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Sandro Rosell
FC Barcelona President
Thursday, July 20, 2017

Sometimes we learn something and we think we understand it. We even teach what we learn and some of those we teach it to corroborate that they’ve learned the same thing from others. Years go by and then we read or hear a related thought and a light bulb goes on in our heads and we question how we assumed we understood all along. 

We read at the very beginning of this week’s portion that after a woman gives birth to a boy, we are commanded to circumcise the boy on the eighth day. The rabbis comment on the verse and explain that we must circumcise on the eighth day even if it is the Shabbat. In essence the day of the Brit Milah, the eighth day pushes even the Shabbat, the seventh day.

We discussed the concepts of seven and eight. HaRamban – Nachmanides explains that the number seven represents the natural world while the number eight represents the world beyond nature. 

Rabbi Abittan taught us that the number seven relates to the natural world Hashem created during the first week wherein “in six days, G-d made the heavens and the earth… and on the seventh day He rested.”  A marriage is celebrated for a full week of sheva berachot and we bless the couple with seven blessings. We mourn the death of a loved one, Heaven forbid, for seven (shivah) days.

We learn from Kabbalah that the Seven Days of Creation embody the seven lower sefirot (divine attributes) which Hashem emanated from Himself to define and characterize His relationship with our existence. Seven is not only the elemental number of time, but of every created thing and of the created reality as a whole.  The same number seven relating to the days of the week relates to the seven branches of the menorah of the Temple. Furthermore, there are seven colors of the rainbow and seven musical notes.

We often understood the number eight representing a world of miracles especially in Hanukah time when we celebrate the miracle of the oil and the lightening of the menorah for eight days. 

We see in the book of Vayikra that the eighth day as we read last week is chosen for the dedication of the Mishkan. This week we see how the eighth day is chosen for the special covenant of the brit milah between us and Hashem. In a few weeks in Parshat Emor we will read of the holiday of Sukkot which is celebrated for seven days and therefore represents the world of nature. Once we pass these seven days and get to day number eight, we move into the area which is beyond nature and celebrate the holiday of Shmini Atzeret.  Likewise Pesach is seven days but the ultimate day of freedom, that which is beyond nature is the eighth day of Pesach which actually comes after seven times seven days, on the 50th day which is Shavuot, the day the Torah was given. In a similar vein, we will also read in a few weeks that after seven times seven years, we have the Yovel or the Jubilee. 

So in our limited understanding of Ramban, we accepted eight as beyond nature, as the world of miracles. 

But as we discussed the concept of Brit Milah, we quoted a Midrash Tanchuma, as follows: It happened that the wicked Turnus Rufus [a Roman general] asked Rabbi Akiva, “Whose deeds are more beautiful, God’s or man’s?”

He answered, “The deeds of man” …

[Turnus Rufus] said to him, “Why do you perform circumcision?”

Rabbi Akiva answered, “I knew that this is what you meant, which is why I responded that the deeds of man are more beautiful than those of God.”

Rabbi Akiva brought him stalks of wheat and baked rolls, and said, “These [the stalks] are the work of God, and these [the baked rolls] are the work of people. “Aren’t the rolls nicer than the stalks?”

Turnus Rufus said to him, “If He desires circumcision, why doesn’t the infant emerge from his mother’s womb already circumcised?”

Rabbi Akiva told him, “God gave the commandments to Israel for the sole purpose of purifying them.”

The Maharal of Prague explains: Turnus Rufus thought that the deeds of mankind are inferior to those of nature being that nature is the work of G-d. That is why he said that circumcision is inferior to leaving the foreskin intact, being that the foreskin is the work of the Creator. Rabbi Akiva responded that the deeds of mankind are greater being that they are the finishing touch brought about through intellect.. Nature is not complete without the input of mankind. Rabbi Akiva points out that the commandments were given to refine mankind. We can define refining as a means to raise it up from its natural state. By performing Brit Milah, circumcision, we transcend nature, to a higher plane.  

Rabbi Saks last week suggested on the opening verse discussing the inauguration of the Mishkan on the eighth day, a beautiful explanation on the concept of eight. In seven days, Hashem created the world. On the first day, Hashem created light. On the sixth day, the ultimate creation, man was born. And creation came with boundaries. (Hashem as Kel Shakai separating light from darkness, the waters above from those below, the sea and dry land.) Adam too was given boundaries and commanded to eat from all trees save the tree of good and evil. Adam crossed the boundary and in doing so allowed the boundary separating good and evil to be blurred. Adam is allowed to remain in the Garden for Shabbat and then as Shabbat ends is shown the exit. This is in fact the eighth day when man out in the world, is afraid that the snake will destroy him in the dark and Hashem enlightens man and inspires man to create fire. Thus we recall this each Saturday night with the blessing of Borei MeOray HaEsh thanking G-d for creating the light of the fire. G-d creates light on the first day and allows man to discover fire on the eight day.    

Compare this to the Greek legend of Prometheus who stole fire from Olympus and gave it to man and as a punishment was chained to a rock where an eagle pecked at his liver each day. In one case, G-d encourages man to improve on nature and to so to say partner with Him in this world; while in the other the gods rage against man for doing so for the Greeks and Romans believe it is impossible to improve on nature.

With these thoughts one can understand the number eight a little differently. Eight does not simply represent the supernatural. Eight represents MAN’s task to go beyond nature, too add or perfect nature.

And thus the Brit on the eighth day represents man going beyond nature in perfecting his body in an attempt to better control his desires overcoming what may be his nature. The Kohen Gadol wears eight garments in the mikdash which is a microcosm of creation and which symbolizes man’s creative endeavor as is evident by the restricted melachot of creative work on Shabbat all sourced from the work on the Mishkan. Hashem creates a world for man in seven days and on the eighth – bayom HaShemini, the day the Mishkan was sanctified – man in some small way creates a home – kav Yachol – for Hashem. 

The eighth of Pesach or Shavuot perhaps does not celebrate the giving of the Torah as much as it celebrates the receiving of the Torah where man is required to go against his nature in controlling it in fulfillment of the Torah’s commands. And we chose the eighth day of Sukkot or Shemini Aseret which follows Sukkot to also celebrate Simchat Torah and our acceptance of the Torah. 

I would suggest we can see this theme in all eights and in the final Holiday of eight days we have given to us prior to the days of Mashiach of Hanukah. Hanukah celebrates man’s attempt and man’s victory overcoming the Greek concept of perfection in nature and realizing Hashem has assigned us the task to perfect and to bring light to the world. 

Eight is all about us transcending; it’s all about us rising above nature. 

Perhaps even in the sefirot, by man fulfilling the seven, Shabbat and Shemitah, man can rise to the level and draw down from the eighth - Binah and above. 

Hashem really left so much in our hands. 

May we fulfill our destiny of being a light to the nations and may we do all we can do to bring Mashiach Bimherah BeYameynu, Amen.

By: Rabbi David Bibi