Bris Milah as Creation

Uvayom hashemini yimol besar orlaso (Vayikra 12:3)

In Parashas Vayishlach, Shechem abducted and defiled Yaakov’s daughter Dina (Bereishis 34:2). Dina’s brothers Shimon and Levi were appalled by this immoral behavior, and as part of their plan to avenge their sister’s honor, they convinced all the men in Shechem’s town to circumcise themselves. On the third day after the circumcision, Shimon and Levi approached the city with confidence, knowing that the townsmen were weakened by their circumcisions and unable to defend themselves, and succeeded in killing all the men in the town (34:13–26).

Why does circumcision cause so much pain specifically on the third day? The Mishnah in Taanis (26a) teaches that the Anshei Maamad — representatives of the nation whose role was to stand by and observe while the communal sacrifices were being offered — would fast every day of the week, except Erev Shabbos, Shabbos and Sunday. The Gemara (27b) elucidates that they did not fast on Friday or Shabbos because it would be disrespectful to Shabbos, while on Sunday they were unable to fast because it is the third day after mankind was created, as Adam was created on Erev Shabbos.

What is the problem with fasting on the third day after we were created? Rashi explains that the third day of creation isn’t conducive to fasting because it is inherently a weak day. As a source for this idea, Rashi cites the aforementioned episode involving the townsmen killed by Shimon and Levi. Rav Yehudah Wagschal of Yeshivas Mir in Yerushalayim points out that Rashi is teaching us that the pain experienced on the third day is not due to the natural healing process as one might have assumed, but rather because bris milah (circumcision) is considered a form of creation, and somebody who has been circumcised is therefore weakest at that time.

The Gemara in Kiddushin (38a) teaches that Hashem completes the days of the righteous. This is traditionally understood to mean that He allows them to live complete years by dying on the date on which they were born. However, at the funeral of Harav Chaim Volozhiner, one of the eulogizers, Rav Dovid of Novardok noted that while Rav Chaim was born on the second day of Shavuos (7 Sivan), he died on 14 Sivan. Why didn’t such a righteous person merit to complete his years?

Rav Dovid suggested that a person’s true birthday is not the day on which he is born physically, but rather the day of his bris milah, at which time he is born spiritually. Although the Gemara’s source for this teaching is Moshe, who died on the day of his birth (7 Adar), this can be explained by the fact that Moshe was born already circumcised. Rav Dovid concluded that with this new interpretation, it’s not surprising to note that Harav Chaim Volozhiner died one week after his birthday, precisely on the day of his bris. We see from here that bris milah isn’t just a mitzvah, but as Rashi writes, it is considered the creation and birth of the person.

Q: The Gemara in Shabbos (132a) derives from 12:3 that the mitzvah of circumcision is performed even on Shabbos. However, the Shulchan Aruch rules (Yoreh De’ah 266:2) that this is only the case for a circumcision being performed on an 8-day-old boy. If somebody transgressed and circumcised a boy who was older than eight days on Shabbos, does he fulfill his obligation?

Q: The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 143:4) rules that if a mistake is found in a sefer Torah while it is being read, a second Torah scroll should be taken out and used to complete the reading. Under what circumstances would the Torah reading be completed using the invalid sefer Torah, even though another kosher one is available?

A: Harav Akiva Eiger raises this question and brings a proof from the law (Chullin 14a) that although it is forbidden to ritually slaughter an animal on Shabbos, if one did so, the slaughter is valid and the animal is kosher for consumption. Similarly, a prohibited circumcision which was performed on Shabbos would also be considered valid. The Pischei Teshuvah questions the logic of the comparison between the two cases. He further suggests that the entire proof is unnecessary, and Harav Akiva Eiger must have only raised the question to understand the reason behind the law, as the Gemara in Shabbos (137a) explicitly rules that one who circumcises a 9-day-old baby on Shabbos is considered to have performed a mitzvah. The Ksav Sofer and Toras Chessed explain that the proof is needed because this Gemara doesn’t clearly resolve the question, as it is predicated on certain opinions which aren’t universally agreed to.

A: Harav Betzalel Stern cites a custom that if an invalidating mistake is found in a Torah scroll during the first time it is being used, the congregation should continue and complete the reading using that sefer Torah. He explains that this is comparable to the Mishnah’s teaching (Nega’im 3:2) that if a chassan (groom) develops a blemish which may be tzaraas, it is ignored and not ruled upon by a Kohen during the seven-day period of rejoicing following his wedding. Just as we temporarily overlook the chassan’s shortcomings in order to allow him to begin his marriage in an appropriate state of joy, so too we briefly ignore the sefer Torah’s mistake during its inaugural use.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.