A World-Sustaining Mitzvah
“The mitzvah of mila (circumcision) is so important that without it the heavens and earth would not be sustained.”
Rabbi teaches the essential connection between this mitzvah and the world’s existence from a verse in Yirmiyahu (33:25), “If not for My covenant day and night, I would not sustain the heavens and the earth.” Rebbi maintains that the “covenant” refers to the covenant of brit mila. The gemara also cites Rabbi Elazar who disagrees with Rebbi on the meaning of the word “covenant” in the verse, and maintains that it refers to the covenant of Torah. He states that the world would not exist without Torah.
The Maharsha asks why the two “sustainers of the world” mentioned on our daf are not part of the list of the “three sustainers of the world” taught by Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel in Pirkei Avot (1:18): Judgment, truth and peace. He explains, based on the Tur, that there are two types of “sustainers of the world.” There are those that are vital for society to function in a positive manner, and there are those which are indispensible for the existence of the universe and all of Creation. Pirkei Avot refers to the former, whereas the Sages in our sugya refer to the latter.
Another World-Sustaining Mitzvah
Rabbi Elazar said, “The mitzvah of Torah is so important that without it the heavens and earth would not be sustained.”
His source, as mentioned above, is a verse in Yirmiyahu (33:25), “If not for My covenant day and night, I would not sustain the heavens and the earth.” Rabbi Elazar explains the verse to teach that without the learning of Torah day and night, Hashem would see no justification for the Creation to continue to exist.
I’d like to share an anecdote with you. There is a custom for publishers to decorate the front page of every volume of the Talmud with beautiful graphics that surround the name of the tractate. This is done in order to “beautify the mitzvah.” However, in all volumes published by a certain publisher, my friends and I noticed drawings of the sun, moon and stars as part of these graphics, accompanied by the above verse from Yirmiyahu regarding the essential connection between Torah and Creation.
We asked a local halachic authority about these drawings of the celestial bodies, and were told it was problematic. After we contacted the publisher, these objects were deleted from future editions.