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Covenantal Journey

Parshat Lech Lecha

Genesis 12:1 – 17:27


This week’s Torah portion Lech Lecha begins the journey of our ancestors Sarah and Abraham toward their encounter with the one God.  It is this week that we read about the initial covenant with God and the nascent story of the Jewish people.   We read of their name changes, Sarai to Sarah and Abram to Abraham and the promise of a child born to Sarah and Abraham in their old age.  Ishmael is already their child, Abraham by birth, Sarah by adoption. But in this covenantal promise, which I might add that Abraham scoffs at and laughs about, a child’s birth to Sarah is foretold.   God blesses Ishmael but the covenant according to this week’s portion will be continued through Isaac.

The sign of the covenant is made by circumcising the boys and men of Abraham’s household.  Further any boy at 8 days will be circumcised to be brought into the community.  This is an affirmation of life.  It dedicates the reproductive organ of the men not to wanton sex but to a holy covenant between God and the descendants of Abraham.  This is a radical idea.  The whole being, the whole body and fertility is connected to this special and unique religious covenant with one God.  There isn’t a separate god or goddess of fertility or a separate god or goddess of blessing.  But Abraham’s God-is a shield to Abraham and his family.

This is a point that the anti-circumcision people want to ignore. They base their assumptions about what circumcision is and isn’t on the idea that it is a medical procedure or “beauty” procedure.  For Jews and for Muslims nothing could be further from the truth.  Circumcision is a religious moment in the life of a male child; a moment to seek the Holy One’s blessing and a moment to dedicate that child to the covenantal promise extended to Abraham and his descendants.

If you don’t want to circumcise your child then don’t.  But don’t try to make laws which are anti-Semitic and Isalamaphobic which forbid circumcision of male children.  This is a religious and sacred moment. For Jews it enters our male babies into a rich historical and familial and sacred tradition. And for those that claim it is doing “harm” or hurting the infant, they haven’t seen modern circumcision or brit milah.

Finally the comparison with what is called women’s circumcision is a completely false analogy.  For women this is genital mutilation because they actually cut out the clitoris completely.  Circumcision doesn’t remove the penis. Just the foreskin.  So let’s stop making the comparison now.

Today we still welcome our male babies at eight days with a Brit Milah ceremony which includes the circumcision and naming.  And we also welcome our daughters at eight days with a Brit Banot ceremony which includes rituals like feet washing, candle lighting and a naming. These ceremonies acknowledge and celebrate the birth of a child into the covenant of Judaism and their families.

This week’s Torah portion is ancient indeed and yet at each Brit Milah  and Brit Banot ceremony-we pray that each baby will grow towards a life filled with Torah, a sacred relationship and good deeds.  Ken Yicanes (Ticanes) L’Torah, L’chupah u’lamaasim Tovim.    We hope that each child can grow to fulfill this ancient promise!