The Covenant of the Land
While our connection to G-d, and to Eretz Yisrael, are eternal, the Torah warns Avraham Avinu that Shmirat HaBrit (guarding the Covenant by observing the laws of proper sexual behavior) is of paramount importance in insuring that the Covenant of the Brit remains constantly active:
“And I will give to thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land in which thou dost sojourn, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their G-d.
“And G-d said to Avraham, therefore Thou shall safeguard my Brit, thou and thy seed after thee in their generations.
“This is My Brit that thou shall safeguard, between Me and you and thy seed after thee, every male among you shall be circumcised,” (Bereshit, 17:8-10.)
The meaning of Shmirat HaBrit, as the Zohar stresses, is not merely the obligation to circumcise our children, but also to guard our sexual purity, and this is what guarantees our settlement of Eretz Yisrael. As the Torah portion of Achrei Mot makes clear – the punishment for sexual misconduct is national destruction and exile from our Land, (Vayikra, 18:28.)
Shmirat HaBrit Requires Learning
Unfortunately, the in-depth study of this subject, the foundation of Am Yisrael, has been left largely unlearned. This is due to two factors: the long tradition of modesty surrounding the subject; and the fact that the texts which elaborate on the importance of Shmirat HaBrit belong, in large measure, to the world of Kabbalah and to the secrets of Torah.
In our time, the works of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov are most known for their focus on Shmirat HaBrit. However, the vital role of Shmirat HaBrit is not only found in Chasidic literature. As we shall discover, the theme appears again and again in the Torah, the Talmud, and in the precise, down-to-earth details of Jewish Law.
The great Torah scholar, the Gaon of Vilna, also known as the Gra, throughout his commentaries on the Zohar and Tikunei HaZohar, also emphasizes the role of Shmirat HaBrit as the foundation of Jewish life.
For instance, the Gaon of Vilna writes that Tikun HaBrit (rectifying the Brit through penitence and proper sexual behavior) is the ultimate purpose of man (Tikunei HaZohar, Tikun 23, Folio 76, Column 3.)
Furthermore, he states that Shmirat HaBrit is the key to understanding the secrets of Torah (Zohar, Parshat Pikude, 248a.)
And he notes that the redemption will come speedily (Achishena) if the Jewish People merit it due to Shmirat HaBrit (Tikunei HaZohar, Tikun 21, Folio 56, column 3.)
While Rabbi Nachman of Breslov and the Gaon of Vilna both emphasized the importance of Shmirat HaBrit to the spiritual health of the individual Jew, and to the nation, they are only two of a long list of Torah giants who wrote on the theme. In this small study, we have chosen to focus on the teachings of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who learned the secrets of Torah through the channel of Divine Inspiration. It is here, in the Zohar, that the importance of Shmirat HaBrit is explained in all of its sublime holiness, magnitude, and force.
To be continued.
Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture. His books on Judaism and Jewish themes include: “Tuvia in the Promised Land,” “Days of Mashiach,” “The Kuzari For Young Readers,” and four books on the teachings of Rabbi Kook, “Torat Eretz Yisrael,” “War and Peace,” “The Art of T’shuva,” and “Lights on Orot,” co-written with Rabbi David Samson.