Weekly Letter: Bris Milah for the Health Benefits?

This week, as we read about the first Bris in Parshas Lech Lecha, we present a letter from the Rebbe in which he remarks on presenting mitzvos such as bris milah and others “as prescriptions for good health or hygiene.” The letter, written originally in English, is from the archives of the Rebbe’s personal trusted secretary, Rabbi Nissan Mindel.

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                                                                                                                                            By the Grace of G-d

24th of Iyar, 5732

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Dr.

Cleveland Hts., Ohio 44118

Greeting and Blessing:

This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter, following our personal meeting and conversation with you and your wife. May G-d grant that there should be good results, “good” in true sense of the word, as it is defined by our Sages, “Good to heaven and good to the creatures”  (Kidushin 40a).

I was very pleased to read the report about the first meeting of the Committee for a Chabad House in Cleveland. Again, as our Sages declare that “A gathering for good purpose is of benefit to the participants and of benefit to the world,” this meeting surly belongs in this category.

I would like to add, however, that the time is especially of the essence in a matter concerning education of children – children in the regular sense, and “children” in knowledge. For people do not live in a vacuum and if the opportunity that presents itself at any particular moment to save a Jewish child should not be grabbed, who knows where that child might turn to for education and influence, so that the opportunity might be lost irretrievably.

I read with particular interest your remark in regard to the mitzvah of a bris mila. Needless to say, to carry on an activity to strengthen and spread the observance of mitzvos in general is one of the greatest endeavors. How much more so in such a basic mitzvah which represents the Everlasting Covenant  (Brit Olam) between G-d and Israel.

I might here add a pertinent observation. I am generally not happy with the approach, albeit well meaning, of those who wish to present the mitzvos as prescriptions for good health or hygiene. Similarly, in the case of bris milah, which has often been explained on the basis of health, as also in the case of the mitzvah of taharas hamishpacha, kashrus and the like. To be sure, this is true insofar as it goes, but it tends to limit the significance of the mitzvos to a purely rational basis. Nevertheless, inasmuch as in the final analysis the essential thing is the deed, that is to say that the mitzvos should be actually observed and practiced, and there are Jews who in their present state can be induced to observe the mitzvos precisely through impressing upon them the physical benefits, the said approach is worthwhile in their case, so long as it will induce them to observe the mitzvos in practice, all the more so since we have the promise that “Observing a mitzvah even not for its own sake, will eventually lead to its observance for its own sake.”

In light of the above, perhaps it is advisable that together with the circular you intend to publish on the mitzvah of bris milah, there should be an addendum, or supplement, in which the medical statistics could be quoted to show the great benefits from the mitzvah of bris milah also in the area of physical health and hygiene, the prevention of certain diseases, etc., which would be all the more effective coming from a doctor. Then it can be decided to whom to send the letter with or without the supplement. I leave this to your discretion.

It is customary among Jews to see in everything the Hand of Divine Providence, even in minute derails, since nothing happens by chance. Therefore the “coincidence” of your letter, especially the last two paragraphs of it, coming during these days of sefirah, as we approach the festival of Shovuos, has a particular significance. For the days of sefirah connect the festival of Pesach, the time when our Jewish people was born, with Shovuos , the time when our people was initiated into the Torah and mitzvos, and become “A kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” while the days of sefirah themselves were the period of preparation for Mattan Torah. Thus it is explained that this whole process is similar to that of the “geyrut” which began with circumcision in Egypt, prior to Pesach, and was completed with the acceptance of the “Yoke of the Torah and mitzvos at Mt. Sinai on Shovuos.”

With prayerful wishes for hatzlacha in all above, and with best wishes and kindest regards,

With blessing,

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The above letter is from Volume III of The Letter and the Spirit by Nissan Mindel Publications (NMP).

These letters were written originally in English and were prepared for publication by Rabbi Dr. Nissan Mindel, whose responsibility it was the Rebbe’s correspondence in English and several other languages.

We thank Rabbi Shalom Ber Schapiro, who was entrusted by his father-in-law Rabbi Mindel with his archives and who is Director of the Nissan Mindel Publications (NMP), for making the Rebbe’s letters available to the wider public. May the merit of the many stand him in good stead.


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