Parashat Tazria, Brit Milah, and Yom Hazikaron/ Yom Ha'atzmaut

Rabbi Akiba, a great Talmudic sage, was once approached by a Roman governor who criticized the practice of brit milah (circumcision). He asked:
"If G-d wanted circumcision, then why doesn’t the baby come out circumcised from his mother’s womb?"  Rabbi Akiva responded, "Because the Almighty didn’t give mitzvot to the Jewish people for any reason but to improve ourselves with them.”(Midrash Tanchuma, Parashas Tazria, 8)
The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, a prominent 18th century Morrocan rabbi, expands on this midrash in his commentary on our parasha (Tazria). He says that this answer is good enough for the Roman governor, but it's not a good enough answers for us as Jews.  Why did G-d give us this commandment?  It is really a very strange mitzvah!  He teaches that the foreskin is not just a little piece of skin but rather a symbol for all the concealed negativity in the world.  So that when we as the Jewish people remove the foreskin, we are actually removing the negativity that it symbolizes.  Therefore, the mitzvah itself symbolizes a commandment to the Jewish people to not only improve ourselves, but to also improve the world and to remove the negativity from it.

As we approach Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, which begins Monday night May 1st, I find myself contemplating on what Israel represents as the homeland of the Jewish people.  It is truly a place where we can strive to live out our purpose to be a light unto the nations.  It is a place we can be together to both improve the world and reduce negativity.  The teaching from the Ohr HaChaim reminds me that all of our mitzvot, even those that seem odd, serve to remind us to always strive to be the most ideal version of ourselves that we can be.

Before we reach Yom Ha'atzmaut, however, we encounter Yom Hazikaron, Israel's Memorial Day, when we remember the fallen soldiers who have died giving their lives for our homeland and all it symbolizes.  As we mourn on Yom HaZikaron and celebrate on Yom Ha'atzmaut, I invite you to join me in reflecting on how we can all contribute to the Jewish people and the Jewish homeland, and to pray with me for a bright future for us and for all of humankind.