannot effect this. The thoroughly greatest person (גדול שבגדולים) (who completely understands the Mitzvah) is not “closer” (נענטער) to it than the thoroughly smallest person (קטן שבקטנים).

Rather, his Avodah is just an aspect of preparation to the covenant. Namely, that through that which Avraham performed his Avodah with completeness, however much a created being can accomplish, as one who is created - G-d then gave him a gift from Above (מתנה מלמעלה) that he should have the “everlasting covenant”.

(This is similar to the dictum that “if it would not give him personal pleasure, he would not give the present” (אי לאו דעביד נייחא לנפשי׳ לא יהיב לי׳ מתנתא) – for the “personal pleasure” is not a reward for the present and certainly not something that compels the person to give the present, since a present comes from the giver (הנותן). However, on the other hand, the present is given specifically when there is the aspect of “deriving pleasure for himself”).

However, nonetheless, since it came after the preface of Avraham’s Avodah – in his fulfillment of the Mitzvah of Mila, his Avodah was “intermingled” (אריינגעמישט), so much so that even the Mitzvah of Mila itself was, for him, connected with his “resolution” that he must circumcise himself.

Therefore, it was not visibly emphasized and recognizable in this that the covenant came entirely from Above.

[Similarly regarding Yishmael, who was circumcised at thirteen years old, when one already at the age of consent (בר דעת) – it comes out that Yishmael, with his understanding, consented to have himself circumcised and connected with G-d]

Specifically regarding Yitzchak, who was circumcised at eight days old, was it visible that the aspect of Brit Mila is – a bond that is created (not by the person circumcised, a created being, but) completely by G-d.

M’Sichas Acharon Shel Pesach, 5741


Gutnick Chumash pp. 86ff
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