For the week ending 24 December 2011 / 27 Kislev 5772

A Chip Off The Old Block

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair - www.seasonsofthemoon.com
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Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475 –1564), commonly known as Michelangelo, was arguably the greatest sculptor who ever lived.

When asked how he made his most famous statue, of King David, he is reported to have said, "It’s easy. You just chip away all the stone that doesn't look like David."

If Michelangelo understood that the perfect physical image of man must escape the marble that encases it, he should have had no problem understanding that the perfect spiritual image of man needs to escape the flesh that encases it.

To Michelangelo the mitzvah of Brit Mila should have been a no-brainer.

I doubt it.

To the Greek mind, which formed the underpinnings of the Michelangelo’s Renaissance Weltanschauung, the human body is perfect, and to subtract from it is the worst form of aesthetic crime.

But beneath the aesthetic protests of the Greeks and the Neo-Greeks, there is a more sinister agenda. It was not by coincidence that among the events that lead up to Chanuka, Antiochus banned brit mila.

In every generation the voice of anti-Semitism always starts with the most reasonable of accusations, namely: “Cruelty to Animals” and “Cruelty to Young Children” (and probably in that order).

In other words, Jew-hatred starts by attacking shechita and brit mila.

Many countries in Europeare standing by waiting to see whether a bill against shechita which has already passed the Lower House of the Dutch Government will pass into law. If this bill does become law, shechita will be illegal in Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. Swiss animal rights groups and far-right politicians have already called for a ban on imported kosher meat.

And a virulently anti-Semitic comic has appeared on the West Coast of America characterizing a mohel as a sinister 'Doctor Doom', as bloodthirsty as any a Marvel Comic villain. This comic is just one symptom of a rising backlash against brit mila. One anti-circumcision group in San Francisco succeeded in getting to ballot a measure which would prohibit circumcision among males under the age of 18 with a penalty for infringement of a fine of up to $1,000 or up to one year in jail.

The attack on shechita views animals as humans, and the attack on mila views humans as splendid animals, free to indulge their every whim and desire.

The freedom to indulge is the true agenda of the 'Greeks' in every generation.

There’s a fascinating confrontation between Rabbi Akiva and the Roman General Turnus Rufus described in the Rabbinic literature. (Midrash Tanchuma, Tazria 7:7):

"Turnus Rufus asks Rabbi Akiva, 'Whose actions are better, those of G-d or flesh and blood?' Rabbi Akiva replies, 'Those of flesh and blood.'

"…Asks Turnus Rufus, 'Why are you circumcised?' 'I thought you would ask me that,' replies Rabbi Akiva, 'and for that reason I pre-empted your question and told you that the actions of flesh and blood are better… Take wheat and cake for example. G-d creates wheat and man creates cake. Or flax and clothing. G-d creates flax and man creates clothes. Are not the latter better?'

"Turnus Rufus replies, 'If G-d wants man to be circumcised, why doesn’t he emerge from his mother’s belly thus?' Says Rabbi Akiva, 'I could ask you too why the placenta emerges with the baby and isn't severed before the baby emerges?'

" 'The reason that a baby boy doesn't come circumcised into this world is because the Holy One gave the mitzvot to the Jewish People solely to connect to Him’."

The mitzvah of brit mila reminds us that man is created imperfect but with all the potential to raise himself to holiness and closeness to the Creator – to free himself from constraints of the physical and embrace his spiritual destiny.

Man too is no more than a block of marble waiting to be turned into a work of art.

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