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Shabbat Parashat Ki Tavo 5773

Parashat Hashavua: Your Nation Are All Righteous

Harav Yosef Carmel

In this week’s haftara, we find a famous and optimistic appraisal of our nation, which deserves a look as to what brings us such praise and what needs to be done to maintain it. “Your nation are all righteous; forever they will inherit the land” (Yeshaya 60:21). We will also look at it in connection with the once again, unfortunately, relevant issue of Anti-Semitic opposition to brit mila.

This phenomenon reminds us of another famous pasuk – this one, from the end of Parashat Ki Teitzei: “Remember what Amalek did to you … he attacked from behind the necheshalim (stragglers)” (Devarim 25:17-18). There are two approaches in Chazal (Medrash Tannaim) as to who these stragglers were: those who strayed from the path of Hashem and were not under the protection of the divine cloud; those who had reservations about Hashem’s providence. The Tanchuma (Ki Teitzei 14) is more specific about the latter group and what befell them: Amalek would cut off the foreskins or Israel and throw them up to the sky, while saying: “Here is what you chose.”

There are two important lessons to learn from these statements of Chazal: 1) The commandment to fight Amalek stems from the attack they made against Jews who were spiritually weak. 2) Whoever is not included in the mitzva of mila separates himself from the “divine cloud” – the protection of the Divine Presence.

Thank G-d, the great majority of the Jewish community circumcises its baby boys. Even those who do not educate their children to consistently follow all the laws of the Torah do not want to give up the merit of being a full-fledged member of the Nation of Israel – Bnei Brit (Sons of the Covenant). The mitzva of mila has special significance as far as our covenantal connection with Hashem. This covenant is not just hinged on the individual’s proper actions: “the covenant of the fathers does not cease.” On the eighth day of a child’s life, well before he is able to choose between good and bad deeds, he joins the community begun by Avraham, which gives a person a special status about which the navi says: “Your nation are all righteous.” Opponents of brit mila are thus opponents of our right to have this special connection to Hashem (It is not surprising that leaders in this area, in the past and the present, are Germans.)

The Zohar (Vol. I, Lech Lecha 93a) wonders about this pasuk: Isn’t it clear that many Jews are not righteous and in fact violate the Torah’s prohibitions regularly? Its answer is that still they have special merit in that they take part in a special sacrifice, which, when circumcising their children, makes them be able to be called righteous.

There is another element to mila. It is a reminder of the need for limits in relations between the genders, without which a basic Jewish lifestyle cannot exist. It is not surprising that many of the curses mentioned in our parasha (see Devarim 27:15-26) refer to those who violate rules in this area. In our days, when the boundaries in these areas are being broken in a dangerous way, strengthening the mitzva of mila is more important than ever. Let us pray that opponents will fail and we will continue to live by the legacy of “your nation are all righteous.”
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