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The Tur rules the Halacha: You can do the mitzvah of circumcision with whatever utensil you want… even with a sharp stone, with glass, or with anything that can cut. But it is a special mitzvah to use an iron utensil, ברזל. (YD 264) The Perisha comments, quoting the Midrash: When young King David took five stones and wanted to shoot them with his slingshot at Goliath’s face, there was a slight problem: Goliath’s iron armor entirely covered Goliath’s face and body! The Angel of Iron did not want to allow the stone to break through it, as this would defy the laws of nature, that iron is stronger than rock. But G-d promised the Angel of Iron, that in the merit of the Iron allowing the stones to pierce through it, the Jewish people would circumcise with iron, and no longer with a sharp stone. Until that time, the Jews circumcised with stone, as proven from two sources: In our Parasha, we see that Tzipporah, Moshe’s wife, circumcised her son, Gershom, in the inn on the way down to Egypt, and saved Moshe from the snake that came to kill him. וַתִּקַּ֨ח צִפֹּרָ֜ה צֹ֗ר וַתִּכְרֹת֙ אֶת־עָרְלַ֣ת בְּנָ֔הּ וַתַּגַּ֖ע לְרַגְלָ֑יו וַתֹּ֕אמֶר כִּ֧י חֲתַן־דָּמִ֛ים אַתָּ֖ה לִֽי: It is clear that she used a צור, which is a sharp stone. We see that Yehoshua also used a צור, a stone, to circumcise the Jewish people before entering the Holy Land. יבָּעֵ֣ת הַהִ֗יא אָמַ֤ר יְקֹוָק֙ אֶל־יְהוֹשֻׁ֔עַ עֲשֵׂ֥ה לְךָ֖ חַֽרְב֣וֹת צֻרִ֑ים וְשׁ֛וּב מֹ֥ל אֶת־בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל שֵׁנִֽית: This exception to nature, that rock could pierce the iron/steel, was super-important at that time. It was a time when the Jews were being oppressed and controlled by the Pelishtim. The Pelishtim had captured the Holy Ark and killed Eli Hakohen’s two sons, Hofni and Pinhas, a while back. The Pelishtim did not allow the Jewish people to have any iron/steel, as they were concerned about the possibility of a revolution. This agreement between the Angel of Rock with the Angel of Iron is what saved the Jewish People at that time. Therefore, it is a special mitzvah to circumcise with iron.

But what does circumcision have to do with David’s victory over Goliath? What is the measure for measure that the iron is getting paid back, for allowing the stone to pierce it?

Goliath was referred to by David as הַפְּלִשְׁתִּ֤י הֶֽעָרֵל֙ הַזֶּ֔ה “this uncircumcised Pelishti”. This was not just a fight between David and Goliath. In the bleachers, in the stands, there were two important spectators: Ruth and Orpah, the two Moabite princesses that married Naomi’s sons. Ruth converted and joined Naomi, while Orpah left her mother-in-law, and slept with many non-Jewish men on the night that she parted from Naomi. (Sotah 42b) Ruth was King David’s grandmother, and Orpah was Goliath’s mother. In the merit that Orpah cried four tears when she left her mother-in-law Naomi and kissed her, Orpah was blessed by G-d with four giant sons; the strongest of them all was Goliath! Goliath was referred to by David as the ערל, the uncircumcised, for not only his audacity to curse G-d and His People כִּ֣י חֵרֵ֔ף מַעַרְכ֖וֹת אֱלֹקים חַיִּֽים, but for his mother’s belief that Goliath adopted, that there was no G-d fear, and live life with the most materialistic pleasure possible!

But still, what is the connection of specifically using the iron/steel for the circumcision?

The circumcision is to make us unnatural. To change the way that G-d created Man. We are created with material desires, passions, and we make the treaty with G-d: We promise that we are going to act in a holy way, we are going to have marital relations only after Kiddushin, we will break our natural desires and passions and use them only for the purpose of building families, in permissible marital relationships. The iron went against its nature, and allowed rock to penetrate it. G-d, we promise you that we will go against our nature, and only use our desires for a greater purpose than indulgence!

This is what Yirat Shamayim means! Literally, this means Fear of Heaven. Why do we fear Heaven? Wouldn’t it be more correct to say, fear of G-d in heaven!? The Ben Ish Hai tells us that this is not what Yirat Shamayim means. Rashi tells us, in the very beginning of Bereshit, that one of the three reasons why Shamayim is the Hebrew word for heaven is because heaven is a mix of אש ומים. Fire and Water, in heaven, live together, against their nature, to do G-d’s Will. So too, we are to have Yirat Shamayim. We are to fear G-d in such a way that we are going against our nature, to serve Him. This is what the Brit Milah is about. To be a fighter for spirituality! So, we prefer to use the iron that went against its nature and allowed the stone to pierce through it, to serve G-d, to bring G-dliness to the world!

The Sefer Ateret Paz, though, has another point as to why we prefer to use iron for the Brit Milah, and not the stone. We know that a person’s Mazal has a great effect on his life. If a person is born in the Mazal of מאדים, Mars, the red star, this is symbolic of blood. This person’s Mazal will bring him in his life’s choices to be one of three things: If he is a Rasha, he will be a murderer. If he is a Benoni, an average person, he will become a Shochet, a butcher. If he is a Tzaddik, he will become a Mohel. All three will deal with blood; the question is just in which way. (Shabbat 156a) When we parent our children, we need to have this in mind. Each child has his Mazal, and you, the parent, can’t break that. (I remember sitting next to the owner of Mr. Broadway Restaurant on the plane from Israel to NY. He told me that since he was a child, he loved working in the kitchen. During his whole childhood, his family would laugh at him, that he would never be able to make a parnasah, if he loved just working in the kitchen and making food!) It is our job as parents to find what our kids’ strengths and weaknesses are naturally, and always bring them to be the best in the natural way that G-d made them.(Vilna Gaon Mishle 22 6. חֲנֹ֣ךְ לַ֭נַּעַר עַל־פִּ֣י דַרְכּ֑וֹ גַּ֥ם כִּֽי־יַ֝זְקִ֗ין לֹֽא־יָס֥וּר מִמֶּֽנָּה ( Therefore, when a person born under the Mazal of Mars has a nature of being, of “blood”, for this person to become a Mohel is making the best of his nature. It is keeping him from becoming a murderer, a thief, and using it, instead, for something that is the best possible thing, while using his nature of working with blood! This is the reason why we prefer to use iron! It is not for the sake of the mitzvah of the baby who is being circumcised! It is to correct the nature of Mohel! That he should use the knife, for the Mitzvah, and not for killing!

We find this fighter mindset in the Messilat Yesharim, when he talks about being active in serving G-d. ותראה כי טבע האדם כבד מאד, כי עפריות החמריות גס, על כן לא יחפוץ האדם בטורח ומלאכה. ומי שרוצה לזכות לעבודת הבורא יתברך, צריך שיתגבר נגד טבעו עצמו ויתגבר ויזדרז, שאם הוא מניח עצמו ביד כבדותו, ודאי הוא שלא יצליח. והוא מה שאמר התנא (אבות פרק ד): הוי עז כנמר, וקל כנשר, ורץ כצבי, וגבור כארי לעשות רצון אביך שבשמים. וכן מנו חכמים ז”ל (ברכות לב): בדברים הצריכים חיזוק, תורה ומעשים טובים. ומקרא מלא הוא (יהושע א): חזק ואמץ מאד לשמר לעשות ככל – התורה אשר צוך משה עבדי, כי חיזוק גדול צריך למי שרוצה לכפות הטבע אל הפכו.

A person is naturally materialistic, and this weighs down on him, not letting him get to work and be spiritually productive. But someone who wants so much to serve G-d needs to fight his nature, to fight complacency, laziness and procrastination. You have to be brazen like leopard, light like an eagle, swift like a dear, mighty like a lion to do the Will of your Father in Heaven! This is what is meant when we bless someone to be Hazak!

One word of caution though. To be strong, to overcome our nature is never at the scene of the crime. It is always a step before. Making sure you never get to the scene of the crime, if you don’t have to. Being strong means knowing our triggers and how our triggers can be stronger than we are and avoiding them. וְחַטָּאתִ֖י נֶגְדִּ֣י תָמִֽיד .

When Yosef ran out of the room of Zelikah, the wife of Potiphar, he left his cloak in her hand. וַתִּתְפְּשֵׂ֧הוּ בְּבִגְד֛וֹ לֵאמֹ֖ר שִׁכְבָ֣ה עִמִּ֑י וַיַּעֲזֹ֤ב בִּגְדוֹ֙ בְּיָדָ֔הּ וַיָּ֖נָס וַיֵּצֵ֥א הַחֽוּצָה: When she saw that she had his cloak, and he ran out… וַיְהִי֙ כִּרְאוֹתָ֔הּ כִּֽי־עָזַ֥ב בִּגְד֖וֹ בְּיָדָ֑הּ וַיָּ֖נָס הַחֽוּצָה She called out to the people and accused Yosef of starting up with her. וַתִּקְרָ֞א לְאַנְשֵׁ֣י בֵיתָ֗הּ וַתֹּ֤אמֶר לָהֶם֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר רְא֗וּ הֵ֥בִיא לָ֛נוּ אִ֥ישׁ עִבְרִ֖י לְצַ֣חֶק בָּ֑נוּ בָּ֤א אֵלַי֙ לִשְׁכַּ֣ב עִמִּ֔י וָאֶקְרָ֖א בְּק֥וֹל גָּדֽוֹל:  And she used this cloak as the proof to her story! וַיְהִ֣י כְשָׁמְע֔וֹ כִּֽי־הֲרִימֹ֥תִי קוֹלִ֖י וָאֶקְרָ֑א וַיַּעֲזֹ֤ב בִּגְדוֹ֙ אֶצְלִ֔י וַיָּ֖נָס וַיֵּצֵ֥א הַחֽוּצָהAnd she held on to that cloak, as evidence, until her husband came home! : וַתַּנַּ֥ח בִּגְד֖וֹ אֶצְלָ֑הּ עַד־בּ֥וֹא אֲדֹנָ֖יו אֶל־בֵּיתֽוֹ

Couldn’t Yosef quickly go back in the room where Potiphar’s wife was, before anyone came home, and fight to get back his cloak? Didn’t he realize what would happen, if he would leave the cloak in her hands, especially if she actually grabbed the cloak from him, to prove her accusation against him?

Yosef knew what going back into that room meant! He would be putting himself back into the test, to be with her! Yosef said, I am not willing to get near that trigger, even if it means I will be proven guilty to her fabricated story, and I will get thrown in jail for ten years!

About the author, Yosef

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